Mayflower fishermen giving back after storm

by Donna Lampkin Stephens
Mike Kemp photo

Coming home had a bit of a different meaning in May for a pair of professional bass fishermen from Mayflower.

Kevin Short, 52, whose career on the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society circuit goes back to 1998, and Billy McCaghren, 42, who started fishing B.A.S.S. tournaments in 2002, returned to Arkansas for the Bassmaster Elite Tournament at Lake Dardanelle just more than two weeks after a devastating EF-4 tornado struck their town.

Although neither finished in the money — Short was 63rd with 25.2 pounds caught; McCaghren was 90th with 21.4 — their simple presence was a triumph.

Both were in Louisiana preparing for the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite Tournament at Toledo Bend when the tornado struck the night of April 27. It left 16 deaths in its wake from Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties.

Short’s home on Dam Road was destroyed, as was his father’s nearby. McCaghren’s wife and 3-year-old son hid in a closet during the tornado, but the family suffered no damage.

“We live a little west of where it happened,” McCaghren said. “But we’ve got lots of friends and relatives that lost everything.”

Among those was Short, who was with his wife, Kerry, in their camper in Louisiana on April 27.

“We were watching the Weather Channel, and it was like, ‘This doesn’t look good at all,’” Short remembered. “I was talking to my dad, who lives two doors down. He said, ‘I’m already in my corner and watching it.’

“It was really weird to watch it on TV and know that had to go real close to the house.”

In the immediate aftermath, he couldn’t reach his father, but once he did, he learned that Louie Short’s home was “completely wiped out.”

“Part of ours was still standing, but there was nothing you could do with it,” Short said. “Fortunately, we were able to get some of our clothes and belongings and a little bit of our furniture.

“But we put what was left from a 2,300-square foot house in a 14-foot enclosed trailer, and it’s only about half-full. It’s kind of sad, but there’s people that lost way more than we did, and fortunately, we had our camper, so we have a place to stay, and some clothes. It could’ve been a lot worse.”

McCaghren, part of one of Mayflower’s long-prominent families, had just gotten his camper set up in Louisiana on April 27 when he got a text from a fishing buddy in Boston.

“He was checking on me,” McCaghren said. “He had seen (the weather) on TV. I didn’t know anything about it. I was able to get hold of my wife (Norma), and she and Callen were getting in the closet.”

After the storm, he was able to reach his brother, Wade, who told him his place was fine, as was their parents’. His grandmother, Elois McCaghren, 90, lives with his parents, Billy and Virginia, near their sons.

A former baseball star at Mayflower High School, McCaghren was already looking forward to returning to his old fishing grounds at Lake Dardanelle before the spring destruction.

“After all that’s happened, it means a lot,” he said a couple of days before the tournament. “It’s a big deal to me. I’m by no means like a superstar pro athlete, but I’m in a position I can give back to the community and try to use what I can to give. It’s really important to me to be able to do that.”

Prior to the tournament, McCaghren pledged $20 per pound of his Lake Dardanelle catch to Tackle the Storm, an organization dedicated to providing fishing equipment to young people who have suffered losses through such events as tornadoes.

“I hope it’ll come out of my winnings, but it may come out of my pocket,” McCaghren said heading into the tournament.

One of his sponsors, Rayjus Outdoors, made him some special jerseys for the tournament that were half purple (for MHS) and half red (for Vilonia, which was also hit hard).

“I’m going to donate one to each school so they can sell it or whatever to try to help with some of the kids that were displaced,” McCaghren said.

Short moved to Mayflower from Little Rock in 1989. He and Kerry bought their home on Lake Conway in 2002.

“It was across the street from the original house we lived in,” he said. “It was an older house, and we liked the location. That was very attractive, plus the fact that it had four lots — a huge piece of property.

“We were never real crazy about the house. It was build in the ‘60s and wasn’t laid out real well, but you’ve got to be careful what you wish for.”

Now, he said, he and Kerry will build the house they want on the land they love. But first they’ll figure out floor plans for his father’s new home.

“We’re going to start his first,” Kevin Short said. “He said the only two things he wanted were a nice view of the lake and a wood-burning stove.”

He had an excavation company take down everything from the wreckage of his home. “There’s nothing left,” he said. “We had a yard full of big white oak trees, huge, and they’re all gone. That was hard to see.”

Like McCaghren, he was happy to return to Lake Dardanelle.

“When I’m home and I go fishing, this is where I go,
” he said prior to the tournament. “I’ve spent a lot of time up here. I’m just trying to stay focused on catching fish. We’ve got Dad comfortable now. That was a big concern, but he’s set up and mobile again; he’s got a truck to drive around.

“We’re kind of back to our new normal, if there is such a thing.”

Short has fished professionally since 2004, full time since leaving Farm Bureau in 2007. He’s been on B.A.S.S.’s Elite Tour since it started in 2006.

McCaghren qualified for the Elite Tour in 2009. He still works full-time for his family business, BW Welding in Mayflower.

“During the (fishing) season, it’s nearly full-time, but the goal is still to fish full-time,” he said.

He was looking forward to helping provide a respite for friends and family during the Lake Dardanelle event.

“I hope they can follow this for a couple of days and not think about trying to build a new house or what they’ve lost,” he said.
Short, whose brother, David, suffered damage during the 2011 Vilonia tornado, remained philosophical about everything he lost.

“It’s just stuff,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”