White River

Unexpected day on the river

Posted by Phil Lilley on February 13th, 2015
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I had an unexpected glorious day on the White River last weekend. It was unexpected because it was warm and sunny with little wind. This kind of day, in the middle of winter, is definitely out of the ordinary. The temperature actually hit seventy two degrees, here in Cotter. Without a cloud in the sky, the sun really warmed things up a bit. There was a bit of wind, maybe five to ten miles per hour. To make things even better, there had no generation on either river for about seventy two hours. Both were as low as they could go on minimum generation.

With conditions like this, I had to go fishing. I asked my favorite fishing buddy, my wife, Lori, if she wanted to go. She was very interested but, with the National Rally Championships coming up, in March, in Gray Summit, Missouri, she felt like her time would be better spent working with our yellow Labrador retriever, Tilley. It is a big honor to be invited, particularly for such a young dog. Lori wanted to make the best of the opportunity and see how well Tilley could perform. My neighbor, Jeff, had some errands to run and could not go either. I decided to go alone.

I put on a pair of pile pants because I expected to wade deep. I also wore a long sleeve cotton t shirt with a wind shirt over it. It was gorgeous, when I arrived at Rim Shoals and I quickly donned my waders. My Sage rod was still rigged from my last trip and I decided to start with that rig, a tan scud with a root beer midge dropper. I started fishing close to the access but had no luck. I tried several different flies but the root beer midge was the only fly that produced a trout.

I decided to wade the top riffle over to the island. This can be a daunting task with the higher flows of minimum flow. However, with no generation for several days, the water was pretty low and I easily made it across to the island. I worked downstream and fished my usual spots. I was not too successful and only caught a couple of fish. I did manage to pump their stomachs with my stomach pump. They contained mostly very small dark midges (size 28 or smaller) and some small scuds.

I decided to try something completely different. I have been tying a lot of flies for the past few weeks and the fly that I had been tying most recently was the green butt. This is my signature pattern and I have been very successful with it, in a variety of situations. I took a minute to strip off the two flies that I was fishing, the lead and the strike indicator. I tied on a five foot 5X tippet and a green butt. I pinched down the barb and began fishing.

On the first swing I felt a strong strike and instinctively gave the fly a strong set. I set way too hard and broke off the fish. I took a minute and tied on a fresh tippet and another green butt. I talked myself into calming down. I cast again and immediately got another strike. This time I quickly and gently lifted the rod. This set was perfect and I was able to land the trout. I spent the rest of the day fishing the green butt and catching several trout. It was not constant action but I definitely caught enough to keep my mind in the game.

I fished until four and enjoyed every minute of it. It was a treat to catch an unexpected great day in the middle of winter.

John Berry is a fly fishing guide in Cotter, Arkansas and has fished our local streams for over thirty years.

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