Sunday, June 26, 2022

The White

Heaven ain't too far away...

When I was 12, a family friend named Stephen Konopka found out that I was interested in fly fishing and bequeathed to me a giant stack of fly fishing magazines and Orvis catalogs. In one of those magazines, was a picture of Rip Collins' world record brown trout that came out of the Little Red River in Arkansas in 1992. At over 40 pounds, it was hard for me to fathom that a brown trout could get that big and that it was possible to land on light tackle. The magazines, and the images inside of them, were a large part of why I ended up getting a fly rod outfit for my 13th birthday. The rod put me on the path that I've been on ever since. One day I knew that journey would eventually bring me to Arkansas, just like it did with anglers from around the world. Rip's giant brown literally put Arkansas on the world's radar as a fly fishing mecca for trout. Since then, the legend of the Ozarks only grew and my desire to to fish the Little Red and the White River intensified. This summer, I made my way down south, and found myself with a few days to play on a famous river. 

It lived up to the hype. 

The Little Red River ended up being a bust, which was a major disappoint. The water was simply too high for me to fish off the bank because there wasn't one. At every public access point, the river flooded the riparian zone, and I couldn't even get to the edge of the flow, let alone fly fish. On top of that, I was unable to secure a shuttle service or get the necessary information I needed from the two fly shops I visited. I ended up spending my day driving to the White River, visiting a few shops, planning a shuttle, and then mountain biking. In Cotter, a giant white tower, painted with a trout, signaled my arrival to the "trout capital of the world". 

The state of the Little Red. 

Like the Little Red, the White River was generating a ton of water for the summer irrigation season. At almost 20,000 cubic feet per second, the river was full and the current was ripping. I floated it with my Water Master Kodiak and found it to be very intimidating. I found out quickly that floating and fishing from the water master was not possible. I could streamer fish, and had plenty of follows, but the rate of flow was simply too much. That left me with fishing from a fixed position. Dropping anchor in that type of water was downright scary and I had to be incredibly careful to not get it caught. I could only fish current breaks, eddies, and flooded backwaters. 

On day one, I floated almost 20 miles and picked up some valuable information. I found out that the river has an epic sulphur hatch that lasts from the early afternoon until dark. Armed with four rods, I realized pretty quickly that I only needed one. Thankfully, I had some sulphur emergers and comparaduns leftover from the PA hatches in May. However, they were a few shades of yellow/orange off. Nonetheless, I hooked some huge trout that promptly kicked my ass. I landed a lot of average fish, including a beautiful 18 inch cutthroat, which was the final piece to a single day grand slam on top. I found a few good locations that were ideal for my fishing situation and took some mental notes. During the last few hours of the day, I was in power float mode, trying to make the takeout by dark. 

I planned to float the same section of river on the following day. Everything I decided to do was intentional. I cut my total float in half in order to fish specific locations. I even had a specific fish I wanted to catch. In the van, I whipped up a dozen new sulphur comparaduns that had the perfect shade of orange. I tied a fresh Harvey leader tapered down to 5.5x tippet because 6x was a super bad idea. I also switched out my H3 904 for a H3 Blackout 955. I slept in, did some yoga, and launched around noon. All told, I ended up landing 9 brown trout between 20-24" in about four hours of fishing. This does not count the multitude of fish I landed between 16-20"or the big ones that I failed to land. It was simply ridiculous fishing. 

I could have done even better, if I didn't spend about an hour dueling with the largest rising brown trout I ever fished for. At the peak of the hatch, the river was a blanket of sulphurs and a gnarly gator of a brown was positioned in a hole on a flooded island. The hole created a pocket for him to sit in and the flooded grass created a current that was almost impossible to get a dead drift through. I spotted the brown the previous day but was mostly out of proper positioning. He ended up being in the exact same spot. Twice, I was able to get my fly to drift into his feeding lane and fool him into eating it. On both occasions, my hook set never found his mouth. Eventually, I spooked him and ended up settling for another fish in the vicinity. That brown trout ended up being the 2nd largest brown I've ever taken on top. She took on my first drift. 

That was my Ozark experience. Two days on the White. DIY. 20,000 cfs. Water master. 

Just imagine if you hired a guide...

I "settled" for this one...

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