Norfork River & White River (Mountain Home, Arkansas) — June 26 – 28, 2004

It seems that our McClane and my’s Trout Bum odyssey is just around the corner. We are gearing up to leave at midnight the night of July 8 and headed for Lake Taneycomo and the monster rainbows that call those waters home. That gives Team Ozark Chronicles less than 9 days to get our gear sorted and packed, and make sure we have enough flies tied for the trip of all trips. Of course we are not worried, or at least it wouldn’t seem that way since I just got back from a weekend on the White River / Norfork River and Mr. McClane is somewhere in the Boundary Waters until July 5 or so.

This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting some fly fishing legends (Mel & Fanny Krieger, Jack Dennis, John Barr, Lori Ann Murphy, Davy & Emily Whitlock, Ian James, Davy Wotton, John Wilson, and Sister Carol Anne Corley) by attending the 2004 Hooked On A Cure Celebrity Fly Fishing Classic in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Hooked On A Cure is the organization that Team Ozark Chronicles is raising money for. This organization raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through fly fishing and in the process brings attention to the sport of fly fishing and the White River tail water system. If you believe in giving money to a children’s charity and are a fly fisherman, I can think of no better organization to donate your money and time to. Of course at first I wasn’t even supposed to be fishing in the event, and was even told I was going to be helping Steve Hemkins tend bar. But last Sunday, I got the call from April Conrad asking me if I would like to fish in the event. What is a guy to do — tend bar or get a chance to fish with Krieger, Whitlock, Ruoff, and others. So I told her I would fish. Then, she asked about McClane and I told her that he was MIA in the Boundary Waters. Too bad for him.

Friday night, Karen and I arrived at Rim Shoals Fly Shop on the White River and enjoyed a dinner of crawfish and beer, while saying hello to those I have traded emails with over the years but have never met as well as sitting in aw at all the fly fishing legends in my presence. Karen went with me on this trip, out of the fact that I had originally promised her a weekend without kids and with me; what she got was a weekend of hanging out in a hotel room while I was fishing and waiting for me to be late at the take out on Sunday. Friday night was the celebrity pairings dinner, and I was lucky enough to get paired with Ian James. Ian is the co-host of The New Fly Fisher a fly fishing show that airs on PBS, but doesn’t air on my local PBS station in St. Louis. He is a hilarious guy and a very accomplished fly fisherman and author – he has a best seller in his book titled Fumbling With A Fly Rod. It was an absolute pleasure to fish with him and I learned quite a bit in the process about my casting style. It was also a new experience for me, as we did a couple of quick camera interviews for the television show and had his cameraman following us in another boat for most of the morning. At least I can say I caught some fish on camera and got to see the White River from a boat. I was even wore a microphone for awhile on this day — it was pretty cool. Quite honestly though, we couldn’t have done it without the fine work from our Guide, Quin Berry. If you have ever floated the White or Norfork Rivers you will notice that the guides all work with tiller controlled outboards and after watching Quin work the boat, I have a newfound respect for boat handlers on these rivers.

Saturday night was the dinner / raffle function at the Ramada Inn in Mountain Home. It was when all the anglers, celebrities, sponsors, and volunteers gathered for several auctions and raffles (of which I was lucky enough to win a raffle item of a new neck lanyard, a Solitude Fly Vest, and a Dorber C&R Net). It was also a place to enjoy fine food and compare notes from the day and make plans for the morning. But most importantly, it was a time to gather and reflect on the good that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is doing and the importance of raising money for this organization through this event. April Conrad, the Executive Director of Hooked On A Cure, took about 5 minutes or so and introduced me to the crowd of onlookers and explained to them the Trout Bum Tournament and that we were trying to accomplish by raising money through fly fishing. After this, the rest of the night was a whirlwind. I remember talking and getting my photo taken with Mel Krieger, talking with Dave Whitlock, Sister Carol Anne Corley performing a mass christening and naming everyone “Charlie” for the evening (since we are taking pledges for every person we meet with the name of “Charlie” during our Trout Bum odyssey), enjoying way too many adult beverages, having a ton of laughs, and getting paired up with my celebrity and guide for the Sunday trip on the Norfork River. Needless to say that I did not get that much sleep on Saturday night.

Sunday morning I was picked up at the Ramada Inn by Pat Neuner, the Product Development Manager for Wapsi, and shuttled to the Quarry Park Access on the Norfork River. Pat is an extremely nice guy and offered to help in any way he could while we were on our Trout Bum odyssey. Today I was to fish with John Wilson and Ken Richards. John is a very accomplished fly fisherman and was actually my celebrity pairing for the day. He has been a member of Team USA Fly Fishing, a finalist in the OLN Masters Competition, a finalist in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, as well as having appeared on several television shows and running a successful guide business (www.flyfishingarkansas.com). Ken Richards is also an accomplished fly fisherman and guide (www.justfishinguides.com) in the Arkansas area, and is one of the few to offer a guided trip out of a Hyde drift boat. I have been trying to meet both of these gentlemen for some time, as we have conversed quite frequently on message boards and via email over the last couple of years, and both have gone above the norm to offer support to Team Ozark Chronicles during the Trout Bum Tournament.

We left Quarry Park and headed to a private access on the Norfork River. When we were wadering up at the car, John had asked what I wanted to get out of the day. I informed him that I wanted to break through my 20″ ceiling that I have yet to cross on this river. Thus the phrase for the day was “Hero or Zero” (meaning it was a Toad or it was no fish at all). We spent the next couple of hours searching out toads (which is what the guides in Arkansas call a fish in excess of 24″), and found a stretch of water about 20 yards long that held 6 toads in less than 3 feet of water. I did not get a hookup with any of the toads, although I did perform a bass fisherman hookset on my first fish which provided a ton of comedy for everyone. I was rewarded with two fish during this time, both well under 20″ but a ton of fun in the process, it was the big fish I was after today and there was simply no better way to do it. Then the water came on and we retreated to the pavilion where we met up with the others for lunch, and then off to the Quarry Park access to drop in the drift boat and float to the confluence of the White River. It was a great float and I was able to accomplish the Arkansas Grand Slam on the Norfork (catching a brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, and cutthroat trout all from the same river in the same day) and set a personal best for the biggest brook trout that I have caught. Ken handled his drift boat with ease during the water generation and it was an absolute blast to fish from and we had a good time. I got some brief casting lessons from John Wilson as well, and realized that I was a true amateur at this sport. When we got to the take-out point, John took my St. Croix Legend Ultra 5wt with GPX line and demonstrated throwing my entire fly line plus several feet of my backing and it was a feat to watch, as he did it effortlessly. We took photos to end the day, and said our thank you’s and I took some ribbing from them as I was late to the take-out and my wife had been waiting in the car for more than an hour (for the record gentleman, I have a very cool wife and she understood after the first hour of the drive). This was by far the coolest fly fishing event I have ever attended and I plan to be back next year. If you believe in giving money to a children’s charity, I can’t think of a better one. There were some other film crews there this weekend as well, and there was a rumor that parts of this weekend are going to air on ESPN Outdoors as fillers between shows but we will see (in total I think there was 3 separate camera crews there).

Now it is time to get the gear bags ready, clean the fly lines, pack the essentials and have them sitting in my basement so we can leave at midnight the night of July 8th. I have already met some legends thanks to Fly Rod & Reel and Hooked On A Cure, and can’t wait to bring home the title of Trout Bums of the Year and secure the additional funds that Ford has pledged towards the winning team. We could not have done this without the help of the fine folks at the local Missouri fly shops (T. Hargrove Fly Fishing, Feather-Craft, and Clearwater Outfitters), and we ask that you remember to support your local fly shops.

A special thanks to all those who have helped us thus far on this fly fishing odyssey. We are still raising money and you still have time to purchase your chance to win a Premier Angler spot in the 2005 Hooked On A Cure Celebrity Fly Fishing Classic, or a new bamboo fly rod, or several other fly fishing related prizes. So a special thanks goes out to all those that haven’t helped us yet, but will be in the coming weeks.

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