Arkansas Fly Fishing Columns
By John Berry
By John Berry
|Winter Trout by John Berry
When I woke up this morning it was nineteen degrees. The high today is forecast to be thirty two with snow expected tonight. I called the dams and noted that there was one generator on at Bull Shoals and none on at Norfork. This is the weather I have been waiting for. Nothing clears my favorite spots like a little cold weather. I gathered up my wife, Lori, and my Yellow Lab, Ellie, and headed for the Norfork. When we arrived, we were pleased to note that we were the only anglers there. We did have a little company. There was a group of three biologists from Fayetteville there doing research for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on food sources in the river.
Lori was wearing everything she owned and I was similarly dressed. It had been sunny earlier but it was beginning to get cloudy and the wind had picked up. It was definitely getting colder the longer we stayed there. Ellie didnt know the difference.
We walked far upstream and began fishing. Lori started with an olive woolly bugger but had no luck. I started with a size 20 scud and caught a fat 15 inch rainbow on the first cast. The splashing fish flipped Ellies switch and she jumped in the frigid water to retrieve the errant trout. After some spirited conversation with my dog, I was able to land the bow. I thought to my self this is going to be easy. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Though I fished the fly for some time, all I caught after that were some small, recently stocked, cutthroats. They were so small Ellie didnt even pay much attention. She has become jaded and only gets excited over good fish. Lori moved over near me and began nymphing. She picked up a few nice fish but nothing spectacular. I tried a few likely spots nearby being careful to not disturb some spawning rainbows or walk through the redds. Nothing!
We decided to work our way down stream. I walked to a favored run and tried the small scud. There were no takers. I tied on a lime trude (chosen based on my ability to see it). I immediately started to pick up some small stocker cutts. This was a gas and I was really having a good time. Then a trophy Cutt hit my fly and I was having a great time. Ellie heard the reel screaming and went berserk. I was fighting the fish and screaming at her at the same time. She relented and allowed me to land the fish, a gorgeous fat nineteen inch male. It was all I could do to keep her from taking the fish. I removed the barb less hook and released the trout after carefully reviving it.
Meanwhile Lori was nymphing a nearby run. She tagged a few decent trout. Then she hooked a really good fish. It fought like it was possessed and she thought it was a large brown until she brought it in and realized that she had just landed a trophy sucker. The fish flounced just as Lori tried to release it snapping her 6X tippet and taking her fly in the process. To add insult to injury she got her gloves wet in the process. I traded gloves with her as she is more sensitive to cold than I am. (Note to self: put an extra pair of gloves in jacket.) Lori carefully rigged and tied on a size 20 Dans Turkey Quill Emerger.
She walked over to the run I had been fishing and began casting. She quickly picked up a few small cutthroats. Then she felt a strong take. Her reel started whining and Ellie perked up. The Lab scanned the run and saw a large Cutt jump out of the water in a vain attempt to throw the small hook. She dove in and immediately began swimming toward the swirl. I called Ellie back and held her by the collar while Lori fought and landed the trout, a fine twenty inch Cutt. We took a photo and carefully released the fish. She fished a while longer and landed a nineteen inch rainbow. By this time it was getting late and we began walking out. We got to the car at sunset. By the time we removed our waders and packed our gear, it was dark.
We hadnt let the cold bother us and we had a good day. We caught some nice fish and had a pleasant outing with Ellie. We tried several methods of fishing and most worked. The next time you are watching the weather and it looks a little foul outside; dont let it prevent you from catching some nice fish.
Springtime by John Berry
This has been the wettest winter that I can ever remember. Except for a five day reprieve around New Years day (during which Lori and I fished four days), they have been running full bore twenty four hours a day from Thanksgiving until well past the end of February. The lakes are now at pool and there should hopefully be a little wade fishing before the spring rains begin. While I have been doing most of my guiding from a boat this winter I occasionally have a client that doesnt like that and insists upon wading. In those situations I take them to the Spring River.
I dont know why the Spring is not more popular than it is. During the Fall, Winter, and Spring this river fishes well and is rarely crowded. Of course, Summers are a horse of a different color. This is the season of the aluminum hatch, literally thousands of canoeists are set free daily to travel downstream without the foggiest idea of how to steer their boats. As a result, angling on the Spring during the Summer can be a chaotic if not perilous proposition.
Last week I had a client that wanted to wade fish and with eight generators on the White running around the clock and two on the Norfork my best bet was to fish the Spring River. We got an early start, ate a hearty breakfast and drove from Cotter to Mammoth Spring Arkansas. We went to the Dam Three Access just south of town and after donning our waders started following the tracks downstream toward the Curtis Water, a remote, seldom fished section located between the Dam Three access and Bayou access. It can only be accessed by walking in or by canoe. We carried lunch and some soft drinks with us. We walked a couple of miles until we passed the other anglers. We now had a huge stretch of remote water to ourselves. We scrambled down to the river and started fishing.
Armed with six weight rods and floating lines (sink-tips would have been better), my clients used seven and one half foot 3X leaders and eighteen-inch 4X tippets. We tied on heavily weighted bead head woolly buggers and a lot of lead and started dredging the deeper holes. I gave them a quick casting lesson that stressed the finer points of slinging lead. My clients began catching fish almost immediately. We fished hard all morning slowly working our way down stream. At noon we stopped for lunch along a small feeder creek. For entertainment we watched a pair of rainbows spawn only four feet from us. Our only intruder was a bald eagle slowly circling overhead.
We continued fishing our way down stream till about five thirty and then started walking out. My clients had had enough and we wanted to arrive back at the car by sunset. The final tally was impressive. Jeff caught eleven, his best day fishing in Arkansas ever. Jim caught fourteen and Eric landed twenty-seven. All in all, it would be a good day anywhere.
The next time they are running water everywhere, consider fishing the Spring River. You may have a day like we did.
Ruined for Live by John Berry
Last weekend my wife, Lori, my brother, Dan, and I taught a fly fishing school at the White River Trout Lodge near Cotter, Arkansas. This group was a bachelor party that had traveled from Texas and Louisiana to fish in the Ozarks rather than pursue less wholesome recreation elsewhere. There were eleven students nine of which had never held a fly rod. In the morning we had an abbreviated class room session. Lori talked about equipment and water safety. I taught knots and fishing techniques. Dan gave his introduction to casting with Lori and I assisting to ensure that all participants could cast. Lori grilled a tasty lunch and we donned our waders.
We drove the group to Round House Shoals in Cotter, Arkansas, Trout Capital USA, and rigged up the rods. We tied on some hares ear soft hackles that Dan had tied the night before. We chose Round House Shoals because there was plenty of room to accommodate that many anglers, the wading is easy, and there are plenty of fish. Dan located at the top end of the water and helped the fly fishermen there and Lori located on the lower end and assisted the fly fishermen there. I trooped the line roving from top to bottom to fix any problems as they came up.
As soon as we got on the water, we noticed that there was a hatch coming off. It was the Rhyanchophilia caddis. They are large (size 14) with a green body and a light gray colored wing. They were every where and the trout were keying in on them. This is one of our major hatches of the year and the first to appear. When local guides like Duane Hada, George Peters and I run into each other at local hangouts like The Sands this is a big topic of conversation. Have you seen the big caddis? What time did they come off? There had been sightings for weeks and we were ready. Our fly boxes were stuffed with the proper soft hackles and elk hair caddis.
Our students began hooking up immediately. The soft hackles were performing superbly. There were a few students that wanted to try dry flies and we quickly rigged them up on elk hair caddis. By this time the water was literally boiling with insects. It was like tossing a bottle of wine in a drunk tank. You werent going to get it back without somebody taking a pull on it. This fisherama went on all afternoon.
There were a few students that had a little trouble getting the hang of it. Dan, Lori or myself worked with them until they began catching fish. I dont know how many fish were landed. It seemed like someone was always on a fish and everyone caught at least a dozen. Around four the hatch began to abate. We were still catching fish but the action began to slow down. By five they were ready to return to the lodge and savor a few adult beverages on the deck... It had been quite a day and they were worn out from the constant action.
On the way home, Dan, Lori and I discussed the class. We felt like it had been successful. Not just because of our instruction, but due in a large part to the hatch. There is nothing that brings it all together, like a great day of fishing. We had one concern. Most of these students had never been fishing and had no frame of reference. They thought this is the way it is every time you go out. They were ruined for life!
White River Boat by John Berry
Its an awe inspiring sight, slowly emerging through the early morning mist a boat silently floating through the shoals. Two anglers are drifting their flies over likely spots as their guide expertly threads his boat through the water. Suddenly the surface erupts with the violent take of a large brown trout. A struggle ensues that will be repeated several times that day. Rainbows, cutthroats, and a chunky brook trout make it an occasion to be remembered for years to come. How many? The action is too fast and too intense for the anglers to count. Are they fishing from a drift boat on some renowned western stream? No theyre on a float trip on Arkansass White River fishing from a unique craft, the White River boat.
Over a thousand miles from the McKenzie River where the McKenzie boat (drift boat) was created as a way to access mountain streams, a boat evolved that is equally well suited to its environment. The drift boat was designed for trout streams that originated in the high mountains of the Pacific Northwest, which have a steep gradient, the boats high sides and rockered bottom allows it to turn on a dime to avoid obstacles. The white river boat evolved in the Ozarks, which are much older and lower mountains, and the gradient gentler the boat was designed to negotiate shallow shoals with ease. The White is a tailwater river and is subject to extreme fluctuations. The water can rise eight or more feet in a matter of minutes. You need a craft that can operate in a variety of water conditions on the same day.
I have seen modifications to some boats obviously inspired by drift boats, leg braces or extended railings all made with the idea of enhanced stability for standing casters. None seem to have caught on and the norm is to cast from the seated position. The low sides of the boat and raised seats create an effective position for casting. The boats judging by their boxy shape and straight lines have a lot in common with traditional Jon boats. They grew longer and thinner over time. This not only gives them an elegant look but also allows the boat to have a shallow draft and be narrow enough to fit through the tightest passages in low water. The length provides plenty of room for two anglers and a guide, though it is always a good idea to try and coordinate your casts. They have a unique raised transom that creates more propeller clearance and allows the boat to negotiate very low water.
While the rear seat for the guide is fixed, the other seats are freestanding and often removed for seating during the shore lunch. On the older boats the seats are directors chairs held in place by bungee cords, while the newer models sport padded swiveling boat seats mounted on stainless steel stands. The guides seat is normally higher than the passengers. This allows him to see over them so that he can avoid obstacles. When negotiating treacherous water the guide might stand to give him an even better view of the water ahead.
Engines used on the white river boats tend to be small by bass boat standards. This is not a boat designed for speed. Most boats have engines as small as eight horsepower and few are over twenty. The engine allows for travel upstream so that you can access water or drift through productive sections more than once. The constantly changing nature of the river and numerous obstacles make speed impractical. The motors are pulled up to avoid under water obstructions. For the ones the guide doesnt see the motors are equipped with skeg guards to prevent damage to lower units. A recent innovation is the use of jet motors. Their lack of propellers allows them to run through incredibly shallow water. Their disadvantage is the cost to buy and maintain them. Four-cycle engines are starting to gain favor. (Starting in 2006 two cycle engines will no longer be manufactured). They run quieter and produce less pollution. The down side is they are a bit heavier and are therefore a bit more difficult to raise out of the water when avoiding underwater obstructions.
The guide drifts his boat downstream backwards. That is, he floats stern first. Since the long boats take so long to turn it is often more effective to avoid obstacles by motoring back upstream. To easily maintain this stern first drift, most guides utilize a drag chain at lower water levels that allows the boat to drift straight. This is a small section of chain attached to a piece of rope (rope and chain together are shorter than the length of the boat to prevent it from tangling in the propeller). This is then attached to the front of the boat with a quick release so that if the chain gets caught on the bottom the rope will disengage from the boat. There is a float on the rope to allow for recovery.
The older boats are usually 33 inches wide and are light and easy to push through low water but are not as stable in rough water while newer boats are up to 54 inches wide and therefore more stable in high water but are heavier and more difficult to push in lower water.
Six Flies Revisited by John Berry
About twelve years ago, I wrote an article, Six Flies, in which noted that I caught the vast majority of my trout with six flies. This is still true. Though I carry five fly boxes that are all loaded to the brim, I still catch most of my fish with six patterns. What has changed is the flies themselves. Half of the flies were unknown to me then and two of them did not exist. This says a lot about the dynamic nature of fly tying.
My original article listed the following: Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle, Woolly Bugger, Elk Hair Caddis, Gold Ribbed Hares Ear, Red Fox Squirrel Nymph, and Sow Bug. The first three are still on the list but the last three have changed.
I still fish Gold Ribbed Hares Ears. It is an ancient pattern probably unchanged in over one hundred and fifty years. It is an impressionistic fly to imitate the may fly nymph. It is relatively easy to tie and it works everywhere. That said I have to come to rely more on the Copper John. It too is a may fly nymph and is relatively easy to tie. With its copper wire abdomen, brass bead, and epoxy reinforced thorax it sinks like a rock and is virtually indestructible. The copper wire, peacock hurl and flashabou are all fish attractors. It is now tied in a variety of colors and sizes. I still favor the original copper wire versions in size 14 through 20 because it a dead on imitation of the sulphur may fly nymph which is our most important may fly.
I seem to be fishing the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph less than before. I think that I like a lot of other fly fishers in the area I have discovered that midges are a more important food source than we ever realized. Sure we have been fishing midge emergers for years. Chuck Davidson, the Norfork River Keeper, introduced them to us over twenty five years ago. What we needed was a good midge nymph. That is where the zebra midge came in. I first noted them a couple of years ago. I now fish them a lot and catch plenty of fish with them. Initially they all were size sixteen and black now they are available in a variety of sizes and colors. I prefer size sixteen to twenty two in black with silver bead and silver wire and brown with copper bead and copper wire.
Twelve years ago the Sowbug was my go to fly. In fact, if you were stopped by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission enforcement officers and they inspected your fly boxes they could give you a citation for not being serious if you did not have sow bugs with you. Years ago when you waded out of the river there would be a dozen or so sow bugs clinging to your gravel guards. Now it seems that the sow bugs that used to inhabit the White and Norfork river have all but disappeared. They are still important on the Little Red River and Dry Run Creek and I always have them in my fly boxes. However, the food source that has superseded them is scuds. Scuds are essentially fresh water shrimp and the White and Norfork are teeming with them. I carry scuds in olive, tan, and orange (they turn orange when they die) in sizes 16 thru 20.
My list of six indispensable flies is now: Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle, Woolly Bugger, Elk Hair Caddis, Copper John, Zebra Midge and Scud. The thing that makes fly fishing so exciting is change. When I started fly fishing many years ago, my first rod was fiber glass, my first waders were rubberized cotton boot foots and my first flies were Gold ribbed Hares Ears. To excel at this sport you must embrace change. I believe that if I look at this list in another twelve years it will be very different from todays.
Norfork Adventure by John Berry
Yesterday I took my client, Greg, on his first visit on the Norfork River. Greg had taken a fly-fishing class from my brother, Dan, and me ten years ago but hasnt fished much since then. We arrived at the river a little after eight AM and quickly donned our waders and waded far from the access to one of my favorite spots. There was only one other person that we encountered on our way in. It was a fellow guide, George Peters. He told us that he had just caught and released a nice eighteen inch rainbow.
We settled in and began fishing a variety of small nymphs. The going was incredibly slow. At ten thirty we had only caught one small rainbow. It was taking Greg a little time to get the hang of high sticking nymphs and we had missed a few fish. We decided to try a different spot. We waded to a short but very deep run nearby. I took the time to carefully rerig. I tied on a new eighteen inch 6X tippet and a size eight worm brown San Juan worm. I set the strike indicator for the depth of the water and I checked the lead wrapped around the leader just above the knot securing the tippet to the leader to be sure that it was snug.
I showed Greg where to place the fly. He made the perfect cast and the strike indicator drifted about two feet and before it went down like the Titanic.
He set the hook and all we heard was the reel screaming. The fish made a short violent run and rolled on the top. We both gasped! It was a huge male rainbow in full spawning color. Where it would normally have a pink stripe it was deep beet red. He had a pronounced kype that was rubbed raw from digging redds with his chin. I reminded Greg that he was fishing 6X tippet and to play the fish on the reel. After a spirited fight we finally landed the rainbow. He measured just over twenty four inches.
We decided to give the run another go and cast the worm back into the water. This time it drifted three feet and disappeared into the depths of the hole. Greg deftly set the hook and was rewarded with the sound of the reel screaming again. This fish ran further and fought harder than the previous rainbow. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to net the beast. It was a fine twenty inch cutthroat. We fished the run a bit longer and pulled a rainbow and a wild brown out but nothing like the fish we caught earlier.
I looked down stream and noted that George had moved out. He had been in my favorite spot to fish dry flies. I gathered up Greg and we walked over to the run. We tried hoppers and some small dries. We had a few refusals but no takers. After about thirty minutes, we decided to go back to our original spot and see if we could make some thing happen.
We got into position and were immediately into a nice fish. We landed it and several others. It was happening! About noon, I started thinking food. About this time Greg hooked a big one. This trout was having his way with us. We waded into quieter water so that it would be easier to land him there. He made one long run after another. We finally saw him and realized that we had hooked a really nice Cutthroat. He was substantially bigger than the first and had a much larger girth. After a spirited fight, we finally landed him and he measured a righteous twenty two inches. We decided to fish through lunch and stay there until the water came up even if it took a couple of days.
About two PM, I noticed a change in the sound of the water. It was coming up. Greg cranked his line in and we walked back to the access. It came up fast. I set up lunch and we sat down for the first time that day. It was nice to relax and talk about the successes of the day. We loaded up into the car when we finished and drove over to the White River to fish at Rim Shoals. We caught fish but it was nothing like the action on the Norfork that day.
|Y2K by John Berry
I am not writing about the over hyped computer crisis of a few years back but the fly. The Y2K is a bead head egg pattern made with orange and yellow yarn that is trimmed into a conical shape. It can be quite productive. A large part of its effectiveness may be due to its resemblance to power bait.
Yesterday, I was guiding two clients on the White River at Rim Shoals. We were struggling and I tried a Y2K. It produced immediate results and my clients caught several fish on them. I ran into an old fishing buddy that was also struggling. He asked what fly we were using to catch fish. I told him we were using the Y2K. He said that he would be too embarrassed to fish one. I told him I would be more embarrassed to take clients out and not catch fish.
What is it about certain flies that cause them to garner no respect? I hear the same things said about woolly buggers, marabou jigs and San Juan worms. I have to admit that I once had the same attitude about the western attractor flies with their bright colors, foam bodies and rubber legs. Then there are those fly fishers that will not fish a nymph of any kind. They only fish dry flies preferably to rising fish. Maybe it is this kind of thinking that gives fly fishing an image of elitism.
Is it their name or appearance that relegates these patterns to some obscure corner of the fly box? Certainly there are names like the woolly bugger that do not engender respect. You have to admit that it is better than Moose Turd (yes, there is such a fly) but still not a winner. Probably appearance has a lot to do with it. The Y2K just does not look like a fly should and neither do the western attractors.
At the same time certain flies have a certain cachet. They are discussed in the hushed tones reserved for the Founding Fathers or Congressional Medal Of Honor Winners. Flies like Royal Wulffs, Parachute Adams and even Gold Ribbed Hares Ears are discussed with awe. If they are followed by the words, size twenty four they are accorded the respect of holy relics. Sure these flies have well documented genealogies, they have been around for a long time, have an elegant buggy look and yes they are productive patterns.
Maybe the Y2Ks of the world do not have the background or have not been around too long but they do catch fish. If truth be known, I have probably caught more fish on a woolly bugger than any other single pattern. Rip Collins caught his World Record Brown Trout on a brown marabou jig. I am currently catching the majority of the fish I take on dry flies through the use of western attractor flies.
What I am trying to say is that the most important criteria for judging a fly should be its ability to catch fish. The name, creator, history, and appearance are not as important as that bit of information. I proudly fish Y2Ks, woolly buggers, and anything else as long as it catches fish.
The next time you tie on one of these flies and your fishing buddy snickers, just smile confidently and fish on.
Sink Tip by John Berry
If you only have one fly line it should be a weight forward floating line. If you buy a second line it should be a sink tip.
The sink tip is basically the combination of a floating line (on the rear of the line) and a sinking line (on the front of the line). The major advantage of the sink tip is that it will be easier to cast than a sinking line and still be able to deliver a fly deep into the depths of the body of water you are fishing. A sink tip will get a fly down deeper than a floating line with weight on the leader.
The sinking section can be various lengths (from four to thirty feet). Generally the longer the sinking section the deeper it will sink. When you buy a sink tip the package will indicate the length of the sinking section. There are also a variety of sink rates, Type I to Type VI, (it is also assigned a sink rate in inches per second). The higher the sink rate the faster it will sink.
This all sounds great but what sink tip should you buy? The sink tip that I have found the most useful is the ten foot Type VI. This is the one I use when I dredge the deeper holes on the White River or the Spring River. In fact this is the only sink tip I buy. If I need a shorter sink tip to use on lower water, I just cut down an old line to have a five or seven foot sinking section.
When I buy a sink tip or other line I also buy a new spool for my reel. That way, when I want to change lines, I just change the spool. When I fish a sink tip, I also carry an additional spool with a floating line in the event that I happen upon a decent hatch and want to fish dry flies.
One of the things you will notice is that a sink tip will occupy less space on the reel than a weight forward line. The sinking section is a smaller diameter than the corresponding section of a floating line. As a result you will be able to put more backing on your reel. This is a major advantage when that trophy brown hits your fly and heads downstream at a great rate of speed.
I always attach a loop to end of my line. To rig a fly I take a section of 3X or 4X tippet about three and a half feet long, I tie a surgeons loop knot on one end and attach it to the fly line with a loop to loop connection. I tie the fly on and I am ready to fish. I rig this way because if I used a normal leader the fly would tend to rise and that would defeat the purpose of using a sink tip.
I prefer a stiff rod to handle a sink tip; one that has plenty of back bone. My personal favorite is an old Sage RPL nine foot six weight. To cast a sink tip, the trick is to strip the line in till you only have twenty to twenty-five feet of line out. Put your rod tip on the surface of the water. Execute your back cast with authority and make sure that you have a crisp stop on the back. Let your line straighten out and make a forward cast with a crisp stop on the front. Shoot as much line as you need. The heavily weighted section of the sink tip will cause it to cast like a bullet.
To fish the sink tip I cast it downstream at a 45degree angle to the bank. I let the line swing in the current until it is directly below me. As it swings, I will mend the line up stream to allow the fly to sink better. At the end of the swing, I strip the fly back toward me. I generally use short strips (a couple of inches) and vary the speed of the retrieve until I figure out what the fish want. It is usually easy to detect a strike. In fact, a good trout can almost jerk the rod out of your hand. I generally use woolly buggers and other streamers (I especially like to fish sculpins).
So the next time you are out on the river and you want to add some depth to your fishing, think sink tip.
Mister Secretary by John Berry
Last week I was taking a break from turning my compost pile when I got a call from the Urban Angler, a fly shop in New York City. They said they had a client that was interested in flying down here to fish and asked if I was available. Luckily, I was. They said that his personal assistant would call and talk with me. She called and after interviewing me put her boss on the line. After some discussion, he booked. It turns out that he was a former cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration and is now the Chairman of the Executive Committee of a large multinational corporation (well call him Bob). He was to fly on the corporate jet down to fish for a day with me. I went into a frenzy. I spent the night scraping the Charlton Heston Is My President, Nuke the Whales, and Rush Is Right bumper stickers off of the mighty Volvo.
Late the next day, I drove over to Baxter County International Airport and picked him up. I had been given the gate code and was able to drive up to the jet. I drove Bob over to The White River Inn, the newest and absolutely the most luxurious lodge on the White River.
Early the next morning, I picked Bob up and we drove to McClellans. We were the only ones there and the weather was perfect. It was sixty degrees with no wind. We waded down in the Catch and Release area to one of my favorite spots and began catching fish immediately. As luck would have it, the water began rising soon after. We quickly waded out and drove to Rim Shoals.
Rim was almost empty. We ate a quick lunch and then walked the trail down stream. We crossed over to the first island and started fishing one of my favorite spots. We were nymphing and we caught several fish. I noticed a few fish rising to some really tiny midges. There was no way to match the hatch so I decided to try a huge power ant (my fishing buddy, Ken Paylor had ordered them from Jack Dennis and had given me several). Bob was not sure what to think and took a break to call the office on his cell phone. I began casting to the risers. When I hooked and landed a nice rainbow he decided the fly selection was not that crazy. He told his office something had come up and he quickly returned to the stream.
Bob began casting to rising fish and was tagging trout after trout. He positioned himself close to the bank and was casting seventy feet of line. He was consistently hitting the edge of the current and getting a long perfect drag free drift. I would normally try to get my clients to fish a shorter line but Bob was an excellent caster and was hitting his mark. This action really flipped Bobs switch. He is one of those people like my brother, Dan that enjoys making a long cast to rising fish and of course hooking them in the process.
There were two things that impressed me. One was that Bob was a really nice guy and a heck of a fly fisherman. Two we were catching trout after trout on size eight dry flies on January 27th. Everything I been taught about fishing on the White River told me that these flies would not work in this situation. I tried them because I have had quite a bit of luck with them in the past couple of years. My theory is that the trout are looking up taking small midges and then they see a large tempting morsel drift over. Bam, they just cant resist it.
Bob was having a great time and catching a lot of fish. He didnt want to leave. He called the plane and told the pilot he would be late. We fished until it got so dark he couldnt see the fly any more. I drove him to the airport and on to the tarmac to the jet. We said our goodbyes and he assured me he would be back.
Luck II by John Berry
The temperatures for the last few days have been unbearable. The highs have hovered around 103 degrees all week. My neighbor, Mike Wilhelm, my wife, Lori and I decided to go fishing. To cope with the weather we opted to fish early, wet wade and drink plenty of fluids. We went to the Norfork as early as we could get Lori going. Our only stop was at McDonalds drive through for a sausage biscuit and senior coffee (thirty five cents).
The catch and release section was almost empty. The only two anglers there were on their way out leaving the water to us. I was like a kid in a candy store. I fished one good hole after another to try my luck. On and on I cast until I had covered all the likely spots. I eventually fished in front of Charlies and picked up a few trophy fish there on large ants and grass hoppers. Mike also fished there and caught fish on a parachute Cahill that he had tied.
Meanwhile Lori had gone to our favorite hole and was tagging some good trout. In fact, she hooked a large cutthroat on a size 20 orange scud. Was this the large cutt that we had both hooked and lost earlier in the summer? The big fish took off like a scalded dog. From my vantage point down stream, I could see her rod bent nearly double as she moved into calm water to see if she could land the beast. He made a final run and headed for a rock shelf where he was able to disengage the hook. It was about 1:00 PM and it was starting to heat up. There was no where to avoid the unrelenting sun and Mike and I were ready to pull the plug. Lori was reluctant to leave because she had become totally obsessed with landing the fish. We walked out and she spent the drive home going over every detail of her struggle with the cutt.
The next morning found us returning to the same place at about the same time. Lori had become an attractive, blonde, Captain Ahab obsessed by a killer trout. She immediately went to the scene of her previous battles and began casting in earnest for the big fish. Meanwhile Mike and I were downstream struggling with the situation. We were surrounded with hundreds of trout, but they were not cooperating. I was fishing a likely spot when Mike said that Lori was calling me. I looked up stream and saw the struggle. Her rod was bent over with the weight of a large fish and she was dashing through heavy water trying to keep up with him. I quickly worked my way toward her. I observed Lori do a masterful job of finessing the cutt into the shore.
We spent a couple of minutes taking photos of the trophy. It was a big brightly colored hook jawed male. We were both convinced that this was the cutthroat that had eluded us on several occasions. Lori was absolutely glowing with pride from finally landing him. We took great care not to injure the fish and took a lot of time reviving him. As he slowly swam back into the heavy water Lori had hooked him in we exchanged high fives and I walked back down stream to where I had been fishing.
I found a bit of shade and pulled out my digital camera. I wanted to share the occasion with Mike. To my shock the photo was out of focus. I quickly checked all of the photos and found them all to be flawed. I tried to take other photos and found them to be out of focus. The intense heat had cooked my camera! (I have since obtained a new digital camera.) About this time Lori walked down to join us. I told her the situation and she could not believe me. I showed her the photos and she was devastated. The photos of her tough two day struggle were useless. I have never seen her so disappointed.
This fish though not the largest fish Lori has ever landed has certainly been the most challenging adversary she has ever faced. Did he somehow affect the camera to prevent the win over him from becoming public knowledge? I dont know, but I do know that she will continue her search for him and not be satisfied until his capture is recorded for posterity. That might just take a little luck!
Hooked on a Cure by John Berry
This past weekend, I guided for Hooked On A Cure as I have done for the last three years. My brother Dan and my cousin Quin were also guides. It was hotter than blue blazes with temperatures reaching 95 degrees both days. The sun was unrelenting and on the river there was no where to hide from it. We are in the middle of a drought and they didnt run much water on the White River all weekend. I wet waded.
It all began on Friday afternoon at the pairing party. We checked in and found out who we were to fish with. After a brief guides meeting, we had a low country boil with all the trimmings (crayfish, shrimp, corn and potatoes). During this time we met and chatted with all the participants. It was a great group that included celebrities and old friends.
On Saturday, I fished with Jack Dennis and Cody Bell. Jack is a consummate professional. He can cast a mile and catch fish between his toes. Cody was also an excellent caster and held his own all day matching Jack fish for fish. We floated between Rim Shoals and Buffalo City. This route took us through some of the best trout water on the White River much of it only accessible by boat. Jack took all of his fish on a power ant and at the end of the day gave me one of his videos that demonstrated how to tie it along with a fly to use as a pattern. He had used it when I fished with him two years earlier but had made improvements to it to make it easier to see and float better. I watched him fish carefully and noted his technique. He regularly twitched the fly to make it appear to struggle. It produced strike after strike. Cody fished a variety of flies but caught the most fish with his favorite, a black woolly bugger with gray hackle. The highlight of the day was a lunch stop at the Mid South Fly Fisher hospitality tent at the Maler cabin. We had to rush down stream because Jack and Cody had to be back at the cabins at four p.m. to catch transportation to the banquet.
While I was on the river my wife, Lori was fishing with Sandy Dennis and Diane Paillot. She took them to lunch and then to Rim Shoals. Gary Flippin provided them a water taxi and stayed around to make sure that they had transportation if needed. Lori didnt fish; she guided the ladies for the afternoon. Sandy caught the most fish on Jacks power ant. Lori and I were unable to attend the Saturday night banquet due to a prior commitment.
On Sunday I fished with Bill Tapply (a writer for American Angler Magazine) and Richard Grandon. That morning Dan, Quin, and I decided that since the water was so low we would do better if we motored up to Buffalo Shoals and wade fish there all day. We knew there would be little pressure and plenty of fish. When we arrived, Bill took off and explored the area on his own while Richard and I concentrated on catching trout. The morning was slow producing only a few fish. After lunching on some fried chicken, we walked far up stream and found a great looking run. Richards first cast drew a nice rainbow up to smack his strike indicator. When it happened on the second cast, we stopped and tied on a grasshopper. On the third cast the rainbow struck one more time. Richard set the hook. Fish on! We spent the next couple of hours working that run and caught trout constantly mostly on bead head sow bugs. We caught up with Bill and found out that he had caught several nice trout including a fine eighteen inch brown.
At the end of the day, we returned to the cabins and sat down for a few cool beverages and some great barbeque. We also enjoyed some great music. Renowned song writers, Don Lowery, Juni Fisher, Don Poythress, and Marcus Hummon played for the crowd. They were so good that the ongoing conversations ceased and everyone listened intently for their entire set. Later that night we said our good byes and finally headed home exhausted from the constant action.
When it was all over, Lori and I talked about all the great people we had met and spent quality time with. We agreed that come next year we would be ready to do it again.
High Sticking Dry Flies by John Berry
As time passes I spend more and more time fishing dry flies. When I first started fishing them I was overwhelmed. The casting was fussy and had to be precise. The flies were so tiny that they were almost impossible to see. Success did not come easy but I eventually began to catch fish by traditional dry fly methods. I had a lot of trouble seeing the fly if I was fishing over twenty feet of line. One day I was high sticking nymphs when I had a brainstorm, high sticking dry flies. I was catching fish that were just a few feet from my body. Then a fish hit my strike indicator. I tied on an elk hair caddis and fished the same water that I had been nymphing. I only had a couple of feet of fly line out and I fished it just like I would a nymph. I flicked the fly up stream and let it drift down. It went about five feet and a nice rainbow slammed it. I landed that one and quickly revived the fly with dry fly crystals. Again I flicked the fly upstream and let it drift down. This time it went ten feet before an eighteen-inch cutthroat rose from the depths and nailed it. I stood in that riffle and caught a dozen good fish. The technique is simple and effective.
This is contrary to everything that my brother Dan does. He prefers seventy-foot casts over glass smooth water with tiny flies. He sets the hook when he sees a rise near where he thinks the fly is. You cannot see a size 18 fly that is seventy feet away.
High sticking gives you three things, you see the fly, you can make an effective presentation, and you can better control the line. You can see the fly because it is only a few feet from you. With this method I can easily fish dries as small as a 20 or smaller. You make an effective presentation by just flicking the fly up stream to for a soft landing. Since there is nothing touching the water except the fly it is easy to achieve a perfect drift when you do not have to deal with complex currents. The shorter line enhances line control because you can easily set the hook at any part of the drift because there is no slack in the line.
I prefer to use this method when fishing riffles. I particularly like fast riffles that run over gravel and have a drop off. The broken surface helps to conceal my movements and allows me to get very close to fish. The greater water speed does not allow the trout to study the fly. He must decide whether to take the offering very quickly and without hesitation. Finally riffles are generally loaded with fish making them more productive. Since I fish heavy water I have to fish flies that can handle the current. I favor elk hair caddis and Wulff patterns because they float like corks. Hoppers and power ants work well later in the year after the major hatches are gone.
The next you notice some top water action try a method that is easy and effective, high sticking.
Fishing Dry Run Creek by John Berry
Last week, I was in a pleasantly unique position. I had a booking to take four boys to Dry Run Creek. For the uninitiated, Dry Run Creek is a tributary of the Norfork River that is the oldest catch and release stream in Arkansas. It is set aside for kids under sixteen and the handicapped. It is loaded with huge fish. It is without a doubt the best stretch of water that I have ever seen. Over the years, I have introduced several young people to the stream including my daughter, Katherine. Through trial and error I have figured out a few things that make the process easier and more successful.
Consider if the child is ready. The best age to start some one is different for every individual. There is a certain level of concentration and motor skill required. The earliest age is probably six. I have had a great deal of success with kids that old and older. Without a doubt, the best student I ever had was an eight year old girl. Rachel was intense. She caught sixty seven trout. The last one was a twenty seven inch monster rainbow. This was the first day she ever held a fly rod.
You should also consider if you are the best person to introduce this child to fly fishing. Do you possess the necessary skills and patience? If not, consider hiring a guide.
Keep in mind the attention span of the student. Some kids will not maintain their interest in fishing all day. The younger the student the shorter the attention span (this is a general statement and there are plenty of exceptions). The thing to remember is that this is a not a forced march. You are there to have fun. If your student wants to take a break and run around, let them. When Katherine was of age, we would fish every day for a week and leave the water when she lost interest. We would retreat to the indoor pool at the Ramada Inn and swim. Over time, her interest in fishing grew and she would eventually stay all day
Be patient! No matter how many times they catch their fly in a tree or tangle their line (it will happen), calmly retrieve the fly, untangle the knot, or rerig the line. Calmly explain to them what caused the problem and how to avoid it in the future. Tell them that these things occasionally happen to you.
Keep things simple. I have found that a simple roll cast or high sticking technique is very effective. I generally use larger tippets than I normally would so that if they hook a fish they would have an easier time landing it. (On Dry Run Creek, I rig my clients with 4X tippet while I would use 6X if I were fishing the same fly on the Norfork.) For the same reason, I prefer large gap hooks (always barb less). The dominant food source is sow bugs. I have found that they can run pretty large, as big as size 12. I always pump the stomachs of the first couple of fish we catch to verify this. I have also had a lot of luck with attractors like San Juan worms and Y2Ks.
Take a big net with you. Most of the fish are lost while trying to land them. A net with a long handle and deep bag will enable you to land the fish more quickly. This is better for the fish and for you. I carry a boat net with a four foot handle and a huge bag.
Take a camera. There will be photo opportunities. My favorite picture of Katherine was taken on Dry Run Creek. It was incredibly cold and she was wearing everything she owned. She is holding a twenty nine inch rainbow and it is a memory she still talks about years after it happened. Create a memory of your own.
Last Saturday, we landed two ten pound rainbows. We landed twelve fish over twenty four inches long and twenty five fish over twenty inches long. How many in total? I have no idea. With that many kids fishing it was impossible to keep up with the count. If you want to introduce a youngster to the art of fly fishing, this is the place!
Dog Days of Summer by John Berry
In spite of moderate temperatures earlier in the year, we have had a brutally hot summer this year. I had one recent outing that was actually quite comfortable despite the 100 degree heat. I was guiding a couple of anglers one of which was from Arizona. He was accustomed to the heat but not the humidity.
The guys stayed in our guest house. We decided to start early and left the house at 5:45 AM. We were on the Norfork before the sun came up. There was an incredibly heavy layer of fog on the river and you could only see a few feet in front of you. It was an eerie walk in. There were a couple of other anglers already on the stream but we were almost on top of them before we actually saw them. It was about 71 degrees and quite comfortable. We walked far from the access to one of my favorite places to fish.
David was an experienced angler who had fished all over the West; Montana, Utah, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and any other place known for large trout, steelhead or salmon. He started nymphing with a red San Juan worm and was soon into a nice cutthroat. After a spirited struggle, a deeply colored seventeen inch cutt surrendered to my net. Its girth was almost equal to its length. It was a real riffle hog. A few casts later he hooked a larger Rainbow that was probably even more vividly colored. We had to move into quieter water to land the twenty one inch specimen. We took a few photos and then quickly released the trout. David caught several more fish but nothing like those two.
Lou was not as experienced and was struggling a bit. I worked with him and gave him a few pointers on his cast and presentation. He started picking up fish and was really enjoying himself. About that time, I noted that the water was coming up. We walked out with the rising water and loaded our gear and ourselves into my beloved Volvo.
We drove over to the White, quickly waded far from the access and began fishing. It was beginning to heat up, so we waded a bit deeper to escape the heat. We began catching fish immediately. The trout were hitting a variety of flies. We caught fish on scuds, zebra midges and Y2Ks. We didnt catch any big fish but we were catching plenty of good, stout, healthy fish in the 12 to 15 inch slot. They fought well and kept our interest.
About noon, we were getting hungry and we waded out for lunch. It had become really hot and muggy. The fog had burned off hours ago and we were sweating bullets by the time we got to the car. I set up lunch on a picnic table under a shade tree. We drank several bottles of water each and ate a cool lunch and sat and relaxed for a while. At one oclock, it was 98 degrees and David was starting to wilt. We decided to split the day. We opted to go back to the house and return around four PM.
When I got home, I took a shower and a nap. At four, I looked outside and saw a bit of lightning and heard thunder. I talked to the guys and we decided to wait the weather out. At five, we loaded up and returned to the river. The storm was gone and it left temperatures about fifteen degrees cooler in its wake.
As we walked in, I noticed an angler slumped over a picnic table. He had fished through the afternoon and the heat had gotten to him. He said he was done for the day and was trying to gather the energy to leave. We waded in the water and began catching fish immediately. We fished till dark and they caught several fish each.
By splitting the day, we avoided the heat of the day (it got over 100 degrees). We still managed to get in a full days fishing, caught plenty of trout, and we were reasonably comfortable doing it.
Afternoon at McClellan's by John Berry
Yesterday it was sunny and 51 degrees here in North Central Arkansas with no wind. I called the dam and learned that the White River was off and the Norfork had been shut down for two minutes. I invited my wife, Lori, to go fishing with me but she had a sinus infection and was not up to it. I called my fishing buddy, George Peters, and reached him in an Orange County California courtroom waiting for a judge. He said he would love to go but it would be a while. I decided to go to by myself. I loaded the mighty Volvo and headed for McClellans (a public access on the Norfork River). This is not Loris favorite spot, but it is mine. Over the years, I have caught more good fish here than any where else.
I stopped by the office to put my three bucks in the box and headed over to the pasture. There was a father and son there that had spent the morning at Dry Run Creek (a catch and release stream set aside for kids under 16 years of age). It was Dads turn now and they were going to fish the water above Otter creek from a canoe. I hurriedly donned my waders and grabbed my rod. As I started walking into the catch and release area, I stopped to light a cigar and noted that I was the only person there.
I walked down to one of my favorite runs and began nymphing. I started with a Y2K because that was the fly I still had on from my last fishing excursion. On the third cast I caught a seventeen inch rainbow. It put up a great fight. In fact, I had to move into quieter water in order to land it. I caught a couple of nice fish before the Y2K stopped working. I tried several different flies and pumped the stomachs of several fish before I zeroed in on a size eighteen olive scud. It started producing immediately and over the next couple of hours I caught and released several nice fish.
I wanted to catch something a little bigger. I decided to walk further down stream to try another spot where I had caught a number of large trout over the years. I was concerned because this hole was pretty far from the access. If the water came up, there was no one to warn me. I would not detect the rising water until it reached me. Since I had gone down stream, I would have to fight the current all the way out.
I hooked and landed a fat fifteen inch rainbow on the first cast. I quickly released it and cast again this time catching an eighteen inch rainbow. I stayed there for an hour and caught maybe a dozen fine fish. I looked at my watch and figured I had thirty minutes of daylight left. I decided it was time to start fishing my way out.
I walked up to my original run. It had been thoroughly rested. I caught a couple of nice fish and then I hooked a monster. This bad boy took off and put me into the backing immediately. I came out of the run and started following him down stream quickly cranking in line as I went. He took several long runs before I finally landed him. It was a stout twenty-two inch male rainbow that was vividly colored and had full fins. As I was gently lifting him from the water, I noticed he had a tag. I was trying to read it when he struggled free and escaped to the river taking my fly with him. I walked back up to the run and as I was preparing to tie on a new tippet and fly, I detected a difference in the sound of the water. It was coming up!
I cranked in my line as fast as I could. I pulled out my folstaff and started wading across. The water was coming up fast but I carefully made it to the bank (the one my car was on) and started working my way up to the access. I picked up the pace. I knew that I had to get across Otter Creek quickly or it would be impassable and I would have to detour far out of my way to safely cross.
When I arrived, the creek looked pretty deep but I thought I could make it. I zipped up all the pockets on my vest and started carefully wading across to the pasture. When I was about two thirds across, I realized that the water was a little deeper than I thought. I started wading on my tip toes. I held the lower pockets of my vest as high as I could in an attempt to keep my fly boxes dry. I looked down and saw that I only had one inch of freeboard on my waders. I kept plodding across. I finally reached shallower water. I walked out and breathed a sigh of relief. The only thing that got wet was the pair of gloves in my wader hand warmer pockets.
I stowed my gear and loaded my car. On the way home, I reviewed the days fishing, the fish I landed, and the wade at the end. It was an exciting and productive day. I remembered why McClellans is my favorite place to fish.
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BERRY BROTHERS GUIDE SERVICE
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Copyright and credits. July 13, 2007