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Just a Sunday Drift

- by Mick Spaulding

April 6, 2014

           It started out the same as it does most of the times for fishing opportunities for the "locals" or those living in relatively close proximity to the White River; a hatched plan late the night before. Once I knew I got the "green-light" from my bride to hook up the Clackacraft, I reached out to a few of my best fishing buddies. I've learned the trick to this is to contact at least 4 guys when you have given basically zero time for warning the night before the hopeful drift occurs. It is extremely rare that all four guys can commit with that little time. A slight chance that 3 will, but a good chance that 2 might make it work. If you get 2 guys to commit, that's perfect. 3 seats in the boat - 3 guys. But, in most cases, you'll be lucky to get one guy that has that kind of flexibility in their schedule. Well, this Saturday evening, that was my new fishing buddy, Corey Dodson. Corey is what even us fish-a-holics call "fishy".

And it is meant as the ultimate compliment. Corey is either fishing, on his way to fishing, planning to fish, thinking about fishing, or asleep. I was lucky that I caught him the evening after he was chasing smallies and could make it down to the White River for an early Sunday start. Now, when a "local" says they got an early start, that normally means you might be on the water around 9:00 but more than likely 10:00ish is more accurate. Many of us "locals" are getting long enough in the tooth that the fish hatchery state park mentality of getting up before daylight was an ignorant time in our early fly-fishing lives.

             Corey had set up the shuttle the night before and we agreed to meet up to drop his truck at Wildcat and we would take my boat. We put in on the Baxter County side of the Bull Shoals Dam ramp. Just before we jumped on board comes the same question asked by drift boat owners worldwide; who's rowing? It had been quite awhile since I'd had the boat out, so I gladly took the oars first. As we began the drift, we both really thought we could hammer them. We had good flows averaging between 4,000-6,000 cfs. They had been maintaining those flows for the past few days, so the fish had plenty of time to get acclimated to the water levels. The thing that got us most excited was the overcast skies. When you sit down and put together a checklist for the optimum conditions for big streamer fishing, we had it in spades.

            As we worked our way down towards the Bull Shoals State Park, we were both somewhat concerned because we hadn't even seen a rainbow follow the fly where we always had before. By the time we got to the top of the park, we switched up and Corey grabbed the oars. As we turned the corner in the river, for the first time, the wind hit us and it wouldn't give us a break the rest of the day. We both knew this was a huge pain in the ass, but we had caught many of our larger brown trout on windy days. Windy days are just what comes with overcast conditions in this time of year. My agreeing to take up my rod wasn't a coincidence, we were approaching some of my favorite water and with the current water levels, it looked awesome. After nearly drifting completely through the State Park, it just wasn't working for me. So, we switched up just before the frog-water above the state park shoals. We dropped anchor in the soft water as we switched spots. As we were sitting there we were talking about what flies might work.

            Now, Corey and I are known as relatively seasoned fly-tyers. So both of our expectations was that the other would have a streamer box completely full of awesome streamers. Well, I already knew that I basically had nothing in my box and was actually planning on bumming off of him if needed. What happened next was a surprise to both of us - neither one of us had crap for flies. I was already thinking that Corey had a lot of confidence in his canary yellow double-deciever. But it wasn't confidence, Hell, that's about all he had! His streamer box looked worse than mine. Once we realized that two experienced fly-tyers literally had about 5 flies between us, we both had a good chuckle.

            Well, as I pulled up the anchor and Corey had is rod ready to go, we were basically stuck in slow frog-water with the wind almost pushing us upstream. Corey makes a quick cast and we saw it immediately spook a handful of stocker rainbow trout. We both said at the same time, "spooked some bows". And then, W A M ! it looked like a Musky had exploded on the water. I'd never seen a trout take the fly as aggressively as this trout did. It looked as if it had taken the fly in 6 inches of water. The fish completely exploded the top of the water and then stayed there for the first few seconds of the fight, it was cool to watch. As almost robotic, I immediately identified I could drop anchor and turned to get the net. Cory, also as expected, was flawless in fighting the fish. We knew immediately it was a toad. Once in the net, we realized it was a perfectly marked 24 inch Brown Trout. Normally, when brownies get this big they have war wounds that either mark their body or kipe. But not this one, he was a stud.

            It was easy to see why Corey loves to fish as much as he does. He was lit up like a Christmas tree and so was I. Prior to me purchasing my drift boat, a good friend of mine, Paul Bobby (G.I. On the Fly) told me that he got the most satisfaction rowing and netting fish for people and I thought he was out of his mind. But, I absolutely loved it. As expected, the utmost care was given to the the fish, it was clearly revived, and completely healthy for the release. Pictures had been taken and high-fives exchanged. It was time to move on.

            Now we were stoked. We were ready to just kill the fishing all the way to our take out at Wildcat, but after the wind continued to not give us any relief we changed our take out to White hole. Our new found enthusiasm was quick to fade as we did not get another chase the remainder of the day. Streamer fishing is the biggest "crap-shoot" in all of fly-fishing. You know before you get in the boat that the odds of hooking a monster brown are very low. To be honest, just seeing big fish chase and not take on an eight hour day of fishing is often regarded as a successful float. At least you know where the big fish are in that scenario.

             But this day was a huge success. You can see from the attached photo and reading this article, that one fish makes all the difference. I did not catch a fish the entire day and was more interested in rowing well enough to get Corey in a good position with current and wind to at least have a chance at a decent presentation. If you ask any hardcore streamer fishermen, you take the goose egg and begin planning your next opportunity to get back out there and roll the dice again to have a monster take your fly. After all, it was just a Sunday float.....