Norfork Tailwater

Changing goals

Posted by John Berry on August 3rd, 2012
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Despite some brutally hot temperatures this past week, I spent several days on the river teaching fly fishing. It was not part of the regular fly fishing classes that my wife, Lori, and I teach several times a year at Arkansas State University Mountain Home but they were teaching guide trips where I spent the day with a single client. The idea is to give intense one on one instruction and concentrate on the new angler’s problem areas.

There was one private class that did not turn out as expected. I was hired for a teaching trip through Blue Ribbon Fly Shop with David, a fireman from Oklahoma City. He had booked the trip several weeks in advance and we traded several emails that outlined his skill level and his desire to improve his ability to read water.

When the day came, I carefully studied the water levels. I wanted to do a wade trip on a smaller stream and the Norfork was the perfect choice. The water was to be off until two o’clock, so I wanted to get an early start. That meant that we would do most of our fishing in the cool of the morning and that we could still get in a full day’s fishing. In addition, they were not running water on the White and that translated to less fishing pressure on the Norfork.

When we arrived, there were already two cars in the parking lot despite the early hour. There was a heavy mist on the water and we could not see far up or down stream. It was quite cool and the weather did not give a clue that the temperature was to climb to over one hundred degrees by early afternoon. I knew how hot it was to get and opted to wet wade. I put on some heavy wool socks, neoprene booties and my studded wading boots but no waders. This would keep my feet warm and protect me from underwater obstacles. I wore long quick drying slacks to protect my legs from the sun and I carried my wading staff in its holster on my wading belt. David chose to wear his waders.

We waded upstream into the Catch and Release to one of my favorite spots. I had not rigged David’s rod at the access because I wanted to figure out where we were going to begin before I decided what we were going to use. I now too the time to add eighteen inches of 6X tippet to the nine foot 5X leader. I added a size twenty black zebra midges with a silver bead and silver wire below a hot fluorescent pink San Juan worm, a bit of lead and a strike indicator. I took a minute to make sure that the barbs were pinched down. David caught a fish on the first cast. It was an omen of things to come. We took five fish on the first six casts. I knew that it was going to be a good day. We stood there and caught trout after trout. When the action slowed a bit we would change flies. Over the course of the day, we landed trout on eight different flies.

As we fished I worked on David’s fishing technique. I showed him how to mend his line more effectively. We concentrated on achieving a perfect drag free drift. We also honed his fish landing skills. When we hooked a fish, I encouraged him to use his reel. Most anglers just strip in trout particularly small ones. This can be a problem when you hook a big fish, where you need the drag of the reel to successfully fight them. Learning to let big fish run is counter intuitive but quite necessary if you hope to land them.

We broke for lunch around noon and walked back to the access for lunch the non-stop action had left us ravenous. I set up lunch on a picnic table in the shade near to river. We were able to catch a breeze coming across the river and we found it quite comfortable. We did not dawdle long as we both wanted to return to the action. On the walk back upstream we discussed that the great fishing has put us off our goal of learning to read water. We decided to wade far upstream and fish our way out. We would concentrate on learning what make a good spot a good spot.

We arrived at the first spot and made our first cast. It produced a good fish. It was like the action downstream had been. We stood there and caught trout after trout. The only difference was that these were a bit bigger and fought more ferociously. David was ecstatic. Time flew by and two hours later I noted that we had not moved. We had gotten caught up in the spectacular fishing and had completely forgotten our original goal.

About 2:45 PM, I looked down and noted that the water was slowly starting to rise. I told David that it was time to go. He was reluctant to leave but I insisted because we had a long way to walk to get back to the access. By the time we got out of the river, it was rising fast and David realized why I had wanted to leave quickly. It was in important lesson on water safety.

We sat and talked about the day, as we watched the water rise. Although we had not accomplished his goal, David felt like he had learned a lot more and the constant action had turned the river into a classroom where he was able to practice what he had learned. If he made an error he learned from it and a few minutes later when he hooked another he was able to avoid repeating that mistake.

Sometimes it is best to change your goal to take advantage of special conditions that can allow you to learn something new and enjoy some great angling at the same time.

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