Norfork Tailwater

Norfork by Kayak, John Berry and Lori Sloas

Posted by John Berry on August 24th, 2012
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It has been a long summer and my wife, Lori, and I have been very busy guiding. As a result we have not many opportunities to fish together. In addition, our favorite kayaking streams, the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek have been so low, due to our extreme drought, that we have not kayaked or canoed as often as usual. We got a day off and decided to float the Norfork. We invited our friends, Jeff and Shelley Trost to join us. They live in Memphis and have a weekend home across the street from us in Cotter.

We loaded our kayaks on the trailer and gathered our gear the night before. We woke up early and got moving. It was sixty degrees when we left the house. We drove in separate cars so that we could do our own shuttle. I parked my car at the parking lot for the ramp at the Confluence of the White and Norfork Rivers. I hopped in Lori’s car and we drove her car with the kayak trailer to the ramp at Norfork Dam. Jeff and Shelley had arrived in Cotter late the night before and were to join us on the river later in the day.

We unloaded our kayaks and donned our waders. There was not a cloud in the sky and the river was on the bottom. All around us there were rising trout. It was still cool. I wore a light fleece vest under my personal flotation device (PFD) and I was very comfortable. We launched and made our way downstream. The plan was for us to float down to McClellan’s with no stops along the way. That is my favorite water on the Norfork and I have not been able to fish it for some time. The float went perfectly and we were there in record time.

I floated down to my favorite run and tied my kayak to a sizable rock. I rigged my rod with a cerise San Juan worm under a strike indicator. I added a size twenty black zebra midge with silver wire and silver bead as a dropper. Lori parked her kayak beside mine and headed downstream to fish her favorite spot. We had waterproof walkie-talkies with us so that we could keep up with each other.

I waded out and made my first cast. I hooked and landed a good rainbow. I continued fishing but was having some trouble seeing the indicator due to the glare on the water. I decided to wade across the run and fish it from the other side with the sun on my back. I was soon into some nice fish. My fourth fish was a fat twenty inch rainbow that I landed on the zebra midge. I took a brief break to radio Lori and let her know what I was catching them on. She was having success with partridge and orange soft hackles.

Jeff and Shelley caught up with us after a nice float down in their canoe, without any mishaps. They began fishing nearby and I walked downstream to fish with Lori for a while. As I was rigging my rod for the new water, I looked up and noticed a radical bend in her rod and asked if she had a big fish on. She said yes. I laid down my rod and walked toward her pulling out my camera as I went. I watched the end of the heroic battle and was impressed when she landed the trout. It was a fat male brilliantly colored twenty one inch rainbow. I took several photos and she loving released the fish. We fished together for a while and caught some more trout. About noon we linked up with Jeff and Shelley for lunch.

We stayed there and fished an hour longer and then kayaked down below McClellan’s. We found some more good water and began catching fish there. We caught really some nice trout. The sky began to darken. I got a call from Lori (she was fishing far downstream). She asked if I had heard the thunder in the distance. I had not but as we continued to fish I began to hear it in the distance. The sky got darker and darker. We all got concerned and decided to head downstream to the take out.

It began raining, about the time we launched our boats. We had a couple of miles to go. The going was rough, because it was so overcast that we had difficulty, in reading the water. We all hung up on a rock or gravel, on the trip down. About half way to the take out, the rain got very heavy and the wind picked up. It was absolutely howling and blowing straight upstream. We needed some shelter. I spied the dock at River Ridge Inn and knew that Jim and Liz would not mind if we took shelter there.

We made a beeline for it and were there in a couple of minutes. It was a welcome relief to be out of the rain. We tied up our boats and sat down at the picnic table there. We waited until the wind died down and the rain stopped. We then got back in our boats and had an easy float down to the confluence. Lori, Jeff and I got in my car and drove up to the Dam to get the other cars. Shelley stayed with the boats. We all drove back to the confluence and loaded our boats and gear. It was all soaked and we looked like a bunch of drowned rats. We drove back home and stowed away all of our gear. It had not rained in Cotter!

As we put away our gear, I made a mental note to carry a rain jacket in the kayak. It had been a great trip with a challenging ending. We are all ready to do it again.

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