Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: Spring break still prime for fishing trip
Becca Bouldin during birthday fishing trip.
The end of basketball, startup of baseball and the arrival of spring football can wear you down in my business. But, the end of spring break — if the Arkansas baseball team is on the road — has always been prime time for a fishing trip.
All the stars aligned last weekend. It started with a bang when Fayetteville’s Larry Shackleford asked me to share a trip he booked with elite fly fishing guide Kristopher Bouldin, my son-in-law.
I’d fished with Kristopher three weeks earlier on a float of the Norfork River that my daughter, Becca, billed as her “birthday present from Dad.”
I don’t do the shopping for birthday presents for my daughters. Jean Ann, my wife, has always done that so well the last four decades that I stay out of the way.
I’m not going to try to explain Becca’s request other than to say I don’t expect anything when my birthday arrives in June. It was a great day of fishing and a wonderful lunch, too. Becca handed me steak and shrimp when Kristopher anchored the boat at midday.
It doesn’t get much better, only bigger. I say that because while we caught a lot of trout, none were monsters like Becca had been catching on her evening outings with her husband the previous three weekends.
Kristopher’s goal on Larry’s trip was to put us on some dry fly action on the lower White River. Mission accomplished.
There was whooping and hollering by all three when that took place on a late afternoon caddis hatch below Red’s Landing. Watching trout rise to a size 14 caddis dry is terrific fun. The surface explosion will produce screams that bounce off the bluffs and forests on that beautiful, seldom-fished stretch of the White.
Obviously, fly fishing is my release from work. The deal with most of my fishing buddies is that we don’t talk about the Razorbacks. I can’t uphold that rule with those we bump into on the river and that happened at the end of our float.
At the take-out were a couple of Fayetteville fisherman and there were questions about the Razorbacks. I always answer the questions, mostly with generalities. The most often question: Do you like the new football coach?
Well, what’s not to like about Chad Morris? I can answer that one easily and did this time. He’s energetic, highly focused on recruiting like no Arkansas coach I can remember. And, oh, yes, you’ll really like him because he loves fishing. I’m guessing you’ll see him on the White River sooner or later.
The next two days were solo trips on the upper White. That’s the only description I’ll provide because of the results: the best brown trout fishing I’ve had in years. I tied on my favorite pattern, a size 18 ruby midge with a bright silver bead.
I knew it would work. I’d gotten a report from the day before after touting someone on that particular stretch. I took only one fly box to the river — loaded with four rows of ruby midges — and wasn’t disappointed. I only fished three hours one day, five the next. The results are hard to believe. I caught around 50 trout and about 40 were browns.
For perspective, some days in our Arkansas tailwaters, there might not be one brown trout caught. Two or three makes for a great day. Our wild brown trout fight much harder than our hatchery raised rainbows and are a real treat.
I’ve caught lots of brown trout, but never a percentage like that on the White River. It was incredible.
The fishing was highly technical. There was a wide trough maybe 10 feet deep in the heart, probably 200 yards long. I fished from a gravel bar. The casts had to be about 50 feet to get to the central area where fish were holding. I fished a single midge 6- to 8-feet deep. The drifts were about 50 feet long and I walked the bank staying even with my fly line.
That style of midge fishing is called “walking the dog.” Done right, it’s deadly. But it’s not easy.
With a long drift like that with a midge, the drag has to be eliminated. If the fly line floats slower than the midge, a brown trout will not bite. The best way is to feed “S” curves into the line is through a wiggle of your fly rod tip as you walk. But the heart of the line — and for sure not the strike indicator — can’t move.
The bite is subtle. The indicator might just slow or wiggle. Rarely does it go under when you are fishing that deep. The set needs to be hard to get that much fly line off the water and be tight to the fish.
That’s when the fun begins. A big brown trout hugs the bottom and often heads down stream. Fishing with light tippet, you better take off with your rod high. There might be two or three nice runs with a 20-inch brown. There were lots of those on both days.
Mostly, I had the river to myself. I left the first day when the bite slowed because of heavy wind. You can’t drift a midge in heavy wind. There can’t be a bounce 6-feet deep. A brown trout figures that out. Midge don’t bounce up and down by 10 or 12 inches.
There were others rigging up when I got to my truck. How was the fishing? Good, I said, but I pointed the opposite direction from where I had fished. I didn’t say that’s where I fished, just that I knew it had been good there, too. It was closer to the walk-in anyway. They wouldn’t have done any good where I’d left because the wind was howling by then.
I didn’t know them, but they knew me. My voice must be unique and many listen to my reports on the radio. Yes, the question was the same: Do you like the new football coach?
I was glad to switch from any discussion of my new favorite fishing spot to the Razorbacks.
What I see is that recruiting is about to pick up. It has to with the number of high-profile recruits arriving almost daily. Long term, it’s only going to get better. Morris has opened up his offices to high school coaches from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma — anyone, really, who is willing to make the trip.
If they can drive to Fayetteville in one day, they are coming. Josh Floyd, the former coach at Shiloh Christian who now is coaching Hewitt-Truss-ville near Birmingham, Ala., was spotted at practice a few weeks back.
Coaches are given a place to watch tape starting at 8 a.m., then pointed to the offices of the assistant coaches for briefing. Then, they are allowed to sit in as coaches prep players for the practices. The high school coaches are allowed to stand in as drills are coached in practice.
I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been covering college football practices for 40 years. I’ve seen a lot of head coaches do one-day clinics, but never seen doors opened for the daily grind of spring football like this.
There were follow-up questions from my new fishing friends. Oh, and one asked for the kind of help Morris was providing to high school coaches — from me. Could I provide my favorite play? That was code for the fly of the day.
I didn’t mind that. I handed out four ruby midges, two to each fly fisher. And, they wanted to know up river or down. Well, I hesitated. I wanted to help. Couldn’t I do at least as much as Chad Morris? No. I pointed down, once again.
Did I sleep well that night? Yes, I did. I knew my spot would be wide open the next day and I’d repeat that haul of brown trout.
Some things just have to remain a secret.
Clay Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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