Fishing for gumbo

Trip catches memories

By: Clay Henry
Published: Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Courtesy photo
The author and guide Ruben Lopez show a 31-pound dorado caught near Cabo, Mexico.
Courtesy photo The author and guide Ruben Lopez show a 31-pound dorado caught near Cabo, Mexico.

This is altogether not about gumbo. But I love a complex gumbo, and it fits in most discussions about greatness.

I’ll call this my summer fishing tour. It’s not all about fishing, but that’s the central topic.

There are three locations on this four-week stretch of early summer: Divide, Mont.; Bull Shoals tailwater on the White River; and Cabo, Mexico.

The first and last are bucket list trips. The middle is my home water in north-central Arkansas, as good for trout fishing as anything, anywhere.

Interestingly, on any trip to the West — and that includes multiple fly fishing trips to Colorado, Wyoming and Montana — when the conversation of “home” comes up, the elite fishing guides know about the great brown trout fishery in my backyard. Bull Shoals tailwater is spectacular.

My favorite spot is just under the dam, a highly technical fly fishing spot that is catch and release. Don’t go there if you are not proficient and able to fish extremely light tackle.

It’s not easy to catch the born-in-the-river browns which can grow to well over 30 inches and just short of 40 pounds, but they are there. And, you can hook them, but they usually destroy the light tackle used by fly fishers.

Back to the gumbo. It was the delectable nature of its various components that Montana travel companion Dennis Bost used to answer my question about the highlights of the trip.


Courtesy photo
The author (left) and guide Keith McGlothen wiht a 20-inch rainbow trout on Beaverhead River near DIllon, Mont.
Courtesy photo The author (left) and guide Keith McGlothen wiht a 20-inch rainbow trout on Beaverhead River near DIllon, Mont.

Wayne Reed, Sean Jameson, Eric (ED) Dyson, and Jason Peterson joined Dennis and myself at the Silver Bow Club on the Big Hole River for five days in early June. It’s the same luxury ranch we fished from last year.

Wayne and I fished all three days with top Montana guide Keith McGlothen, who kept changing my flies as we tried to match the start of the grand salmonfly hatch.

The fish were not yet keyed on the smattering of what is Montana’s biggest bug, just slightly smaller than a wren. We had some strikes, but we fished it blind hoping the hatch would come off any second. For three days, Keith said, “We may be a day or two early, but lets keep pounding the banks with these big dries.”

I did fish my tiny midges on the early part of our float on our one day on the Beaverhead, a small tailwater about 40 miles south near Dillon. Midges are tailwater fare for trout and the fish of the week, a 20-inch rainbow, took my root beer size 18 just 100 yards from the put in.

Fish of the week has to be confirmed, and the picture is now on my wall of fame in the hallway at home. Unfortunately, the real fish of the week is unconfirmed, except with the fishing gods and me. They know I caught a 28-inch (or maybe 30) rainbow in the ranch pond just 10 minutes before we headed for the Bozeman airport.

Randy and Adam Bowe, who built the Silver Bow Club, stocked the three-acre pond with 22-inch rainbows about four years ago. There were about 30. Wayne caught one a little bigger than 24 inches last year. The thought is that they are now 3 to 5 inches bigger.

I hooked two the second night with specially tied flies designed for stillwater fishing. They are my favorite ruby midges, but size 16. That’s much bigger than what I fish at home. These have copper beads. The idea is that a big fish will straighten a size 20 or 22 midge that match the summer hatch below Bull Shoals Dam.

Yep, those massive Silver Bow Club rainbows will hammer a ruby midge. One of them jumped high out of the water on my line several times to delight a crowd at the fire pit 50 yards away before popping off. Another broke the tippet. I got the big one to the grass shore just before we headed out the last day.

I really had not intended on fishing, but we got back from a trap shoot on the mountain just before departure time, and I realized that my Sage four-weight rod was still rigged on the back patio. OK, why not cast at those monsters one more time?

Boom! There was that magical strong take, then a run by the biggest fish in the pond with line screaming from my Guru reel. My 6x Cortland tippet held. I tingled all over. This was the conclusion to a wonderful week.

Our group was inside, but didn’t see the excitement. I ran around the edge of the pond to the different casting areas. I screamed for help. I needed someone to come for a photo or to bring a net.

Ten minutes of chasing came to an end when the tired fish came to the third casting area I had run to, and it came gently into the grass at the edge of the pond. I reached into its mouth and thumbed out the midge, never lifting the fish out of the water.

I ran to the lodge to tell everyone. There my five buddies stood with luggage at their feet. Sure, they said. No picture? You are good at that, Sean said.

Randy came to my rescue. He was quick to say that my monster surely was a 30-inch fish. Just minutes before, I had eyed the opening where it lay in the water and matched two points on the butt end of my rod. That gap was well over 28 inches. The fish was the thickness of my leg and just as long.

So that’s what I’ll call it, but massive will do. For sure, it is my best trout. And, I know it’s healthy and likely to be there for another battle next summer, no doubt a 30-incher by then.


Courtesy photo A 25-inch brown trout is in the net, caught at the White River below Bull Shoals Dam.

Next came two weeks at home to catch big browns at Bull Shoals Dam before the trip to Mexico, organized by my brother Butch, and wife, Lynn. They are world travelers from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

There were four trips to Bull Shoals with Bruce Ritter, Louis Campbell, Sam Hannon and Mike Hannon before Cabo. The first was a surprise low water day when Bruce and I arrived at almost the same instant from opposite directions without any planning.

There was a text from Bruce saying it was an epic midge hatch. The trout were taking his midges at the start of every drift. I was driving over the dam when his text dinged. I responded as I donned waders.

My size 22 root beer midges were the exact match for the tiny midges coming off the water. I found an un-fished softer backwater where the big browns were resting. They sipped my midges and there were some epic battles, some bending my midges and others breaking off my 7x tippet. Most fights resulted in half of my fly line screaming off the reel. I did land some as big as 25 inches.

A game warden waded to my spot in the middle of the river. He checked my license and was interested in the fly. Louis was checked first and pointed to me below. He mentioned I was dialed in on browns with a size 22.

The officer did check my fly, but he didn’t even bother to run it through his cotton patch, a check to make sure it’s barbless. He just wanted to see if I really was fishing 22s. He then went to the bank and watched from 100 yards away as I fought and landed another big brown. There was a thumbs up as he headed down river to check other fly fishers.

There were three more trips like this with the same results in the same spot before the bags had to be packed for Cabo.


There would be one fishing trip in Cabo, on the 39-foot yacht Second Chance. Butch had booked it last winter on another vacation, one of six he’s taken to Cabo.

There was no firsthand knowledge of Second Chance, other than Butch checking the flags one day when the big boat docked. You fly flags of the fish caught on the outrigger at day’s end. Captain Roberto Nunoz and deck hand Ruben Lopez displayed dorado, marlin and tuna flags that day.

Seven of the nine in our Cabo group went for the fishing trip. My wife and daughter (Jean Ann and Sarah) joined Butch and Lynn, and their son and grandson (Brian and Drew).

Cabo fishing in early July is spotty, but we doubled our goal of one night’s dinner. We landed a 31-pound dorado and three smaller tunas, including two yellow fins.

Drew was up first in the chair and landed a tuna. I was second, and there was another tuna. Then, the highlight came when the dorado hit on Lynn’s turn.

Lynn fought it bravely, but quickly tired. Ruben quickly subbed me into the chair, and I caught up to the bull dorado as it pulled even on the right side of the boat. It was getting out of hand, but Ruben turned my chair twice as the beautiful fish came back to the stern.

Ruben landed it as the captain shouted from the tower, “Our first dorado of the season. Yes!”

I did fine as the closer, but Lynn must get some credit.

Our dorado was the prize because we came up empty in deeper Pacific water as we went for marlin. And, a dorado is a prize. The yellow and green colors and the odd shape make it unique. It’s the same fish called mahi-mahi in Hawaii and dolphinfish in the gulf off the shores of Alabama and Florida.

I know Roberto and Ruben were proud to fly the yellow dorado flag as we motored into the Cabo harbor. I came home with a dorado flag. It will hang on the wall of fame in our hallway.

Whatever you want to call dorado, the eating is grand. Ruben cleaned our fish and Butch walked from the boat to one of the best marina eateries, a little place with eight tables, Pocho’s. The nine of us returned for two nights and four of us ate fish. It was cooked blackened, grilled, then sautéed the last night in garlic butter. All were awesome.


That takes us back to gumbo.

During the layover in the Denver airport on the way home from Montana, Dennis finally took the bait on my repeated questions for my summer column. What was the best thing about the trip? Fishing? Trap shooting? Food?

NWA Democrat-Gazette/CLAY HENRY
Wayne Reed shows a brown trout he caught on Big Hole River in Montana.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CLAY HENRY Wayne Reed shows a brown trout he caught on Big Hole River in Montana.

“It was all good, like a great gumbo,” he said. “There are so many great bites in a proper gumbo. It just keeps getting better as you get the next spoonful. This trip was like great gumbo.”

I got a similar response from Sarah as we drove home from XNA after the Cabo trip.

“You can’t pick out one thing, because it was all good,” she said. “Being around family probably is the best part.”

I mentioned gumbo, with so many flavors, so many textures. That’s just like my family and my fishing buddies. They all fit together perfectly in Montana, Bull Shoals and Cabo.

Clay Henry can be reached at .


Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.