Posted by Marsha Lilley on February 9th, 2012
New customers to Arkansas fly shops might expect to hear “Hey, Bubba!” more than “Hey, Mate! ” from the experienced staff.
But Aussie Steve Dally is just one of many eclectic personalities who confirm the world-class draw of the White River waters and bring clientele the culmination of their vast experiences on daily guide trips.
Raised on Australia’s island state of Tasmania, Dally’s passion for fly fishing was born in his late 20s as he chased the wild brown trout and rainbows of the area’s wilderness lakes and streams – meanwhile working as a journalist. He even ran the political bureau of the state’s largest newspaper for four years.
With his fishing fever and writing talent, in 2000 he launched many an angler’s dream of living off the exploits of his camera, keyboard and rod, traveling three years in the United States to Montana, Wyoming, Alaska (twice), Baja, New York, Michigan, New Mexico, Idaho and finally Arkansas. His articles and photographs were featured in many Australian publications and websites, but the decimation of the travel industry after 9/11 cost him many outlets.
“I had one of the best offices in the world, but one of the worst paychecks,” he said.
Dally still writes a regular column and articles for Flylife, Australia and New Zealand’s premier fly fishing magazine published quarterly, as well as his witty online Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher Jounal.
He joined the Beaver Dam store in 2004, building his knowledge of the river system from Bear to Norfolk as he guided and ran the fly fishing department.
“I never really wanted to guide, but thought, ‘Let’s have it a crack at it,’ “ he said. “Actually that is not really true . . . I saw it as a more lucrative means of staying in the business. I had been offered one job guiding in Alaska and one on Henrys Fork, but I would have been the 16th guide down the list working my way up.”
Dally had pursued a reporting job for a northwest Arkansas newspaper, but found he would be the sole journalist covering a beat that would demand many nights and weekends – “all for about $8 an hour.”
But after chasing fly fishing highs across North America, why settle in Arkansas?
“I happened to meet Dave & Emily Whitlock just before we left (from California)“ he said. “That gave me a little bit of confidence but I had know idea what I was coming to.”
He still remembers that as he initiates new anglers to Arkansas: “They know there are big fish here, but they don’t really know what it’s like.”
Dally said he never really felt ostracized coming in from the outside. “I don’t know whether it’s because I have this funny accent or something, but seriously there have been a bunch of guys here who have been really good to me.
“It’s just like any other club you join. You just keep your head down, your nose clean and don’t say anything stupid.”
He became part of the Mountain River Fly Shop team at Cotter in 2007, and then as co-owner with Jim Dugan, the outlet was reborn as Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher, touting the 44 miles of the White River and the four miles of the Norfork that are within 20 minutes drive of the shop either way.
Their website pledges “to deliver to you: THE equipment, flies and gear you need, and at the right price, to fish the White River, the Ozark waterways and beyond; THE best advice and education on where and how to fish; AND a home away from home which understands stuff like your obsession with finding the perfect thread color for a 22 midge; that getting the right fit in waders is more important than the label, and how to help you find the rod that whispers sweet nothings up your arm.”
“We use seven guides regularly – some less regularly than we like. It’s the independent guide thing. This shop historically has used a lot of guides irregularly. We’ve got a good crew. They’re all different characters with different ways.”
Dally advises cheerfully adapting to the daily changes on the complex tailwaters, especially with minimum flow issues pending.
“The more flexible you are on this river, the more you can enjoy it. I really don’t like sitting on the bank whining and waiting for the water to go down. Plus, I grew up in boats.”
Dally still dedicates time to sharing his love of fly fishing through writing, now working on a couple of pieces for different magazines.
“When I was in newspapers, it was like, ‘Will I ever get around to writing that book?’ Now, it’s like that with the articles.”
But he acknowledged the shortened attention span of both readers and writers in this Facebook age, where readership drops off dramatically with added length of features, even with videos.
“ If I had my preference I would take photos these days rather than write. I have just been doing this for 25 years. Some days I have fun and some days it’s drudgery, but it’s still better than writing about politics!”
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