White River

Hopper Whoppers

Posted by Larry Babin on February 5th, 2012
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It all began one evening when my phone rang at 7:30 while I napped on the couch. I heard a familiar deep southern accent on the phone. “Larry, son, do you remember me?” I recognized Walter’s voice. He and I have fished together many times; but this is usually how he begins the conversation. I waited patiently for the next line. “Larry, I’m ready to hear that Hardy reel sing again. Take me fishing!” By this point I’m feeling butterflies in my stomach; because I know that each time I’ve had Walter in the boat, we were able to do just that.

“I’d love to Walter! When?” Walter reminded me that he is 80 years old and is available most of the time if the weather is good and his sweet wife Juanita is willing to drive him the seven hours to Mountain Home from Jackson, Tennessee. I explained that we’re experiencing a second year of a stellar hopper season on the White River. I was sure that Hardy reel of his had a great chance of singing that familiar tune with a trophy brown on the other end conducting the symphony. Walter liked the idea and we set the date.

Up until this point in the year, I’ve had different experiences of the best time of day for the hopper bite. However, this late in the year I knew early morning wasn’t quite the ticket it was earlier in the season. I met Walter and Juanita at our usual rendezvous point at 8 am. Walter anxiously awaited my arrival with three rods and Hardy reels in his hands. Our typical introduction was no different on this day. I rolled down the passenger window to a smiling Walter and said, “Do you want to go fishing today?” With a gleaming smile, Walter issued the line I’ve heard many mornings before. “Why yes! Let’s go fishing today!” After a brief visit and hug with Juanita, we were off to the river.

We put in the Adipose drift boat at White Hole around 9 am as the fog had not quite lifted. This was a good thing. A light fog and a twitching foam bug is a great recipe to ambush a trophy brown trout. After a few moments of instruction, Walter was ready to present. Between rock structure and trees, Walter meticulously placed my secret hopper in both slack water and small riffles which doubled as feeding lanes. As expected, Walter was a little trigger happy and missed the hookup. “Count one-one-thousand,” I reiterated to Walter. “Let that fish eat. Feed him right!” We both laughed for a moment but soon the focus returned to the fishing.

Twitch, twitch, twitch, then BLAM! This fish ate! Within seconds it was quite apparent that this was a decent brown. True to form, Walter played this fish like a song.

With one nice brown under his belt after only an hour of fishing, he was ready to release the fish and carry on. With five more miles of great hopper water to fish, we were both pleased with the start. With a little rejuvenation, this brownie charged away.

Over the course of the next hour Walter landed quite a few more average sized fish as he dialed in the hook set strategy on this hopper bite. I always enjoy the banter back and forth with guys like Walter. Occasionally I’d yell “Set!” as he reared back a bit too late. He would quickly reply that he has no time for smaller fish like that and that was why he pulled the fly away. We’d both laugh for a moment knowing that hopper fishing has no room for complacency; but surrounded by such a beautiful atmosphere in mid-October makes it hard to concentrate. Moments later, a stout female brown charged from the depths to inhale his hopper that landed behind a large structure. Although the flows were not extreme on this day, the pure girth of this fish gave Walter more than he bargained for. She immediately ran to the middle of the river and went straight down. The Hardy reel sang a faster tune than normal and sent Walter into his backing in no time. I recorded a short video as Walter was fighting this fish but his choice of words to name this fish may not be suitable for all ears. After landing the fish and reviving her, Walter admitted being exhausted. “Larry, son, why did you put me on such a mean, mean, fish? She was so mean she made me tired. But I would like to do that again!”

Walter and I ate lunch in a relaxed fashion knowing that our day thus far was going well. Some of my favorite hopper water was still ahead of us so I was glad to see Walter put down his lunch like a boss revitalized for the afternoon.

As we approached one of my favorite banks, I cautioned Walter to be prepared for anything. The winds had picked up significantly but thankfully we were not directly affected. Immediately Walter landed a few small fish along the bank in big brown trout holes. I hurriedly released the fish so he could get that magic hopper back out there. Apparently my coaching did not fall on deaf ears. Walter would continuously ask me, “Is here ok? What about here? Now what?” Once he got that pattern figured out regarding when and where to cast, he began telling me where he thought he should place the bug. Upon lifting and recasting, Walter explained he was going to cast and catch a big fish next to “that” rock. To our delight, the water exploded upon impact right where he said it would.

We took a few pics and rested before resuming the remainder of the float. The winds became intensively stronger and to make matters worse, they were up river. We were within sight of the take out, so Walter was quite content to put the rod and Hardy reel down for the day.

I drove Walter back to Mountain Home where we enjoyed some mighty fine whiskey and told exaggerated stories to Juanita about the fish we caught. She was glad Walter had such a great time and gave me a hug before I wished them a safe drive home the following morning.

Thanks so much to my good friends Walter and Juanita! I enjoy your company tremendously and am always exited to get that phone call from the Jackson area code beginning with “Larry, you remember me?” Yes Walter I remember you. Let’s go make that Hardy reel sing! Again!

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