We have all heard fishing tales in which we had significant doubts about the validity and/or accuracy of the tale. Some of us have heard the same tale on multiple occasions and were astonished at the exponential growth of the fish or the length of the fight with each recap of the story. Consequently, we develop doubts about the storyteller as well as his tale. Oh, I don’t think one should go as far as to accuse one of “deliberately casting fictitious tippets with deceptive, bogus representations of aquatic insects” (lying). You see, it is somewhat understood that some level of exaggeration when recounting a fishing experience is quite acceptable. The level of embellishment that is acceptable is determined solely by the listener – or in this case the reader. However, I assure you that this story is real, although some of the details are a little sketchy at this point.
Steve and I had planned a trip to the White River in Arkansas. This was a rare trip for us as we normally stop at a stream at little closer to our Tennessee homes. Many people prefer the White River, Little Red River, or the Norfork. Steve and I have fished the Spring River for as long as I have known him, which is quite a few years now – at least more than we want to admit. We do it for various reasons. First, it is closer. Second, it is a natural steam so you don’t have to worry about generation which reached out and snatched the day away from us on this trip. There are, however, some negatives about the river. Generally, we fish with large flies. It is not my favorite way to fish as I prefer lighter rods and small flies, but we do catch a lot of decent size fish in this stream. Access is limited so large crowds can destroy a good day. They have a gigantic and extremely loud canoe hatch throughout the summer on this stream. Finally, another negative is snakes. There are snakes in this river, and some are the type you do not want to step on. I will share that tale with you another time. But on this trip, we were going to the king of trout waters in Arkansas.
For me, it is about an eight hour drive. I drive to Milan, Tennessee, and we complete the journey together. So, we had the usual conversation along the way. We solve all the problems facing America and the world on our way and then ponder the reasons why someone doesn’t just ask us what to do. Everything could be solved in about two weeks – at least in our own minds. Maybe we just have small minds. Steve would not appreciate that. He is one of the brightest guys I have ever known.
As we draw closer to our destination, the conversation begins to center around fishing. Then, anticipation begins to build, and by the time we are there, butterflies are fluttering throughout the cab of the truck – or at least in our stomachs. Actually, we are not crazy – just fly fishermen. You know exactly what I am talking about.
Now there are big fish in the White River, and lots of them. We were planning on fishing either Wildcat or Rim Shoals. One of the problems with fishing in Arkansas tailwaters is the generation schedule. In Tennessee, you can get the generation schedule for the next day by 4:00 PM central time. But in Arkansas, there is no such service. You just have to find out what they have been doing the past few days and hope the schedule is continued. Oh, you can call a number and find out how many generators are being run and when they started, but no information about when they will stop. We have driven over to the White on several occasions only to realize that we have wasted a couple of hours getting there as the water is flowing at full force. We could have just stopped at the Spring River. We did get to fish the White on this trip. We fished Friday afternoon and in the early morning on Saturday catching many fish and increasing our knowledge and experience on the White.
By mid-morning on Saturday, however, we were disappointed as we notice a change in the water. It seemed to be moving a little faster and maybe rising a little. I looked at the rock we had placed to gauge the water level. It was time to get out. There are worse things, but you just can’t seem to think of any at the time. It reminds me so much of when I was a kid working on the farm all day and thinking of nothing but the baseball game I had that night. On the way to the game, thunder began to crack and soon the road was covered with rain, and no game was to be played. While this fishing day was not a rainout, it was a generation-out. So, we loaded into the truck and began the journey back from Mountain Home. Of course, the old faithful of Arkansas –Spring River - was on our way.
Along the way, we would cross the Norfork River. At one time, there were three primary access areas to the Norfork. One was the dam, the second was Handicap Access, and the third was McClellan’s Trout Dock. We had one of our best fishing days ever at McClellans. It is now closed. I really miss that access area. Anyway, as we approached the river crossing, which just happens to be near Handicap Access, Steve turned to me and with that sheepish look as though he was a child asking for candy, and said, “do you want to give it a try?” “Of course,” I relied. We made the left turn onto the access road and proceeded to the parking lot. We rigged and headed to the water. It was a bright sunny day, and we decided to rig with 8x tippet.
The water in the Handicap Access of the Norfork is about knee deep throughout most of the river when generation is not occurring. There are some deeper areas primarily in the eroded seams of the limestone bottom. There were several people in the first run, so Steve and I moved on up stream. I notice some rises in a run up stream. The run was wide enough for Steve to be on one side while I was on the other. We began catching trout on Elk Hair Caddis. The tout we were catching were not very big; but we were catching a lot of fish, and it was on a dry fly. We were having a blast! Suddenly, I saw a rise that just slightly broke the surface. It appeared to be about the same size as the other fish we had been catching. I raised the rod to set the hook. The fish took the fly to the bottom. I tried to lift the rod, but it seemed I was hung on the bottom. I thought the fish had carried my fly to the bottom, rubbed his nose on a rock or log, and left the fly hung on the bottom as he gleefully swam away. I looked at Steve and said, “Darn, that fish hung my fly on the bottom.” He said, “if you are hung, the bottom is moving – that’s a fish!” I realized he was right. So, I began playing the fish doubting my ability to land such a fish with 8x tippet. Steve looked across the water at me as though I had just broken his favorite fly rod. He said, “You are the luckiest jerk I have ever seen.” That was the first time I ever saw Steve unhappy that I had caught a fish. Sometimes envy just gets the best of a man. Anyway, I just smiled as I played the fish. Suddenly, right after calling me a jerk, Steve, who was still fishing, hooked a big brown just like the one I had on the line. He fought his fish for some time before it broke off. I continued to fight the fish as delicately as I could knowing the thin line that connected the two of us was much too small to manipulate a big brown like this. By this time, I had gotten a good look at him. He was close to 20 inches. I continued to play the fish as I hoped he did not make a run down stream. He seemed relatively content to make small runs up stream and then allow me to gain some line on him. I did not have a net (a lesson learned), but I finally thought I had him tired enough to make an attempt at landing him. I slowly tried to get him to the surface and skate him, with the current, closer to me. It seemed to be working. He was just laying there on top of the water about two feet from my leg. I reached down to try to grab the fish. Suddenly, he seemed to look up and see me for the first time. Then, at what seemed to be light speed, he turned and dove for the bottom of the run snapping my line as though it was a spider web trying to stop a bus. I stood there wanting to cry or scream, but I knew that such behavior would evoke a chorus of laughter from my favorite fishing buddy. So, I stood in a silent sulk. All I wanted was a picture. But the big brown obviously had somewhere he needed to be. I was so disappointed but appreciated the game he was willing to play with me.
We had to leave. Of course, the disappointment for us both made it somewhat easier to leave that clear cold stream. We walked down the stream and up the bank without saying a word. After we packed the rods, reels, and waders, we got in the truck. Finally, after exiting the parking lot to the road leading to the highway, Steve looked at me and said, “no one will believe that.” I turned back to Steve and said, “Are you kidding, of course they will. No idiot tells a fishing story in which he lies about the two great fish that got away!”
I suppose you will have to judge for yourself.
Arkansas Dam Generation Numbers
Greers Ferry Dam (Little Red River) – 501-362-5150
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