This last weekend I had the opportunity to hit the water with some guys who I met through the blogger world. Originally there were several people who planned on making the trip but inclement weather and unplanned personal business had whittled the list down considerably. I hooked up with Ray from "Trout Journeys" who lives in the same town as I do and we made plans to take off Thursday evening and head down to the White River. His brother Dick and nephew Chris were going to meet us Friday night after work and the plan was to throw big streamers all weekend and hopefully catch a few of those big browns that the White River is famous for.
Ray and I pulled out of my driveway about 6:00 Thursday night with his skiff in tow and pointed the truck in the direction of the Blue Heron campground situated right on the White River under the Cotter bridge. The five hour drive gave us the opportunity to talk fishing and get to know a little bit about each other since our previous conversations had all been through blog comments and e-mails. The best part about blogging has definitely been the people I've had the privelege of sharing this passion with along the way , both online and in this case in person.
It was a late night arrival and we set up the tents in the dark then popped the tops on a couple of cold ones to finish out the evening.
The next morning we got a little bit of a late start and didn't get on the water until around 10:30. Terry , who owns the campground , rode up to the dam with us and then shuttled the vehicle back down to the Cotter Access. I was pretty stoked about the weekends fishing as it was going to be my first time fishing and rowing a driftboat.
The day was overcast with a heavy mist in the air and they were running three units which made for good water conditions to chunk streamers. We rigged up rods until we got below the State Park where it was legal to fish and then started banging the banks. With only two of us in the boat we took turns fishing and rowing , switching up when a fish was caught or the time seemed appropriate.
We threw numerous flies throughout the day ranging from articulated Circus Peanuts and Sex Dungeons to articulated rabbit strip streamers resembling small rainbows. The fly of the hour seemed to be a yellow articulated zoo cougar , which moved fish all day long better than anything else. We managed to catch several smaller browns but just couldn't seem to connect consistently , the fish were chasing and in some cases eating but we just couldn't seem to seal the deal and hook-up with any regularity.
That's the game of streamer fishing for you , and while landing the fish would have been preferred we had several chases and eats that were spectacular to watch. One brown in particular , probably around 23 or 24 inches , came out from the bank and smacked Rays fly just as it landed, spraying water four feet in the air and leaving a boil the size of a coffee table. That eat alone was worth the price of admission for the entire weekend.
I gotta admit , fishing out of the driftboat was a sweet deal. I'm used to floating in my one-man pontoon where you sit so low to the water that you lose the visual aspect of sight fishing. In the driftboat you get the chance to see everything , the chase...the eat...and in my case most of the time , the miss. That made it for me and before the weekend was over I was trying to figure out how many meals the wife and I would have to skip each week to be able to make the payment on a used driftboat!
The 18 mile float pretty much killed the day and we pulled the boat up onto the trailer under the lights of the Cotter Bridge and a pitch black sky. When we finished cleaning up the boat and unloading gear back at camp we headed into town to hit the local mexicana joint for a little grub. Afterwards it was back to camp and settle in with a big campfire and several adult beverages for the evening. Chris and Dick showed up around 11:30 and we sat around until the wee hours of the morning shooting the shit.
Saturday we awoke to a heavy gray overcast, rolled out of the tents and began getting ready for another day on the water. Todays plan was the same as the one before , throw big streamers all day on the float from the dam to Cotter. When we left the campground the river was still low but by the time we arrived at the dam they were running three units once again.
After getting the raft and skiff in the water and setting up the shuttle we were off once again , pounding the banks with flies that looked like they took half a chicken to tie. We managed a couple more fish and several more exciting chases before we noticed the water beginning to drop out on us.
As it turned out they only ran for two hours and then shut the generators off , ruining our good floating conditions. Not only did the dropping water kill the streamer bite but it put us in a scenario where we had more miles of river to float out than could be accomplished before the sun set.
Nothing we could do so we made the best of it and kept right on fishing our way downriver. Ray and I stopped and nymphed a couple of runs , picking up several small bows but for the most part we continued to bang the banks with streamers , albeit unsuccessfully. By the time we hit the Cotter boat ramp the sun had been set for a couple hours and we were navigating the river by headlamp and a little luck. While the fishing wasn't stellar by any means we still had a hell of a good time out on the water , lots of trash talk was thrown between the two boats and several more adult beverages managed to get consumed on the long slow float. Back at camp that night we had a late dinner of steaks , baked beans and some potatoes thrown in the fire. Nothing like sitting around the fire with the guys , eating some good grub and washing it down with a few cold ones , the perfect ending to another great day.
Sunday we woke up to a river that was as low as any of us had ever seen it. After the long float and slow fishing of the day before we had a decision to make on what to do. After checking the generation schedule and seeing no water planned for the day we decided to pack up and head over to the NFOW to finish out the weekend. At least we knew what to expect with the water conditions there and word was that the streamer fishing had been pretty good recently. We called Justin at Sunburst on the trip over and set up a shuttle of the two vehicles for the float down to James Bridge. The weather was still gray and overcast with a cold mist that just clung to everything making it seem colder than it really was.
Once again the weather man had totally blown the weekend forecast , when we departed KC the prediction was for mostly sunny and highs around 50 all weekend , I don't think we saw the sun for more than an hour in three days and that fifty degree mark was nothing but a pipedream. As fishermen of course we looked at it from the bright side , hoping that the weather conditions would increase our odds of success on the river. We were on the water by 10:00 and the flies (and bullshit) began being thrown from both boats.
Despite our best efforts the day didn't end up being as successful as we had hoped. We kept at it anyway and I don't think there was a decent looking stretch of water that didn't get hit hard. I think we ended up with four browns and several rainbows between the two boats , all on streamers , the nymphing rods never even came out of storage. Not the day we had hoped for , but hey that's fishing. I'm pretty sure there wasn't any one of us who would've rather been anywhere else regardless of the slow fishing.
Once again it was dark-thirty when we pulled the boats over to the bank at the James Bridge and began to unload a weekends worth of shit for the long drive home. We said our good-byes and then Ray and I headed for KC while Chris and Dick took off in the direction of St Louis. I had a blast hanging and fishing with these guys all weekend. They took their fishing seriously and knew how to have a good time when the fishing was done , and after all, that's what it's all about. Looking forward to fishing with these guys again soon...I'm pretty sure we've all still got a score to settle with those big White River browns.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
This past weekend I turned another year older and while I wish I could say that I'm a wiser man for my years , it's probably not the case. I'm pretty sure that I'll continue to be outsmarted by a fish with a brain the size of a pea at fairly regular intervals , at least I hope so!
With a birthday just a week after Christmas I've come to the realization over the years that nobody enjoys going out and buying "another gift" so soon after the big holiday season. With that thought in mind ,when the wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday I replied that the best gift I could think of would be to spend the day on the water with a flyrod in my hand. She totally understands this passion of mine ,and without argument ,insisted that I pack up and get away for a couple of days to do a little fishing. She didn't have to twist my arm terribly hard to convince me.
A phone call to my good friend Kevin found him looking to get away for a short trip as well, and before we hung up plans were made to meet down at Taneycomo on Friday evening. With the entire day off on Friday I decided to head down in the morning and do a little fishing before he arrived. Joe and I piled the usual collection of gear in the truck Thursday evening and we were on the road by 6:00 am on Friday. Not an early start by any means , but hell I'm getting old so what do you expect? Our first destination was a nice little stream that can fish really well, or not so much, depending on the water levels and movement of fish from the main river. I could tell from first glance that it wasn't running high enough to make for great fishing , but I also knew that there would be a few fish to be found if the time was spent looking.
This is one of those places where I can take Joe along and let him wander around ,just doing his own thing, without worrying about meeting up with other fishermen so it was decided that the solitude trumped the fishing prospects of another spot. I geared up in the small lot and we started making tracks downstream so we could fish our way back up.
I took notice of all my usual fish holding spots as we hiked along the stream and as I had figured there just weren't many fish to be seen. With all day to kill I decided to hike farther downstream than I'd previously been and check out some new water and maybe find a few more fish.
It was a beautiful day for January and the sun was just getting warm enough to melt away the thin sheet ice that had formed along the edges of the stream during the night before.
The stream was completely ours on this morning ,the only company we encountered along the way was a pair of wild turkeys scratching for their breakfast in an open field.
Even though it was lacking in fish numbers today we found some beautiful looking new water in our search that I can't wait to get back to when the conditions are a little better.
It was almost like being in New Zealand and stalking miles of river in search of trophy browns , the only difference being that we were in the Ozark foothills and instead of finding a handful of huge browns for every mile of hiking I was lucky to find a few small rainbows.
Other than that it was "exactly" like New Zealand!!
I enjoyed the hiking almost as much as the fishing and it wasn't until I noticed the incessant growling of my stomach that we decided to pack it in and head back towards the truck. It was almost 1:00 and I still needed to secure a campsite and get my tent set up. To save valuable fishing time lunch was a quick sandwich inhaled on the trip over.
After grabbing a spot in the all but empty campground and quickly getting a basic camp set I made a call to the SWPA to check generation below the dam. To my amazement the recording blurted out "zero units online". I almost had to hit redial just to be sure that I'd heard correctly , I never get that lucky! A short five minute drive across the dam and it was confirmed , no generation for a change. As I geared back up in the South parking lot I was surprised at the lack of fishermen on such a nice Friday. It wasn't empty by any means but for this tailwater fishery it was what I'd consider light crowds.
Happy Birthday to me!!
I'd like to say that I just walked down and started immediately tearing em up, but that wasn't the case. In the recent months I've spent too much time fishing small streams and freestone rivers where the trout live by a different set of rules than their tailwater brethren. The 5X tippet and size 14 GRHE weren't going to cut it for these wily fish. I'm admittedly a slow learner and it took me about an hour of fishing to downsize to 7X flourocarbon and a couple of size 20 scud imitations , from then on out it was game on!
Not a lot of size to anything I brought to hand all afternoon but the numbers were just crazy. Some spots were literally a fish every drift and if you missed the first strike and left the line on the water you'd promptly be rewarded with a second chance.
As much as I love to hate our crowded tailwaters and the damn unpredictable generation schedules, this is the kind of fishing that makes up for all those misgivings.
It doesn't usually come together and work out in my favor , but man it's a lot of fun when it does. Joe and I stayed on the water until it was almost too dark to see the indicator , it was one of those times when you keep telling yourself you'll quit fishing when the strikes quit coming and it just never happens.
Finally the thought of a cold beer and a campfire (and the impending darkness) drove us off the river and back to camp. Kevin wasn't arriving until around 7:30 so Joe and I ate a quick dinner and then I proceeded to throw back a few cold ones sitting around the fire.
Kevin showed up about three beers later and we spent the rest of the night trying to empty the cooler while reminiscing about past trips and planning even better ones for the coming year. I can't think of a better way to turn a year older than sitting around a campfire with a cold beer and good friends.
Saturday we rolled out of the tents about 7:00 and after a quick cup of coffee and a granola bar we took down camp and headed back below the dam. With no generation scheduled and none online currently we were both looking forward to another stellar day. It didn't take long to pick up right where I left off the evening before , the fish were still there and still hungry.
I looked over and saw Kevins rod bowed shortly after I landed my first one and knew that he was on the fish too. It turned out to be another great day of fishing , I'm pretty sure neither of us broke the 16" mark, but the abundance of fish willing to take a fly had us soon forgetting about size. We fished until about 1:00, then headed back to the vehicles for a tailgate lunch before packing it up for the long trip home.
I don't think either of us were ready to call it a day when we did , but I had a home-cooked birthday dinner waiting for me at home and Kevin still had to run over to Aurora and pick up some stuff from storage before making the haul back to Jefferson City. The first fishing trip of 2012 was officially in the books....not a bad way to start off the New Year.