Every year the White River closes down the upper portion of the river for several months , the idea being to keep people off the redds and give the brown trout a chance to have a successful spawn without being harassed by fishermen. They re-open the stretch on February 1st and it always seems to draw a good number of folks hoping to catch a big fish that hasn't seen a fly for a couple of months. Last year I was lucky enough to get an invite down to fish with a great group of guys that make it an annual event , they rent a place to stay right on the river and spend several days chucking streamers and drinking beer (my kind of weekend). Evidently I didn't burn any bridges on the last outing because I got the call again this year to join them for a few days. They had a nice house rented right at the Wildcat Shoals access and had plans for a breakfast on the river Friday morning and then a little get together at the boat ramp below the house on Friday evening after a day of fishing. Obviously I couldn't pass up an offer like that!
I left home mid-morning on Thursday and pulled into the driveway of the rented place around 2:30 that afternoon , not your average river accomodations for a group of fishermen , at least not the ones I usually hang out with!
After unloading some gear and having a cold refreshment I decided to drive down to one of my favorite accesses and try my luck for a couple of hours before the others started arriving. With two units online I had a little difficulty getting to my desired location but still managed to make it out to a spot where I was able to swing small buggers for an hour or so and catch several rainbows.
It was enough to tide me over until I could take a boat ride and start chucking some streamers for the big boys , kind of a warm-up if you will.
Friday morning broke clear and cold , I think it was around 15 degrees when I checked the temps on the way up to the dam for breakfast. By the time we arrived there was already a full on party happening , bloody marys were being passed out and the cooks for the morning were just finishing up with the grub.
All that was missing was the plates and utensils to serve it up with , which we happened to be bringing , albeit a little late. It looked like a float-thru breakfast bar at one point , with boats pulled up along the riverbank and guys standing around with plates full of biscuits and gravy in their hands.
We had a great turnout and everyone seemed to have a good time hanging out for awhile before getting down to the business at hand.
After everyone had their fill of breakfast and the mess was cleaned up Paul , Dan and myself headed back down to Wildcat Access to get our vehicle shuttled and start our float for the day. Everyone else we knew was floating the stretch from the dam to Wildcat , after a little thought we decided to float the section from Wildcat to Cotter.
With the amount of traffic the upper river was seeing it just seemed like a good decision at the time.
It was probably 10:00 by the time we got ready to shove off , the water looked pretty good with a couple units online and we were all excited to get started.
There wasn't any discussion as to what we were going to do , for this trip the five weights and nymph boxes were left in the cases in favor of the eight weights and meat boxes.
For the first time in several trips down the generation worked out for us and we had some favorable conditions for hucking junk. Dan stuck the first good fish of the trip (it was also the biggest of the weekend for anyone in our group) a beautiful 26" kype jawed male.
He ate a fire-tiger double deceiver right off the bank , and I have to admit it got everyone excited seeing that fish in the net to start off the trip.
Several small browns were landed before we got the next quality fish over 20" , a 22 incher that ate my Hog Snare.
With two quality fish in the boat and a couple of smaller ones , we were stoked at the end of the day when we pulled the boat over at the Cotter Access. Now it was time to knock the tops off a couple and get ready for the party tonight.
By the time we got back to the house folks were already starting to show up for the evenings festivities.
After trading fishing stories for awhile we got down to preparing for the evening meal , grilling close to 100 brats and a big batch of homemade hot-wings and setting up all the sides.
It's right about here somewhere that I lose track of things , somewhere in the middle of playing grillmaster the adult beverages caught up with me and the rest of the evening just happened. I don't remember all of it but I know I had one hell of a time and met lots of really good people that night. Thinking back (what I can remember anyway) I talked to guys from Arkansas , Missouri , Arizona , Connecticut , Wisconsin , Michigan , Oklahoma , Illinois and I'm sure a couple of other places I just don't recall. I find it pretty amazing to think about the large group of people that showed up to stand around a fire on the banks of a river , drink a few beers and talk fishing. It's that kind of comraderie that makes flyfishing such a wonderful sport in my opinion.
Saturday morning I was still a little groggy when Paul walked over and shook me awake , telling me it was time to go. Normally 5:30 isn't what I consider early , but considering the circumstances my head could have used a little more recuperation time. Our plan for today was exactly opposite of the day before , after talking to several folks who planned to float from Wilcat to Cotter we chose to go up top and float the stretch from the dam to Wildcat. It wasn't that we were unsociable , we just figured our chances of sticking a good fish increased if we weren't floating in a pack of drifters all throwing streamers. We were pushing the boat off the shore before 7:00 , hitting the banks in hopes of another good day. My hand-eye coordination was a little off for a good part of the morning , no doubt due to the previous evenings festivities. Luckily I had a couple of great guys to float with. I never heard a complaint about my casting , even when my inaccurate fly placement required scaling a bankside tree to retrieve my fly!
The fish of the day was a 24" fish that I stuck on a Hog Snare again , not nearly as fat as Dans 26 incher of the day before , but a 24" brown is a good fish in my book anyday.
We also managed a couple of fish in the 15-16 inch range but only one over twenty to the net on this day. We were off the river by 2:30 that afternoon due to the fact that Paul and Dan had to make the seven hour drive back to Illinois that evening. I didn't mind having the afternoon to kick back and just relax , as a matter of fact I kind of enjoyed it. That evening we hit a local restaurant in Mountain Home and met up with a couple of other guys down for the weekend. I have to say , I met more good people for the first time on this trip than I can ever remember having done before.
Sunday morning we awoke to dead-low water on both tailwaters and decided to just wade fish the shoals below the house for a few hours before packing it in for the long trip home.
Everyone caught a few rainbows nymphing the pocket water and I was even able to land a nice little brown on a size #18 copper john.
It was a good way to put the finishing touches on an incredible weekend of fishing. As we were packing up to leave I told one of the guys..."The only thing wrong with this kind of weekend is that they just don't come around often enough."