Pulling Trout From Cypress Knees

I’d never been to Arkansas. So, when the opportunity came up at work to head down there and have some meetings and fish the fabled big trout tail waters of the Little Red or the White I jumped at the chance. I knew of the Little Red and the fact that it was the water where the world record brown trout came from, and I knew you had to use sow bugs, but that was the extent of my understanding. And really, that was from the tall lanky old guy named JD who would come in the fly shop that wore a straw skimmer in the summer, told dirty old man jokes, drank only rye whisky and would hit-on the widows at Mehlman’s Cafeteria, but not the really old ones. The man was Mark Twain incarnate, but would make a trip every year to the Little Red, The White and Norfork. But, it was several years in before he was keyed in on the sowbug, so go figure he had mixed success there.

My colleague from work and I flew into Memphis thursday and met up with our distributor rep who would drive us into the valley of the Little Red. Chris is from WV and the owner of the company we were down there to meet, grew up in Western PA, lived in WV for a while and now calls the bustling metropolis of Searcy, AR his home and base of operations. Once Chris picked us up we had to get some good barbecue before driving the 2 hours into Arkansas. Central BBQ was legit, killer pulled pork, and all of the trimmings. Tanked up on BBQ and ready for a nice meat coma, we drive across the rice fields of eastern Arkansas. Dry counties are an oddity. We found ourselves in one after a brief store visit but had to load up on supplies before heading to the cabin which was also in another dry county. The power of smart phones did indeed shine. We found one liquor store slightly out of the way and made our b-line to it. Being a dozen or so feet across the county line gave Ace’s it’s “first chance” tag line on its sign. A shopping cart full of several cases of beer, rum, gin, diet coke, orange juice, lime juice, 6 Red Bulls, pork rinds, pork cracklings, pretzels, jerky, a foam cooler and ice miraculously rang up to only $58. As we walked silently to the rental car, I spoke up and asked to see the receipt, something wasn’t right. No PBR, no rum, no cooler, only half the Fat Tire, cracklings but no rinds. Ok, we have to go in and settle up, we don’t need any bad karma for fishing, nor do we need to meet Sherif Buford T. Justice. We settle up and the old man behind the counter thanked us for our honesty and off we went bouncing down the road through dry counties in a state with an opener container law. We roll into the cabin about dusk and Jeff meets us to let us in. Jeff is a self made man who sold off all his guns so he could buy his first lure mold. A lure that would be a game changer for the the non-fly fishing trout world. Even though, its use is very much like nymph fishing. Jeff has his little empire in that part of Arkansas and has several excellent fly guides on his staff and has befriend several great fly fishing personalities in the area. What I’m saying is, he didn’t get offended when I told him I’d be bug chucking the whole time. A quick dinner and off to sleep so we could get up early to beat the 100 degree heat that would be with us the whole trip. 5:30am arrived early, but at least it wasn’t the bell to go to work. We had the boat in the water by 6am. The first fish on the line minutes later. Jeff had come up with a lure and a product line that not only catches fish like it’s its job, but it sells something fierce, and I got to see why. Chris and Jeff stuck with the spinning gear and really laid the smack down on the rainbows and a couple small browns. I stuck to my guns and began hitting fish on on a bugger then switched it up to a sow bug and a tiny BWO emerger as a dropper. After a few fish, I figured I should play nice with the host, and yes, yes I will openly admit I started to throw Jeff’s lures on my fly rod. All I will say is that it worked like a magnet on the fish…Uhm, it may not be the last time I throw them on the bug pole, they cast fine once they’re glued…When you consider the edges of fly tying, what I did isn’t all that different from the glue eggs/soft rubber eggs, and some of the streamer patterns out there. We caught fish every cast or every few casts until the heat drove us off the river and it was time for lunch and a nap before the afternoon session. We woke up to a former ESPN games fly fishing gold metal winner standing in the living room giving us some shit for sleeping while the trout outside not he river were rising. “Rising?” I ask. “Get up and look,” Chuck says, “They’re sipping BWOs off the surface.” I look out the back door and see another trout rise. Without thinking I head over to my rod leaning in the corner, cut off the fluorocarbon and rig for a spotlight emerger. The whole crew wanders down to the dock behind me. I slip into the 55 degree water and let out a little chirp as the cold water greeted the change purse. I was wet wading, and glad too in the 100 degree air temp, but that first few seconds woke me the rest of the way up after a top-5 all time nap. Fish were rising just about everywhere in front of me and I all had to do was pick one. I see one come up just to my right. I strip out some line, a couple quick false casts and drop the emerge right into the slot in front of the rainbow. He committed and I had him in hand a short time later. It’s nice when you’re able to do something like that in front of a crowd. I caught a few more in the next 15 minutes before Jeff showed up in the boat and we motored up to the next shoal. We all get out and start fishing. Like the morning I stuck to fly gear and this time exclusively flies. I got some great tips from Jeff’s guide Lowell and also from Chuck. No matter how much you think you know about this sport, there’s always someone to teach you something new. We fish till dusk and head back to help Jeff get the rest of dinner ready. After a great dinner and a few drinks it’s bed time. The bell was going to be a 5:30am again, and it did come quickly. The Little Red lives and dies by the discharges out of the dam at Greer’s Ferry Lake. However the details, timing, length and consistency of those discharges is a bit suspect especially this time of year and with a heat wave going on. Those discharges are very erratic to meet electric demand. That said, our plan for Saturday was to head up river to some stretches rarely touched by boats due to the couple shoals ordinarily too skinny to float a boat through. We barely made it. Gang aft agley we were a touch wrong in our prediction for the day. We all caught fish, but we were after the big boys that call the Little Red home. We motor back to the dock at the cabin then set off to take care of the business portion of this trip. Just as we get back from Jeff’s office, he checks with the dam, and they just started to release again. That meant in two hours we’d be able to clear a different set of shoals and head way up stream towards dusk to where the big browns call home. Again, the release wasn’t really what the authority said it was, so it took a bit longer until the water came up enough to cleanly make it up the shoal. Once across we motored way up stream toward the damn and worked our way back. It was big streamer time. But, the only takers were the rainbows of equal size to the ones we had been catching the last day and a half. We did see some of the mythical browns in the water. True trutta torpedoes with visibly hooked jaws through six feet of crystal water. It was getting too dark to cast and the mosquitos were attempting to carry us away or at least bleed us out. We went back to the ramp and had a quick dinner at Klasers. We had some time to get on the water the next day before we had to get back to memphis for our flights. This time we went way down stream. Sunday’s fishing was like saturday’s, good but still no big’ns hooked. Sunday’s highlight was my first double hook-up. I had a hit like a blue gill take my indicator for a bobble. I lift the rod and feel the definite weight of a trout. I bring the fish up along the boat and see this little blue gill following the rainbow in. How funny. The trout takes another run and then comes back to the boat and I realize what happened. The trout hit my sow bug, and the blue gill hit the flash back pheasant tail. Both fish in the net we all had a good laugh..too bad I left the camera in the locker underneath the bow of the boat. Oh well, here’s the result of another one of friday’s double headers… We head back to the cabin one last time. A quick shower and the gear is packed up and away we go in our trusty taurus rental. A brief interaction with a rural constable at a speed trap broke up the monotony of the trek back through the rice fields. I hope Chris can expense the ticket… We had a great weekend on the Little Red. Some fish were caught, some good plans were set in play, and some great new friendships were made in the Natural State. That’s simply what bug chucking is all about. – Steve-o

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