Norfork River (Mountain Home, Arkansas) — July 13, 2004

Fly Rod & Reel Trout Bum Tournament Check-In # 5

Hey ya’ll!!! We’re still kicking……well some of us. Matt is snoring in a bed just across the room. Guess the young punk can’t hang with the “Old Guy”. John is sleeping too. Actually, I can hardly keep my eyes open myself, but I wanted to say hello to all of you before we go out on the river again in a few hours. YES!!! I said again. John Wilson offered to take us out again this evening and if the fish are biting, we’ll fish well into the night….or morning as it may be.

Where do I start? OH, how about where we left off last time. We left you last at the Fulton’s lodge. After we hit the send button and waited for the report and pictures to upload, John gave us some casting lessons. I don’t know about all of you, but I sure haven’t seen all that many people cast a complete line down to the backing with only a couple of false casts. John makes it look easy. If only it was. I got a number of pointers and even a mechanics and physics lesson on rod movement and how the line follows. Things that I have read about for years and were still confused on, all became clear last night. John not only can cast well (that’s why he broke records on accuracy at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games), but he can also convey it to others like me. WICKED COOL!!! (As John would say!!)

After the files finally uploaded…..OH, that reminds me, we called the great people at Fly Rod & Reel magazine today and we think we have things worked out regarding our photos. Please keep looking, you should have a bunch to look at very soon. After the files finished we followed John over to his cabin to stay with him for the night. WELL!!!! Just before John left for the Great Outdoor Games, his AC quit in his cabin. He told his landlord about it and seemed to think it would be fixed when he got back. NOT!!! I’ll kind of leave that there, but I think John had a few words with his landlord….at least that’s what it kind of sounded like about a block away. You fill in the blanks.

Well, Matt hopped on the phone and called His Place Resort, that had already offered to allow us to stay in one of their cabins the next 3 nights and asked if we could come early. They said “Come on down!!”. Shwew!!! It was still in the 80’s and the humidity must have been about the same. We were dripping just from our casting lessons and really needed to cool down. The AC experience was certainly better here!

We’ll we got our main gear out and quickly got showers and started tying flies. John was showing us how to tie his “now not so secret” fly – Trout Crack. This is perhaps one of the simplest flies to tie, but the results are absolutely incredible. I’ve heard a rumor that Umpqua is looking into carrying John’s fly, but it just hasn’t happened yet. ;>) I would highly recommend each and everyone of you contact Umpqua about this fly, cause you sure the heck will want some. I caught about 25 fish in just a few hours, with Matt catching almost as many, with this thing and that is a tiny part of this fly’s track record. I’ll tell you this about it so you have a little idea…..it’s a bit like a scud and fished dead drift like most nymphs….size 12 to 18 generally.

OK, so we tied about a dozen each and headed to bed. That was about 11:30 and the alarm was set for 3:30. We are in a bit different accommodations, which feels a bit more like Trout Bum habitat. We basically have a 1 room efficiency cabin. Two beds….ya, I know…….there are three of us right?!! No, I didn’t share with Matt last night. Luckily I brought along my sleeping pad and sleeping bag just incase, and slept on the floor. I have no complaints. I think I could have slept standing up last night.

So, I wake to Matt shaking me at 3:30. John wanted us to get to the river at first light for some nymphing and midging to HUGH fish. I mean fish in the 10 – 20 lb range were fairly common in the water we were going to fish with #18s and 6x tippet. Following quick showers, we slipped into our waders at the cabin and drove to the access. Sorry, can’t tell you where it is. Can you blame John for not wanting us to tell the location? He’ll be glad to take you though if you have him guide you. Sounds like a fair trade to me. You can get a heck of a lot of information though and contact John via his web site at www.flyfishingarkansas.com. Anyway, we ate granola bars on the way and drank sport drinks to try to get some more fluid in us.

OH, guess I should mention the water generation at this time. This was the first time I had experienced tailwater fishing and it was pretty wild to see all of the guides and Matt constantly on the phone calling the dam generation phone number. The dam telephone recording doesn’t tell you “when” the water will be “turned on” for generation, but it tells you when it “was” turned on and how many generator units were put on line. If you know your stuff (which all of our guides have) you can determine how long it will take for the water to get down to your location and plan your egress from the river appropriately. Additionally, you have to constantly monitor the generating schedules to determine what kind of fishing you may be able to do the next day. The water generation determines when you will fish, how you will fish, where you will fish and if you will be wading or fishing from a boat. There’s quite a bit to think about and plan for, and that’s what we’ve been doing the whole trip. Well, I say we…..Matt and the guides have been.

OK, so we buzz down a bunch of back roads and come to a farm field that seems pretty well worn from a few lucky vehicles. Quickly we jump out of the truck, gather our gear and get another lesson from John as to how he rigs his nymph and midge rigs. I gotta start taking notes when I’m around this guy!! After John gets us set, he heads for the river, while we try to keep up. Headlamps on, we slide through a path that looked like a tunnel through the trees and shrub to the river. In we go and wade up river trying not to trip over submerged logs, stumps and boulders. Hey, one word of advice for all of you……CLEATS!!! Wish I had some. I will the next time. Them rocks is slick….so we all stayed dry….at least walking in!!!

Well, John’s timing was perfect. We made it to a…..well, I had no idea what it was. Did I mention the fog? We could barely see 20 feet in front of us up until now, but the sun was starting to peak over the ridge and the fog was just starting to burn off. We could hear very large fish breaking the water in the fog. It was pretty cool. John hands me his rod with a streamer and tells me where to cast. While messing with something on my William Joseph chest pack, a fish took the streamer that I had dangling in the water just 6 feet in front of me. Didn’t get that one hooked, but that was just the start of our day. I had no idea at that point what I was casting to or how far to cast, so John told me the length I needed by seeing my back cast and I was fishing. He told me I was floating my fly over a number of 20+ lb fish….it was just up to the fish whether or not they wanted to eat. I had a number of takes that seemed really big. You all know the feeling….., but I only got in a few small ones. Just 12 to 16 inchers…I was still happy. Especially since I caught both rainbows and a cutthroat. OH, I need to mention that you can catch a “Grand Slam” in this water…..a rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brookie all in the same day on the same water. I was starting to wonder if I might have a chance.

While I was swinging my streamer, Matt was getting lessons in nymphing with Trout Crack. Matt is a streamer fisherman and not greatly experienced at nymphing, but after today, he decided he loves nymphing in the right conditions like I decided I love streamers in the right conditions yesterday. I couldn’t see them well through the fog, but I heard a lot of “OH MAN!!”s as Matt missed a few. He did hook up with a number of fish though and got better and better using the new technique as the morning wore on.

Well, my streamer takes petered out and John told me to start nymphing up near Matt. YES!!!!! I was in total heaven. This is the kind of fishing I love. Fast riffle dropping into a 2 to 3 foot run with a couple of side channels coming in too. Seams everywhere!!! I had a blast!!! We have been really lax at taking pictures with us holding fish up till now, so we decided to take a number of pics today, so that you all believe that we actually have caught some fish. Each fish we would hook up, John would ask if it was a nice fish, what kind and if we wanted pictures of it. Matt and I had him walking back and forth taking pictures of us pretty frequently for a while. On one of my hookups, he asked me what it was. I said I wasn’t sure, it kinda looked like a rainbow…. “NO, maybe a “cut””…no…. “IT’S A BROOKIE!!!” John nearly ran over to me to make sure we got a picture of this beautiful little gem. I have always had a special place in my heart for this beautiful fish, so I was beaming. Then John says… “Game On!!”. I looked a little puzzled and Matt says that I have to get the Grand Slam. Holy Smokes!!! I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time. John tells me to keep doing what I’m doing because there are a bunch of large fish where I am, but he would go off in search of browns. Matt and I both bring in a number of rainbows and cuts when John hooks up with our first brown of the day. He calls me a hundred yards or so downstream (where I was fishing streamers earlier) and shows me the brown hangout. After getting yet another lesson of how to swing the rod in a circle over my head while casting to get the best drift, John lets me loose with a size 20 beadhead zebra midge. After missing, yet again, a couple of nice takes, I finally see my indicator just pause and set the hook. We weren’t sure what it was yet, but it did stay down and we were hoping it was a brown. I took forever getting this bugger close enough to see, cause I sure the heck didn’t want to mess up. Finally after a few minutes (seemed like hours though) we get our first glimpse…….A BROWN!!! Man was I pumped!!! After another couple hours…I mean minutes…..John finally netted the little (14 inches) beauty for me and there where “Hi-Fives” all around. The Grand Slam!!! Wicked Cool!!!

I finally settled down and decided to fish from across the riffle we were fishing to get a better drift because I could see some really nice fish in the run just below the riffle. Sure enough. I got on a decent rainbow and Matt asks me if I want him to take a picture. I hesitated, cause it was only 17 or 18 inches I thought, but we did need some more fish pics. Matt graciously waded across, but it was still going to be a little while before it was ready to net, so Matt started to fish. Quickly he had a nice fish on himself. Now John was wading over to try to get a picture of the two of us with nice fish together. Wicked Cool!!! We got the pics, let our little buddies go and while we were watching Matt’s fish swim off…..well, I’m not sure what the heck happened. All I know is that Matt leaned back a little bit and you should have seen the look on his face just before it went under water. Before his ears hit the water, John was turning to grab him, but Matt still got a full Norfork baptism. John pulled him up instantly and after we figured out all was fine, we all laughed our butts off. Only casualty may be Matt’s camera. Not sure yet. We’ll know in a few minutes when we try to upload his great pictures. Keep your fingers crossed!!!! No pictures at this time. The Fuji FinePix S5000, didn’t like the cold water and we can’t get the card to be recognized in the card reader yet. Rest assured, we will keep trying.

Well, that was just about the time we were going to head back anyway, because John suspected the water was going to be “turned on” any minute anyway, which would give us just enough time to get back. On the way back we spotted a number of large fish. One rainbow probably over 10 lbs, numerous larger browns and one brown that John estimated to be in the 30 lb range. Wicked Cool!! Up and out of the river, we found out that the heat was still with us. YUCK!!!! Just another reason to go fishing on a hot day. We were all hungry and tired and headed for lunch. John pulled in to Sutton’s Restaurant in Mountain Home on Hwy 5. He said that it was all great and that they made their own potato chips that we just HAD to get. We ordered, started drinking our tea and talking about our day when I got a twinkle in my eye. Matt looked at me and said, “You’re gonna try to bum lunch aren’t you?” I just smiled. I headed for the kitchen to find the owner – John Sutton. After telling the waitress that I wanted to talk to him she sent me to the back of the kitchen where John was flying around like a wild man making food for all of us. He listened to what I had to stay and instantly said he’s be happy feed us for free. What a guy!!! Then we got the food. Holy Smokes!!! I got a blackened burger with blue cheese and all the fixings. That may have been the best burger I have ever eaten and that’s NOT just because I was hungry….I honestly mean that!!! Mr. Sutton even took a couple of minutes to take a picture with “The Bums”.

After that we picked up a TON of sport drinks and ice. So far, I think we have spent more money on drinks than anything else. We have too though in this heat. We have no choice. Well, the “two” other bums just woke up from their beauty sleep (didn’t help by the way) so I guess I better go. It’s 6:30 pm and we are getting ready to head out for an evening fish, get some food (let’s hope my bumming luck holds), get a couple hours of sleep (I think I better this time) and head back out about 2:00 am in search of big browns. I apologize for not filling in the blanks for yesterday yet (it was a full and fun day that we still need to elaborate on) but there area only so many hours in this day…… and I don’t want to miss a minute of it!!!

Tight Lines,

Matt & Brent (written by Brent)

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