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The seasons can actually change before your eyes when it's fall on the White River. This spring fed trout haven flows through the incredibly beautiful hills and mountains of northern Arkansas. There are more trout than people here...my kind of place. Between 1.7 and 1.8 million hatchery trout are released every year in the stretches of the White and Norfork Rivers. From the Bull Shoals dam to the confluence of the 4 ½ mile Norfork river and well beyond, the federal fish folks make sure that this is one of, if not THE top U.S. destination for trout fishermen. My most recent trip to these waters was in mid September. You definitely needed a jacket to start the day. Temps in the forties and a 20 mph boat ride first thing in the morning combines to put the wind chill somewhere down around “Brrrrr Nellie!” The crystal-clear water is actually warmer this time of day and year than the air temp, causing a ribbon of fog along the top of the river. That makes a great photo op from high atop one of the mountains that line the stream. By 9am, you're shedding the jacket...shorts and t-shirts should be perfect thereafter because the seasons have changed on the river from late fall to summertime again, right before your eyes.
My favorite way to fish the White and Norfork Rivers are on foot with fly rod in hand. I like to walk the river low water and pick little spots apart. “Fishing to a fish”. This trip didn't allow that though. Because of spring flooding, the dams at both Bull Shoals Lake that feeds the White and Norfork Lake that obviously feeds the Norfork, have been releasing a lot of water all summer long-More than usual this year.That’s not a problem; you just fish em differently. In past years, I’ve done it on my own and had success catching fish...lots of fish. A boat rental comes in to play, my fly rod goes back in the tube and the spinning gear comes out. Your line to the side of the boat as you drift your bait towards waiting trout is the ticket. This time around I didn’t mess with a boat rental. I went with a couple of guys that fish this river nearly every day of their lives. Paul and Mike are pros, and I caught a LOT more fish than on my self guided floats. They handle the boat, you set the hook and grin. They make it a very easy day for the fisherman. Visit the guides and outfitters page here on the website for their contact info. By the way, it’s a few bucks more but worth every penny...don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy Paul and Mike’s shore lunch. Your morning catch, prepared on a gravel bank complete with salad, taters and dessert. Yes! There is no additional fee for the bald eagles soaring overhead keeping an eye on your lunch.
My friend Rick Pope, owner and founder of Temple Fork Outfitters not only produces some of the best fly rods on the planet but uses them as well...all over the world. He tells me that this river system is among the very best, if not alone at the top for North American fly waters. He should know. If you want to catch the next world record (that’s happened several times over the years in this neck of the woods) that fish will more than likely come from the Norfork. If you want to catch a load of eaters and still have the opportunity to catch big fish, it’s the White. To complete a White River slam, you must produce to hand a rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout in a single day. I was 3 out of 4 on two days of my trip. All I was missing was the brookie. They are in there but are the toughest to put in the boat.Numbers are not as high as the other three species. The river is perfect for world class anglers, and first-time worm drowners. If you decide to go, be sure to leave an afternoon open to take the kids to the Federal Fish Hatchery at the base of the Norfork Dam. They’ll give you a tour...you will be amazed.
OCTOBER 13, 2015
I told him to be careful in the old boat seat...”it’ll go over with you”...I said. I told him that many times, but he just had to set the hook like he was Jimmy Houston on TV...and over the side he went. I must admit that I was more than amused and it’s given me a great story to tell at hunting club meetings and field trials over the years. It was one of those cheap clamp on seats that swivel, but a first class addition to the leaky old 12 ft v-hull aluminum vessel that I was so proud to own. It had a 5 horse motor on the back that was dependable enough, would start on most occasions after a little priming, and much rope pulling.
My friend that enjoys a surprise dip in the midst of a fishing trip is Kevin. We have lots of stories to tell on each other and all of them are from hunting/fishing trips. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up and have kids, we’ve buried the dead together, laughed, cried and love each other. He’s the guy that I could call at 2am if I needed to. I knew that even during that horrible period when we got mad and didn’t visit for a while...ALL his fault. Actually, I’m more to blame than anybody and I’ve asked God and Kev to forgive me. Well, I know I talked sincerely to God about it, pretty sure I mentioned it to Kevin.
When Kevin went into the lake...backwards...feet above head...fishing pole still firmly clenched in his right hand...I could see his eyes, under water. They were real big and sinking. I did what any hero would do in this crisis and swiftly took his fishing pole from him. As I sat admiring my new pole and thinking how it would be mine if he would only stay down there longer than his lungs would allow, he rudely and abruptly reemerged from the lake. It was a lot like the last scene in a horror movie when the gruesome killer that you thought was for sure a goner blasted through the surface of a serene and peaceful hillside water. He grabbed the little boat by the side and started to lift himself up to a drier climate. That’s when I swatted his hands with my, uh, his fishing pole...”climb in back by the motor or you’ll flip the boat over” I said...I’ve always had to do the thinking part in our relationship. Once he was seated again, socks drying out on top of the motor, I felt that it was time for me to give him some constructive chat...”first of all” I taught, “when your jig taps a log, don’t set the hook, you must learn the difference between a fish and a stationary object in the lake.” I’ve taught him a lot through the years and he has never, that I can remember, said thanks. There are Kevin-Billy stories from the trout streams, to the cold quail pastures of west Texas, bass and crappie holes everywhere, pickup cabs, countless cafes, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and obviously the bottom of Lewisville Lake. Treasured times and tales from decades of life on the water and behind bird dogs together. The bond of hunting and fishing together; It can overcome a hurtful argument that mars an otherwise blessed relationship.
Hunting and fishing are activities sometimes filled with long periods of time without action, but you press on with your son, daughter, spouse, pappaw or long time friend. There is no TV to flip on and dull both of your senses, no computer, no instant entertainment that says “I’m more important than your present company”. You depend on each other for conversation, entertainment, honesty, safety, chores and breakdowns. You build up a trust that you know is more solid than hapless ugly words. You build a security and comfort that no matter what happens in this life, you won’t have to go it alone.
Some folks can’t cut the mustard when it comes to these tougher to achieve, long lasting qualities, and they fall away after a while. Maybe they came along to see what you could do or provide for them, maybe they only want you to put them on fish or game in a spot where you’ve had success, maybe they want to take advantage of your ability to keep a clean camp or change a flat tire...or maybe they see a lasting, real and deep relationship that they want, and don’t have. The only way that you’ll find out is to spend some time with them in the field or on the water, through situations both easy and tough...time will tell the truth.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2015
It's September and for a lot of us that means shotguns, rifles and bows for the next several months. All too often I leave home for a hunt with all of the gear that I think I will need for a successful hunting trip. I carefully go through the checklist for gear that is necessary for a deer hunt, pheasant hunt etc. I often forget one key piece that can add a ton of pleasure to a hunt though...a fishing pole. The upland and big games seasons occur in the fall of the year for the most part, and that’s a particularly good time to fish. Most species will be gorging themselves with bait over the next few months in preparation for winter and then spring spawn, and the weather is starting to cool and fall color adds a special element to an already beautiful trout stream.
Last week Robin and I made a run to West Texas to hunt doves. We had an exceptional shoot, so good in fact that after the morning hunt each day my limit was in the ice chest. It’s 8:30am and I’m done for the day. Had I brought a rod and reel I could have enjoyed playing with the 3 to 5 pound bass in one of the ranch’s stock ponds, or dumped the boat into lake Alan Henry just down the road to search out the crappie bite. I had plenty of time.
Upland hunting is a different story, we hunt all day and there's no spare time. Montana is a good example. When we haul the dogs to Big Sky country, it’s usually for two weeks, but after 4-5 days of hunting, the dogs and we need a break. I’ve always stored the fly rods in the dog trailer for that trip, and for that 2 day break. Clean clear water and abundant trout are always close by in Montana. Two days in the middle of a two week bird chase is perfect. We hunt pheasants in South Dakota each fall. From my cabin, I can walk 30 yards down to Lake Oahe, a tremendous smallmouth/walleye fishery. There is usually a fish pretty close to your hunt, take advantage of that. A two piece rod that breaks down and fits behind the back seat of the pickup, and a small tackle container with just a few of the basics are great additions to your hunting gear.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2015
If you go only to pull a trigger or set the hook, you have failed before even leaving the house. A great number of hunting and fishing trips have been total failures based only on quarry success. If anything less than the biggest or most bass on the trip, deer in the bed of the truck or ducks in the picture is your only goal...you’ve missed it. Robin and I killed 7 doves opening morning. They didn't fly well, and my shooting matched the weak bird attendance. However, 14 dove filets ended up in the fridge marinating overnight. They made great dove ka-bobs on the grill. We took these birds while laughing and enjoying each other's company in the morning shade of an old live oak tree. Robin's first few shots were all on the mark; she was laughing outloud. She looked at me not once but twice and said...”Im so happy”...I ask you...how could this hunt with limited game in the bag not be called a booming success?
I like to spend all day in the deer blind, unless I am on the ground rattling deer, then I will move around more. All day, and 99% of those days I never pull the trigger, but I am always overwhelmed with God’s creation and the things that He allows me to see, smell and hear. Success. The crappie bite has been very slow over the past month, but I’ve been there on the bow of the boat...all day long for a handful of fish. Working on it, searching for them, thinking it through...fishing. I have enjoyed every second of it too. Success.
The friend laying in the hospital today won't know the joy of missing a shot at a mourning dove and getting laughed at by friends. The soldier standing guard in a scary place today won't know the utter splendor of a deer hunt where no venison even shows up. The family gathered around a freshly dug grave and weeping together today won't feel the excitement of the next cast, even though the last several hundred produced no fish. If you are blessed enough to go to the woods or waters today, don’t forget that success is seated right next to you the entire trip. Lord, help me always to appreciate and enjoy what You created for our enjoyment, provision and amazement, and to share it with my friend when he’s out of the hospital, home from the war, or having buried his dead.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2015