North Fork of the White River: Who Needs A Tailwater…..

2011-12-17pic022(Edited)(Resized)A few weekends ago on the North Fork of the White River, was a trip that won’t soon be forgotten.  Craig Peterson and I headed south to River of Life Farm on Friday (12/16/11) to the Tree Top Loft cabin we had rented for the weekend as a base camp for the maiden voyage of my recently upgraded drift boat (i traded up from the old Hyde high side, to a 2010 Hyde LowPro XL with all the trimmings).  We didn’t get in until late, and we still needed to arrange a shuttle with Myron McKee before hitting the river, so we decided to enjoy the weekend and not rush out to the water, no matter how much the urge strikes us….the fish will always be there; or so we thought.

We were up around 7am on Saturday and quickly to work loading the boat as breakfast cooked on the stove (Hasbrowns, and Biscuits & Sausage Gravy).  After breakfast we headed down the hill to arrange for our shuttle and dropped the boat in.  Brian Wise couldn’t fish with us on Saturday, so we were on our own for the day.  It has been awhile since Craig and I were in the boat together, and it was a good time as usual.

We floated from ROLF to Blair Bridge Access.  Sometimes, as a fisherman, you are lucky enough to go on one of those trips.  This was the maiden voyage of the new boat, and on the first cast on the first drift, Craig hooks up with a nice brown over 20″.  What a way to start off the drift.  We continued to throw big nasty streamers the entire drift (except for those instances we got out and wade fished, then a nymph rig was our standard set-up).  There isn’t a whole lot more to say about this trip, that the photos can’t say.  This particular float was filled with several firsts:  the first fish caught in the new boat, Craig’s first wild rainbow, Craig’s first fish over 20″, and Craig’s biggest brown trout today (coincidentally, not his first over 20″ this trip).  It was a crazy good day, and one that the North Fork of the White River will give up from time to time if you believe Brian Wise……..and as the photos indicate, he was right.  We were off the water by 4pm and back at the cabin by 5pm and awaiting the arrival of Brian & Jenny Wise for dinner and drinks.  A few night caps later and countless stories we were lights out and awaiting our drift on Sunday….another day filled with firsts.

–Matt Tucker

Ringing in 2011 on the North Fork of the White River

2011-01-01pic004(Edited)(Resized)New Year’s Day found Brent McClane and I on the North Fork of the White River again, using Brian Wise’s drift boat.  Since we had an empty seat, we coaxed Arkansas fly-fishing guide extraordinaire Jimmy “T” Traylor to come up and fish with us for the day.  Jimmy had only been on the river once, and had yet to experience the beauty that is the North Fork of the White River; so we agreed to meet him at Patrick Bridge Access to drop a vehicle and then head back to River of Life Farm and start the float.

The morning started off COLD.  After floating and fishing in waders and long sleeve shirts on New Year’s Eve, we were in full winter fishing gear complete with gloves, hats, and permafleece.  It was definitely a change, and we figured the fishing would suck, and it was slower than the day before….but it was still better than any of us expected.

We were into fish in pretty much the same fast water runs, just not as plentiful as before, throwing brown rubber legs and dropping eggs or worms or another rubber legs off of it, when we came to one of our first runs of the day below ROLF and pulled the boat into an eddy to get out and wade fish it.  McClane and JimmyT eached picked up some fish and we were just about ready to move on when McClane wanted to change something up and kept giving us the “one more cast” look.  He immediately hooked up with a fish, although didn’t know if it was the current or the size of the fish he was feeling; but it was solid.  As he is fighting the fish, JimmyT reels up and starts to head back to the boat when he takes a spill in the river as I am pulling out the camera and hopping out of the boat.  We toss the net to McClane and I help get some dry clothes to JimmyT, as it was 22 degrees and not the time to be wet.  JimmyT was in dry clothes just about the time McClane landed the nice brown in the photos below.  It was his biggest fish on the North Fork of the White to date and a great way to start out the 2011 year.  We shot a few photos and released the fish and continued on our float.

We spent more time fishing the usual spots and unfortunately spent way too much time fishing above the Blair Bridge Access that we didn’t have enough daylight to really fish the sexy water from Blair to Patrick, it was getting dark and were cold and wet, so we paddled out most of the way to just below Patrick Bridge and started rigging down the boat and rods for the trip back to Gainesville and then St. Louis.

McClane headed up to grab the Durango and backed it down the trail, across the backwater, and onto the gravel bar and the trailer into the river when all of a sudden the transmission starts slipping and the Durango keeps going backwards and won’t stop.  McClane was able to get it stopped, but the damage was done….as it wouldn’t engage any of the gears.  It was 5pm on Saturday (a holiday) in the middle of the ozarks without a good way to tow it out and figure out what was going on.  McClane is a life-saver in these situations and we tried all his tricks from rocking the vehicle to rolling it backwards (but not to far back, as that would have put it in the river), but none of it worked.  With that, I called Brian Wise and gave him the bad news that I needed him to find me a tow truck to tow us off the gravel bar and he went to work.

About a 1/2 hour later, tow truck on scene, we were winched off the gravel bar and up into the parking lot, where the tow truck driver had to disconnect the drive axel and get it lifted to take to Earl’s Dodge and have the transmission looked at.  He gave me the bill, and I couldn’t get him them money quick enough and we were on our way back to River Of Life Farm to pack up our gear and figure out a way to get back to St. Louis.  Big thanks to JimmyT for driving McClane and I to Cabool, Missouri to meet up with my dad, who got us the rest of the way back to my house.  Without friends like Brian and Jimmy, this weekend would have been a disaster, but in the end fish were caught and it was a helluva way to start out the 2011 year.

As for the Durango, after waiting a week to have the transmission guy at Earl’s Dodge in West Plains look at it, deciding it needed a new transmission and getting the approximate cost of said transmission, I opted to trade it in on a 2007 Jeep Commander 4×4 with 37,000 miles and purchased a lifetime jeep warranty for it (transmission failures be damned).  The Durango was a great fishing vehicle, its 155,000 miles included two Missouri Trout Odyssey’s, trips to the Smokys, and countless trips to the tailwaters and streams of the Ozarks.  Rest in peace Durangoo…..and I hope the “Save a Trout, Eat a Beaver” bumper sticker lives on.

Ringing Out 2010 on the North Fork of the White

2010-12-31pic005(Edited)(Resized)I couldn’t think of a finer way to ring out 2010 than drifting the North Fork of the White River with my good friend, Brent McClane.  This trip kind of just happened without much forward thinking.  Up until Wednesday (12/29/10) we were kicking around the idea of heading to Louisiana to try our hand at fly-fishing for Red Fish, but the pocket book, lack of planning, and our love for all things Ozark won out and we found ourselves driving towards Gainesville, Missouri on Thursday morning to pick up Brian Wise’s drift boat (he had promised a weekend away from his trout fishing bretheren, but did offer up the use of his boat……to which I obliged) and visit with them a bit before heading to River of Life Farm on the banks of the North Fork of the White River.

Unfortunately, the storm system that ravaged parts of Missouri and Arkansas on New Year’s Day also took its toll on our fishing trip.  We woke up to 62 degrees and a cloud system moving in as fast as I can remember ever seeing one move in.  With cell phone reception being spotty, we searched for a brief signal to check out the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center web site to see what the outlook for weather is today and then checked the various warnings and statements issued.  What we found was the the NOAA had issued a statement essentially saying that there was to be “Extreme” weather today.  McClane and I knew we were in for a treat and discussed storm chasing for the day, but knew we were way late in the game and didn’t think we had enough time to get in front of the storm as it was already 7:30am.  So we opted to not drop the drift boat in, and headed to Blair Bridge Access to wade fish until the storm hit us.

We got a good 2 hours of fishing in before the storm hit, and the fishing was solid as we were picking up rainbows on brown rubber legs and various different droppers.  I managed to land two dink smallmouth and a small brown trout, and McClane picked up a number of young of the year rainbows.  With the thunder rolling, the lightening starting, and it as dark during the day as I can ever remember it, we headed for the car just before the rain hit and headed back to ROLF.  We stopped for cell coverage to check our messages and had plenty of messages telling us to get off the weather, as well as messages from concerned friends about our homes back in St. Louis as apparently the storms had started hitting St. Louis or were about to.  After a couple of quick chats with my wife, who was down in our basement as there was a tornado about 7 miles away in Fenton), all was well and we continued our drive back to ROLF.

By the time we made it back to ROLF, the storm had passed and we were looking at windy conditions and blue skies.  We grabbed some quick chow, asked Myron to run a shuttle for us to Blair Bridge Access, and we dropped the drift boat in and set off on a 4 1/2 hr float.  We immediately got into fish, again on brown rubber legs and various droppers, as we floated downstream.  The fish were holding in the faster water, and it seemed that every drift was rewarded with at least a take.  We stopped off and wade fished a couple of the runs and swapped on and off of the oars, but we had a stellar day on the river bringing well over 30 fish to boat and had hook ups / LDR’s with close to as many fish.  It was a fun day on the river, fishing with temps in the 60’s and falling on the last day of 2010.

Just above Blair Bridge we ran in to a guy on a pontoon with a black lab.  He was definitely a friendly fellow, as we had ran into him just as we put the boat in, but fished pretty slow to give him some room between us and pretty much didn’t see him up until this point.  He was a friendly guy and we chatted a bit, before moving on.  He was the only person we saw fishing on the river all day, and it made for a pleasant day.

We finished the day back at ROLF grilling porterhouse steaks, potatoes, and vadellia onions, and were off to bed by 9:30 tired from a great day of Ozark fly fishing.  It was a perfect way to end 2010.

North Fork of the White River; Resetting the Soul (Day 2)

2010-11-20pic030(Resized)No trip to the North Fork of the White River would be complete without an evening of pizza and beer at The Antler in Gainesville, Missouri.  After a day on the river on Friday (11/19), we found ourselves at The Antler enjoying Blue Moon on tap (surprisingly) and some pizza.  It was another late night and early morning, as we rose and hit Skeeter’s Cafe to soak up the alcohol from the night before.

On Saturday, we were met with slightly warmer temps and cloudy skies.  We decided to float from River of Life Farm to the Patrick Bridge access and rolled down to the river unloaded and ran our shuttle as Kyle Kosovich (Long Boat Outfitters) and Randy Hanner (aka “Randy F’in Hanner”, member of the USA Fly Fishing Team) were rigging up their boat and going to float with us for a portion of the day.  Randy and Kyle are good guys and they hung with Brian Wise, Evan Muskopf and I at The Antler the night before, trading stories and what not; good times, but I digress.

The morning started out slow as we chucked streamers (Sex Dungeons, Peanut Envy’s, and Circus Peanuts, along with a couple of Fly Tying Contest entries and some Brian Wise patterns specifically for the NFOW).  We stopped and got out to wade fish, when the first fish was picked up on a streamer.  We each saw the rainbow come from about 15ft away, and Evan was rewarded with the nice bow.  Brian mainly messed with video, which left me at the oars for a stretch, and Evan was rewarded with the first brown trout of the trip just below “the rock garden”; a trend that would continue for the rest of the float.

It was another good day on the river, as we hadn’t seen anyone else on the river until we floated by Sunburst Canoe & Campground, where we were greeted by pleasantries from the guys on the bank as we floated by.  Shortly just below their access, I was rewarded with a nice brown on a clouser minnow imitation.  After hopping out of the boat to get some photos; my search for a 20″ fish out of the NFOW still continues; but they are definitely out there.  t was a good fish to end the trip with and had we had any beer left, it definitely would have been a beer fish.  The rest of the float was done pretty haphazardly, except when we got around the islands, where each of us fished.  Evan did manage to pick up one fish, just above Patrick Bridge, on a Fly Tying Contest streamer.  We got some photos and floated the rest of the way out, content with two solid days on the river.

All in all it was a great way to reset the soul and clear the mind.  We are already putting dates on the calendar for a follow-up trip, which will happen in the next couple of weeks.  You can see the photos from Day 2 of the trip below:

North Fork of the White River; Resetting the Soul (Day 1)

2010-11-19pic007(Resized)Too much work and no fishing makes Tucker a very pissed off and unpleasant person….and angry man…if you will (or at least that is what I am told).  It had been way too long since I had held a fly rod in my hand and actually got to fish a bit for more than a couple of hours.  With a little bit of planning, Evan Muskopf from Feather-Craft, Brian Wise (head guide at River of Life Farm) and I had planned for a little R&R on the North Fork of the White River with floating on Friday (11/19/10) and Saturday (11/20/10).  The plan was solid and low cost, and I think we each needed it for different reasons.

After a late night catching up around a fire at Brian’s house until about 1am with lots of beer consumed and checking out all the various patterns that were turned in to the Feather-Craft Fly Tying Contest site that Evan and Brian are doing (some really cool stuff……that actually catches fish), we rose early at 5:30am for breakfast at Skeeters in Gainesville, Missouri then off to the River.  The Skeeter’s #7 breakfast is something to behold and definitely kept me full all day…….as we only had planned on a barley lunch on the river with some granola and jerky as fodder.  We rolled into Kelly Ford and dropped Brian’s boat in the water, rigged up and left Evan with the boat as we ran our shuttle to the Blair Bridge Access.  This had us fishing about 5 miles (i think) of trout water on about 315 cfs, which is the lowest I had ever fished the river…..and it is, as Brian had told me “more intimate.”

The fishing was good, but not great.  We first got on the river and rowed upstream to Lamb Shoal and then further upstream to where the spring dumps into the river.  We spent until noon on this section of river, with enough success to keep us there, but we needed to move on and get started on our float to Blair Bridge.  I was fishing a new Sage TXL 6wt 9′ – 6″ rod, and man is that rod money for fishing out of a boat.  I am definitely a believer of the longer rods when nymphing…..and already am eying a 10ft 5wt after casting Evan’s 10ft 4wt.

While the cfs was lower, the fishing methods were largely the same as they were with more flow.  Long dual fly rigs with a heavy front fly and a dropper about 18″ below under a thingamabobber indicator.  One of the benefits of fishing with Brian and Evan is all the cool stuff Brian gets to play with as part of his help with Feather-Craft’s Fly Tying Contest site (big plug for it here, submit a fly for the 2011 contest).  One of the things is Wiggle Dubb dubbing.  Brian started tying a very generic stonefly pattern with originally enough called “The Wiggle Stone” and according to Brian, it had been catching the shit out of fish.  Well, he was right, 90% of the fish we caught on Friday came on this new pattern.

The North Fork of the White River is such a jewel trout stream.  We floated the entire day and didn’t see another fisherman, and the weather was a little cool but definitely beautiful.  I didn’t worry about the camera or photos and actually enjoyed a day on the water.  We couldn’t have spent a more relaxing day on the water, with the first beer being popped at 8:30 and the last being consumed around a camp fire about 12am….leaving just enough time for sleep in order to do it again on Saturday.  The photos from Friday are in the gallery below.