This past weekend I was lucky enough to get an invitation to join a group of guys for some fishing back down on the White River in Arkansas.
The trip was setup by Matt Tucker and included myself , Ray Riedy , Paul Chausse , Dan Held , Evan Muskopf , Brian Greer and of course Matt. The upper section of the White closes down to fishing for the brown trout spawn every year and then re-opens on February 1st which makes it a popular time to get down and try to fool a few fish that havn't seen a fly in a couple months. This opening weekend trip is an annual affair for some of these guys and I was just lucky enough to fall into an open spot. The plan was basically the same as it was two weeks ago when Ray and I were down , spend a couple of days floating the river and throwing big streamers for browns.
I pulled out of Olathe late Thursday morning and pointed the truck in a Southerly direction , headed for Bull Shoals State Park where we planned to stay for the next three nights.
Everyone in the group except Ray and myself already had accomodations taken care of in the form of two Rent-an-RV sites in the park. Our plan was to grab a campsite close to the others and pitch a couple of tents for the weekend. I pulled into the park just a little before 4:00 PM and located a nice site , then started setting up a basic camp for the next three nights.
Normally this task is quick and easy but with the four day forecast calling for rain and possibly thunderstorms every day I took a little extra precaution and did things right so I wouldn't regret it later. This meant staking out the tent fly as it was intended to be done and setting up a small tarp lean-to for cooking duties and dry storage of gear. With everything finally setup I got down to the really important part of the evening , a big fire , some grub and kicking back with a cold beer in my hand.
Ray pulled in just after 11:00 PM and after getting his tent setup we sat around stirring coals and trading stories until the wee hours of Friday morning. Not a bad way to start off the weekend.
The six o'clock wake up call on my phone came way too early as evidenced by the haze that was still hanging around inside my head as I crawled out of the sleeping bag. A light rain had already started to come down which wasn't making it any easier to get my ass in gear , but the thought of a day on the river is a pretty strong incentive that always wins out. Ray and I got the boat loaded , made some coffee and then headed up to the dam to meet the others.
After getting the boats in and shuttling vehicles we were finally ready to hit the water. Ray , myself ,Paul and Dan were floating down to Wildcat Shoals while Matt and the others were planning to spend the morning fishing with Jimmy T out of his boat up by the dam. By this time the rain had become more persistent and from the looks of the sky had no intentions of letting up any time soon , thank God for gore-tex!
With that we pushed the boats off and began flinging fur at the banks in hopes of gaining the attention of a few white river browns. Two guys in each boat meant that there were always a couple flies pounding the bank on one side of the river or the other. The rain would come and go in spurts but never stopped for long enough to seriously contemplate taking the raincoat off. Luckily the temperature wasn't too bad and despite the rain it was pretty easy to stay comfortable throughout the day.
We ended up having to ride out a little bit of dropping water the last half of the day but still had enough flow to keep it from being a row-fest. As planned we stuck to our guns and threw streamers all day despite the lack of big browns willing to play. We had enough action with smaller fish ranging from 16 to 20 inches to keep us from getting discouraged , but never really had any chases or eats from anything much bigger.
That's the thing about streamer fishing , you always go in knowing that you're sacrificing numbers of fish for size (anyway that's what you hope for) and sometimes it just doesn't happen. It's that little voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me the next cast could be the one that turns around the whole trip that keeps me going. It's always tempting to pick up a nymph setup and start whacking the bows that you know are hanging out in every riffle and pool but that might mean missing out on the fish you really came for.
We pulled the boats up on the bank at Wildcat around 4:30 and after stowing gear and loading up we headed back to camp. That evening we all got together and cooked up a few steaks and brats on the grill , killed a case or two of beer and sat around trading stories of past trips and dreaming of ones that were yet to happen. Plans were made for the following morning and the concensus agreement was to do the float from the dam to Wildcat again due to lower projected generation for the day.
Saturday morning we all met at the dam again and after taking care of shuttling the vehicles we began prepping gear for the days float.
By the time we pushed off it was obvious that it was going to be a crowded day on the river. A quick glance upstream or downstream revealed boats and wade fisherman alike in no small numbers. I havn't fished the White much, but there were definitely more people than I expected to see out on the river on a cloudy February morning. The lower water levels had created some wading opportunities at various accesses along the way and each one was filled with fishermen. Until we were able to get below the State Park it was a matter of dodging boats and fishermen along the way at every hole and riffle we came to.
With the difference in flows from the previous day a couple of the guys had decided to do a little nymphing and forego pitching streamers all day. Most of us chose to stick with the streamers though and take our chances that the bite might have improved over the previous day , that's the mentality of a streamer fisherman , today might be the day.
The weather was a little nicer and staying dry wasn't an issue for a change which made the float a little more pleasant. We fished until lunch and then pulled the boats over at Cane Island for a short break and a little lunch.
The word of the day was that fishing was tough for the guys throwing streamers again but the ones choosing to use a nymph setup were hooking up with small bows pretty consistently. We spent half an hour or so eating , popping the tops on a cold one or two and shooting the shit before taking off and making our way towards our takeout destination.
Ray and I had a little tougher day than on Friday and were only able to bring a couple of small browns and a handful of bows to hand , all on streamers. The best fish of the day for our group ended up being a 20" brown that Paul caught while fishing an egg pattern , not exactly the results we were hoping for, but anytime you can spend a day on the river with some great guys and catch a few fish it's pretty hard to be dissapointed .
We pulled into Wildcat about the same time as the day before and went through the same routine before heading back to the State Park. The evening was spent much like the last one , the only difference being that we ended up watching parts of the Mizzou - KU game while we sat around. It's hard to think of a better way to spend your time than drinking and telling stories with a group of newfound friends after a day floating on the river , it's times like these when you have to stop and think that you're pretty damn lucky to be where you're at.
Sunday morning brought with it colder temps and a little more generation which probably improved the streamer bite , unfortunately most of us had obligations at home and weren't going to be fishing today. Ray and I were headed back to Olathe and Paul and Dan took off for Illinois. Tucker , Brian and Evan were still talking about hitting the Spring River on their way home but I never heard if that happened or not. All things aside it was a fantastic weekend , I met some great guys who I now consider friends and hope to get the opportunity to fish with again in the future. Fish were caught , adult beverages were consumed and stories were made that will be talked about the next time we all get together....Life is Good.