Joe tied those at the Sow Bug Roundup, held last week in Mountain Home. I try to go because it’s a celebration of fly tying. Didn’t make it this year.
I did get to fly fish 2.5 days during spring break, all in the boat with Louis Campbell. We got some deep fishing in 21,000 cfs at Bull Shoals Dam out of his boat, just the two of us. We netted about 20 browns, some of them huge. The real trophy was caught by Coach Campbell, a 30.5-inch brown trout that had a 20-inch girth. I’ll get Matt Jones to post the picture of that fish. We were fishing a white streamer about 12 feet deep. We were not stripping it, but dead drifting under a big float.
There are tricks to keeping a boat even with a dead drifted fly in that big water. We never turned on the motor and didn’t use a drag chain. Instead, both of us used boat paddles in sculling methods like we did growing up bream fishing in farm ponds. It’s not easy. But a drag chain spooks big browns, as does a running motor. And, we didn’t want to oar the boat because that knocks someone out of fishing.
This was fly fishing with a 6 weight rod and heavy leaders, but the tippet had to be 5x, just a shade under 8-pound test. Most of the fish we landed were way above the line test. The big one was probably well above 20 pounds.
I netted it. There’s some pressure when your buddy hooks a fish of his lifetime. I had to run the boat as we chased it, a 20-minute fight. Then, I had to know when it was the right time to jump off the motor and net it. I got it on the first swipe.
One of the funny stories was a 25-inch brown that Coach Campbell and I caught together. How can that be? Well, he thought he was hung and he asked me to get the backing in. You are quickly in the backing when you are floating in that high water, just flying down the river. He runs the motor better than I do, so I took his rod and he jumped on the motor to catch back up to the point the fly was hung. I got the backing onto the reel as he motored back up the river. And, then I felt something that wasn’t dead weight in one spot, the sign you are hung. And, as I got the line straight up above it, I could see that the straight line down to the water was moving past trees. When you are fishing 12 to 15 feet deep, you don’t ever see bottom or the fish.
“Coach, you aren’t hung, this is a big brown,” I yelled. “Come get your fish.”
So he jumped off the motor and reclaimed his fly rod. And, I ran the motor until we got it to the boat and I netted it. It was probably the third or fourth biggest brown we netted over those three days. There were several like his monster that we didn’t get to the boat. But we did see a few jumps. They were awesome fish, the apex predator of the White River – unless it’s me and Coach Campbell!
I’m not saying what we did is easy. All the stars have to line up right. Flows have to be right. Probably need a shad kill to concentrate the browns at the dam. There had been one the day before we started. Also, need dark rainy conditions, but not storms. We got that the first day and that’s when we caught the biggest browns of the week. Then, you have to be able to handle a fly rod in big flows. Drifting nymphs and streamers/jigs in that big of flows and getting them down to the fish on the bottom is not easy. There were guides in the river around us with clients that were not going to be able to handle a fly rod with a big brown like those on light tippet, in those flows. Many left the White River in favor of lunch and a trip over to the Norfork (where the flows were lighter) for the afternoon.
At dinner Friday night, I was with my son-in-law, Kristopher Bouldin. He’s one of the elite guides on those rivers. He was laughing about being on the Norfork those three days and his guide friends showing up on the Norfork after lunch. They had left the Bull Shoals Dam area. Why? Kristopher said they all said, “Your father-in-law and his buddy, the Coach, are hammering the browns up there and my clients didn’t need to see that all day!” That was a sweet story to hear.
Coach and I are for sure not guides. But we do well together. He knows my every move and I know his. We can navigate tough things together because we’ve fished together for so long. We lose a lot of flies fishing light tackle that deep in such big water. You can get shutout trying that. But when it all falls in place, it can be beautiful.