Have you ever had a 30+” trout (estimated weight of about 20 – 24lbs) rise at a size 6 foam dragon fly imitation? Well it can and does happen on the Norfork, more on that later. Craig and I headed down to fish the Norfork last Thursday night (Oct. 24). We left my house and were on the road around 8:30pm or so, and were quickly met with rain on I-44. We drove most of the way in the pouring rain — although driving that late at night we didn’t have hardly any traffic, so we did make good time. We arrived at Norfork dam about 2:30am on Friday (Oct. 25). We called the dam to check to see if they had been running water — no generation (the water had actually been off almost all day on Thursday and almost all night as well). We got some sleep in the truck on thursday night / friday morning (didn’t reserve a camp site for thursday night) in the pouring rain — the key word is “some.”
Friday morning, we awoke about 5am to the sound of the generators being ran on the Norfork (2 of them) and then called the “Dam Line” and found that they were also running water on the White. So we decided to fish around Wildcat Shoals (which gave us about 3 hours of fish time on the White). We arrived at Wildcat Shoals on Friday (10/25) about 6:30am and fished till about 10am. I didn’t catch, nor see (or see one caught) a fish in 3 hours of fishing. Actually I wasn’t impressed with Wildcat Shoals at all. It appeared that there wasn’t any holes or pockets — it really was like a pea gravel streambed with some limestone in it every once in a while. Craig picked up 2 fish in a small eddy. He was back at the truck calling his wife, when the water started to come up. Where was I you may ask. I was about 300 yards upstream scouting into some other areas. Man does that water come up QUICK. By the time I made it back down stream to the access the water was ripping through there — I should have known something was up when a flotilla of boats came down river at once and I was the only one walking upstream. So we packed up and decided to set up camp at Quarry Park on the Norkfork.
After setting up the tents and what not we decided to head to Dale Fulton’s Blue Ribbon Fly Shop in Mountain Home to see what was the hot fly and the hot spots. Man does that fly shop suck. We are extremely lucky to have both Hargroves and FeatherCraft in our area. It took forever to get waited on and then the guy didn’t really even say a word. Horrible Shop, and do not recommend it at all (in all fairness, we could have caught them on a bad day — as everyone has them). We called the “Dam Line” again and found that they had shut the water down on both the Norfork and the White. So we hit McDonald’s drive thru and headed back to camp on the Norfork and do a little fishing. With the water down we fished the area around the boat ramp access right below the dam and the mouth of Dry Creek. I managed to scratch a few fish on the main river on a copper john, and Craig picked up several Browns on a size 16 renegade (that I tied). The water came back on about 5pm on friday (10/25), so we decided to fish the mouth of Dry Run Creek and see what would happen (since that is where alot of people were). We fought the crowds for awhile and were rewarded with some fish. There was a whole lot of dry fly activity going on, on top of the water, but I couldn’t get them to take. So I tied on a size 26 emerging midge pattern and promptly caught several fish, including a 17″ to 18″ Brown (with beautiful colors) on it (this was the first fish I had caught on this pattern — which was an added bonus — although I wish he would have went 20″ so that I could join the 20/20 club). I promptly gave Craig my last fly of that pattern in my box and he got in on some of the action (why should I get to have all the fun). Once he had the fly tied on and was fishing, I snap off the fly on a decent size fish. I then tied on some 8x tippit and a size 26 BWO and tried my luck — which ended up being no luck. We then retired to camp at dark.
We awoke on Saturday (10/26) at about 6am to get ready for our guided trip. We had a guide trip with Tom Rogers of TNT Fly Fishing (http://www.whiteriver.net/tnt) set up and he was picking us up at 7:30am. We packed up our vest and Tom arrived promptly at 7:30. Since they were not running water, we decided that a wade trip on the Norfork would offer our best shot at the “Grand Slam.” He took us to some choice spots on the river (which I am not going to divulge), where I promptly lost about a 4lb rainbow (or brookie, as we couldn’t tell — but sure it was a rainbow), to try and catch a brookie on our first leg of the Grand Slam. Fishing was slow, even the bait fishermen were not catching fish. We spent about 2 hours trying to catch a brookie, than we moved on to cuttthroats — but the only species to cooperate were the rainbows and browns. Craig and I caught several wild rainbows during the morning hours.
We stopped for lunch about 11:30, and after a quick Subway sandwich we were back on the water. Since the fishing was REALLY slow, we decided to change the afternoon into a big fish trophy hunt. We fished a different section of the Norfork in the afternoon — with hardly any crowds. After wading quite a bit, we started fishing a foam ant pattern. Craig picked up a couple of fish, and then I was quickly changed to a midge larva (the v-rib and tungsten head midges, that we were talking about at the last tying night meeting — the guide had a whole box of those in different colors) and picked up one or two fish. Then he had us throwing a HUGE foam dragon fly imitation — probably a size 6 or 8 — in search of big fish. I was a little skeptical at first, but he had several stories of big fish caught on this pattern — and I thought “Well, anything is worth a shot.” so I let him tie one on. Craig was working his way upstream a bit, when the guide and I spotted a HUGE brown trout and several other fish in the middle of the section of stream. This fish was easily 30+ inches and BIG — the Guide estimated it at 20+lbs. I started working the pocket the fish was holding in — first to the interior of the pocket and slowly dead drifting my fly closer to the lane of the fish. The whole time this fish didn’t move off of holding off of the bottom. Tom kept stressing the importance of mending line and the dead drift method man did I learn some stuff a bout mending line) to get this fly to the fish. I must have thrown casts for about 10 minutes, then suddenly I was able to land my fly right behind a leaf that had fallen on the river and that was all that it took. As my fly drifted past the fish (and I subsequently thought that it was another useless drift) and was ignored, it suddenly made a move towards my fly (that is when we noticed the true size of the fish and Tom upped his estimated weight to close to 24lbs of Norfork River Brown Trout) but stopped short. I thought I had missed my chance. Tom had me barely twitch my fly and that triggered a response from the Brown. He attacked my fly like a shark on a fat surfer. But what do I do, I got a case of premature hook setting and raised my rod too quickly and literally yanked the fly out of the Browns mouth. I felt sick to my stomach after that — i was literally shaking. Not only was Tom (our Guide) riding my ass, so was Craig. I had a chance of a lifetime at this fish, and I screwed up. It is the stuff that nightmares are made of. I went the rest of the afternoon fishing, but didn’t catch a fish. It kind of sucked. Craig went on to catch several more fish, but Mr. Big alluded him. All in all we fished for a solid 12 hours on Saturday with our Guide (Tom Rogers). In my mind it was a good day of fishing and a good guided trip (it was my first guided fishing trip, so I don’t have anything to compare it to). We didn’t catch near the number of fish that I had read about, or quite frankly expected, but Tom never made an excuse (or said “you should have been here last week”) other than thinking that the impending cold front had the fishing slowed down (which I had already figured out on Friday). We also didn’t catch Mr. Big, although the opportunity did present itself. Tom recognized that it wasn’t going to be a “numbers” day and decided to change it up and go after a big fish — he succeeded in that. He did everything but cast the rod and hook the fish for me — I just couldn’t produce (he even coached me on what to do before the fish took the fly and how to set the hook with this size of dry fly on this size of fish). The scenery was breathtaking — absolutely beautiful fall colors. He also got us away from the crowds in the afternoon — towards the evening, we were the only ones on the river (no one else in sight). He also let us decide when to start and end the day — he picked us up at 7:30 and we fished till about 7:30 (he only started to get nervous when it got dark). We originally got the guide in case of high water, which we didn’t run into the whole weekend (other than a few hours on Friday), but it was a successful wading trip on Saturday. Craig and I really learned alot about line control, how to effectively fish with an indicator, dry fly fishing, and other miscellaneous things (how to take a sticky indictor off of your line without leaving the glue as well as the importance of fly line color matching the surroundings). I did learn several other conservation things from our guide as well. He doesn’t believe in fishing over spawing fish — he said that some guides routinely fish over spawning fish and in turn end up killing active fish. He believes that there are plenty of other big fish in the river, and that why run the chance of killing a spawning fish when there are others to fish. He is strictly a C&R guide — no keeping of fish in his boat. He did offer proof of successful brown trout and rainbow trout reproduction on the Norfork river — and the evidence (wild fish — e.g. no clipped fins and more vibrant colors) does offer proof. Here comes the plug — I would seriously recommend using Tom Rogers (http://www.whiteriver.net/tnt) as a big fish / high water guide. I am going to try and make a trip down there during february for some high water fishing with him — he says that is a blast.
Sunday morning I woke up about 6am (before adjusting the clock for daylight savings time) sore as all get out from fishing all day yesterday. I really didn’t think that I would be that sore. Not to make me feel bad, Craig said his shoulder was sore as well. I headed down to the mouth of Dry Run Creek to try and catch a hog before all the bait fisherman arrived. I had totally expected the generators to be on (as they were kicked on and off two times over the night), and didn’t even call before I walked down to the river. I gave it a lackluster effort for about an hour, and missed one fish. Quite honestly I was dead tired and was about fished out — actually was really hungry (we lost most of our food on the drive down — but that is another story). So Craig and I headed back to camp and packed up and headed for home. 5 1/2 hours later we arrived in my driveway and were promptly greeted by screaming 6 year-olds at my daughter’s birthday party for all her “friends.” Man did I sleep like a baby last night — and probably will tonight. I think Craig and I have decided to make this an annual pilgrimage to the Norfork during this time of year — as I will forever be searching for closure on Mr. Big. Hope I didn’t bore you with all the details of this trip. There will be photos uploaded shortly (as soon as Tom and Craig both email me the pictures), so stay tuned. — Matt Tucker