Norfork Tailwater

Big catch on light tackle

Posted by John Berry on January 6th, 2012
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On the Monday before Christmas, Lori and I were able to fish together on the Norfork. We had completed our Christmas shopping and had a few days off before our annual trek to Memphis to celebrate the holiday with family and friends. I checked the predicted generation and noted a nice eight hour window of wadable water on the Norfork. We ate an early lunch, loaded our gear and prepared to go.

We had a lengthy discussion about whether to take our yellow lab Ellie with us. At thirteen years of age, she is getting a little old and not nearly as spry as she used to be. But, if truth be told, so am I. We are always concerned with her blind eye and do not want to take her to any wading spot that would be too hazardous for her. The Norfork is perfect. There is easy wading with a gravel bottom and light current with plenty of spots, where she can stay by my side and be an active participant in the fishing. She really loves to be on stream and is always disappointed when we leave her at home. We decided to take her with us.

When we arrived at the Ackerman Access, we noted that the conditions were nearly perfect. There were light winds, sunny skies and low water. There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot and no anglers in sight. We took a few minutes to don our waders and string up our rods. We let Ellie out of the car and headed up stream. She eagerly led the way and had a spring in her step.

When we arrived at Charlie’s island, we found a couple of anglers already there but there was plenty of water to fish. Lori was interested in fishing a nearby run. She asked the angler fishing a distance downstream if it would be alright if she fished behind him. He said that would be no problem and besides he was scheduled to leave in a few minutes. By the time she had rigged her rod with an olive woolly bugger, he was gone. He took his fishing buddy who had been fishing another run, with him. We had the entire place to ourselves.

I was interested in fishing another run further upstream. I took Ellie with me. There is now a stone structure on the upstream side of the island to prevent further erosion on the island. I had to walk far upstream before I found a spot where she could climb it. We walked a bit further before we arrived at the run. I took a minute to rig my rod with a pink San Juan worm and a Y2K dropper, under a strike indicator and a bit of lead. After a few casts, I was able to land a nice fourteen inch rainbow. I took a minute to pump its stomach and noted several size sixteen olive scuds. I quickly changed over my Y2K for an olive scud. I started picking up one trout after another. I fished there for quite a while but decided to join Lori at her spot downstream.

Lori had done well on the olive woolly bugger. I told her about my success with the olive scud and she changed over to one. She was immediately into fish and was doing better than she had with the woolly bugger. I fished below her for a while but my water was not as productive as hers. I decided to fish a run on the other side of the island. I took Ellie with me.

This is Ellie’s favorite spot. The water is quite shallow allowing her to stick beside me all the way through the run. It is stacked with loads of small fish that provide constant action. I began fishing it and caught a few on the olive scud. I noticed several fish hitting the top and some midges flying around. I decided that it was time to try a Dan’s turkey tail emerger. It took me about five minutes to change over to the small fly. The problem was the tippet through the small eye on the hook. I finally attached it and began fishing.

I was into trout on the first cast. Ellie was in heaven. She would lunge toward each trout as I brought it in. I admonished her and she let me release it unharmed. Everything was going well when I hooked a bigger trout that decided to take to the air. The second leap flipped Ellie’s switch. The retriever gene was kicking in. She launched into the water like a dog half her age. She grabbed the trout in her mouth and was ready to bring it in. The trout struggled a bit and was able to slip the barbless hook and Ellie’s grasp. It was unharmed and gone in a flash. There was still tension on the rod. I was hooked up on something.

It had to be Ellie. I could not see the 6X tippet or size eighteen fly, from where I stood. I did not want to hurt my dog. I commanded her to stay and she stood perfectly still, as I carefully made my way to her cranking in my spare line as I went. When I got to her, I carefully inspected her and found the Dan’s turkey tail emerger in her lip. She did not move or make a sound as I removed it. It was a perfect example of why I always fish barbless, no matter where I am. We fished a while longer and finally called it a day.

As we walked out, I thought that Ellie was the largest thing I had ever hooked and landed on a fly rod and definitely the largest that I had ever landed on 6X tippet, if you ignore the time that I hooked myself in the nose on a particularly windy day. It didn’t affect her love of fishing. She is ready to return to the river today!

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