White River

Fishing on opening day with Lori

Posted by John Berry on February 9th, 2012
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Last Wednesday was opening day for the Catch and Release section below Bull Shoals Dam on the White River. It had been closed from November 1, 2011 until January 31, 2012 in order to facilitate the annual brown trout spawn. By not fishing over them during their spawn, we encourage them to spawn and protect them during this important period of their life cycle. When the browns spawn they do not take nourishment. As a result, at the end of the spawn, they are hungry and aggressively feed. The most abundant food source available at this time is the eggs they just laid. As a result, opening day is a prime time to target the browns that have completed their spawn and are still in the area.

I wanted to get in on the action. My wife, Lori, had just spent a week in Memphis. Her mother had fallen and broken her hip. Lori had gone to help care for her and on her return needed a change of pace. She was a bit tired and reluctant to go. I insisted that she join me. I knew that a good brown was just the ticket to relax her.

We arrived at the access just after lunch. The temperatures were in the sixties, the skies were overcast and the winds were light and variable. They were running the equivalent of three or four full generators, which is near perfect conditions for fishing this section. It was obvious to both of us that several other anglers had the same idea. There were over twenty boats actively working the Catch and Release section. The water was whipped to a froth by the wakes of all those boats heading back upstream at break neck speed.

While Lori was rigging her rods (one with a San Juan worm and a Y2K and one with a large streamer) and I was preparing my river boat to launch, my old friend, Phil Lilley, walked up from the river to the parking lot with a couple of guys that had been fishing with him, for the morning. We chatted for a while and he said that they had landed several browns, with the biggest around twenty to twenty one inches long. He also said that most of the action was on the Baxter County side against the bank.

I launched my river boat with Lori’s assistance and we were soon underway. It would have been impossible for me to fish. With all of the boats around, I had to concentrate on keeping the boat straight and avoiding any other watercraft. With the concentration of anglers fishing the Baxter county side of the river, I decided to fish the Marion County side. I set up a drift near the bank. I turned off my engine and pulled out my paddle and drifted silently down the bank. Lori cast out about thirty feet with the Y2K and constantly mended to maintain a perfect drag free drift. We had gone about half way down when I saw Lori’s strike indicator go down. She is usually very quick, if not too quick. I was surprised when she did not immediately set the hook.

About the time I said something, she deftly lifted the rod to set the hook. Her rod was immediately bent and I heard the unmistakable whine of her reel. I figured that she had a good one on, when I saw the big brown take to the air. It was a hook jawed fat twenty four inch male and he cleared the surface of the water by a good two feet. Lori was handling the brown masterfully but I was concerned that we were too close to the bank. We could drift into it during the fight. I started the motor and carefully moved the boat out into the main current where we had more room to maneuver.

I looked around quickly to ensure that there were no other boats or obstacles in the path of our drift. I grabbed my big boat net and waterproof digital camera and headed toward the front of the boat, where all of the action was taking place. Lori had the brown on the reel and was carefully wearing it down. It finally slid into my big rubber net, where it immediately spit the hook. If she had given it a moment of slack, it would have escaped. We kept the netted brown in the water until I had the camera ready. I took several photos with different poses and returned the brown to the water as quickly as possible. We watched him slowly swim away and then congratulated ourselves on the catch.

We continued fishing and Lori caught several more fish which included another nice brown. It was nowhere as big as the first one but was brightly colored and put up a great fight. She tired of fishing with a strike indicator. She put away her nymph rod and picked up her streamer rod. She had a big white streamer on it and began casting at the bank. I could tell that the fly was not getting down in the heavy current. Lori took a minute to remove the white marabou streamer and replace it with a heavy Clouser minnow. She picked a few nice rainbows before she hit another big brown. This one was larger than the first but was able to shake the hook during the fight. Lori was disappointed.

We fished a while longer but it was getting late. There was only one boat left on the river and we wanted to get back to Cotter before dark. It had been a great day. Lori had caught the biggest brown that I saw landed on opening day and had another good one on. She was happy and relaxed. Mission accomplished!

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