Sunday’s Classic / Humbling Day on the White River

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Dusk on the White River. Photo By: Louis Cahill

It’s 4:00am and my adrenaline has me awake way ahead of the alarm clock just like the first time my Dad took me hunting when I was a kid. As I gaze onto the silhouette of the White River I hear the resident trout in the river ambushing baitfish and stockers in the moon light. By the sound of the loud thrashing of the water I can tell it’s the sound of trophy trout on the feed. I’ve booked legendary fly fishing guide, Davy Wotton who’s been guiding on the White River for over twelve years. Davy is well known in the fly fishing industry for his SLF Dubbing, extensive fly fishing videos and long standing conservation efforts.There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be in good hands with his local expertise. I’ve got my Scott S4 8 weight rod rigged up with my sinking line, and I’ve packed my Cliff Outdoors streamer box that’s filled to the max with my freshly tied up streamer creations.

My goal for the trip is to bring a Brown Trout to the net measuring over thirty inches. This feat will be no small task, but my hopes are high knowing there’s no better river in the lower 48 states to reach a goal of this caliber. The Arkansas DNR have shocked up multiple forty plus pound brown trout over the years during their surveys, and they say it’s just a matter of time until the White River produces the next world record. After a quick introduction with Davy Wotton we launched the boat and headed up river to Bull Shoals Dam where we initiated our first drift for the day. From the Bull Shoals Dam down to the Bull Shoals State Park line, the White River is a designated trophy trout section with special regulations.

Shortly after beginning our first drift we began seeing thousands of shad floating down the river. As deep as I could peer into the depths with my polarized sunglasses, I could see shad in every foot of the water column. There must have been thousands floating at any given moment. Now, you’d think this would be great for fishing, right? Here’s the problem, there seemed to be no trout feeding on the drifting shad and we were striking out fishing Davy Wotton’s famous “Floating Shad” pattern. I’d experienced this scenario on rivers and streams quite often in the past, not with shad, but with a big hatch and it generally only means one thing. The trout had gorged themselves before we got to the river during the first phases of the shad kill and they were perfectly content resting up and awaiting room to be made for their next meal. If we did manage to find a fish willing to eat, the chances of it picking out our fly among the thousands of naturals on the water was going to be like winning the lottery. It was some sight to see, watching such a large amount of food drifting down the river. All I could think was how big and fat the trout must be growing from this food source and how I wished this would happen on my local tailwaters every year.

One scoop of the net during the shad kill. Photo By: Louis Cahill

The generation schedule for the day on the White River was eight generators, which translated into over 25,000 cfs of water flowing downriver. After four fish-less drifts, Davy Wotton advised us we should load up the boat and run downstream where there wouldn’t be nearly as many shad present. The shad only really get flushed into the river when they’re generating high flows. Davy was calling for us to head twenty-seven miles downstream since the shad would not be arriving down there until very late in the evening. Louis and I both welcomed the proposition and we stowed away our fly rods for the return back to the boat ramp. I always respect a guide who knows when to give up on Plan A and move on to Plan B. Knowing when to change your fishing strategy can make or break a fishing trip.

After a quick drive we arrived at the downstream boat ramp. As I scanned the water, anticipating our first drift, I saw zero shad present, and instantly, I knew our odds had improved for getting into fish. Almost immediately, Louis hooked up with a beautiful rainbow trout on a pink San Juan Worm.  Shortly after, we both doubled up and I landed a solid 20″ brown trout. This was a great accomplishment considering the tough high-water fishing conditions, and it shows that persistence always reigns supreme. By the end of the day, I’d say we landed a dozen trout and missed a handful of other good fish throwing streamers. Louis did manage to land another sweet sixteen-inch brown trout later in the afternoon. We were both tickled to death to be guided by a legend and also get the opportunity to check off a river on both of our bucket lists.

White River Brown Trout. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Our first day on the White River didn’t produce a trout over thirty inches, and the fishing scored below our inflated expectations. It just goes to show, you can never guarantee a great day of fishing even if the river you’re fly fishing is annually stocked with trout in the hundreds of thousands. Getting humbled on a famous trout stream can be just as good for the soul as a epic day of fishing. I think it’s important we always stay grounded as fishermen and focus on the big picture of just enjoying the great outdoors. Sometimes I get a little out of hand with my goals. The fishing that day was incredibly tough, and out of all the boats we saw on the water, we only saw one other fish landed. There was no doubt the maximum generation schedule during the day really hurt us during our float in terms of numbers of bites and fish landed. One things for sure, Davy Wotton was a great guide, and there was no question that he did everything in his power to put us on as many fish as possible. I’ll never forget the day I was humbled on the White River.  

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Sunday’s Classic / Humbling Day on the White River

  1. It’s good for the “fishing soul” to have tough days, just catching fish on those days can be rewarding, memorable and satisfying than back to back catch days.

    I have a rule “I never say I’m going to catch fish today, no matter how confident I feel”. To say you are Is a recipe for a no catch day!

    • Rob,

      Thanks for commenting. I see what your saying and think a lot the same way. My only difference is I always believe I can catch fish but try to always keep realistic expectations and don’t lose sight of just be grateful I’m out on the water.


      • Oh, I always believe I can catch fish. It’s just that I don’t say I “will” catch fish before the event – Finite difference.

        To each their own, a lot of people say they are grateful just to be on the water and I most certainly am. The things we see as anglers (which a lot of other people don’t have the good fortune to see) can be truly amazing. However, my prime objective is to catch and release fish. Being on the water is an added bonus. Tight lines!

  2. When I fished the White River many years ago, I found it to be tough fishing. We did better on the Norfork. I’ve fished many tail waters east and west, but the White River might be the strangest. Big water, unpredictable flows, lots of guys slinging bait, and (when I was there) crystal clear water. That said, you would float over holes and see these truly massive browns just hanging out. It was like a trip to the Baltimore aquarium. Glad to experience the place, hope to go back, but it was a humbling trip. In retrospect , we fished it way too late in the season. Next time, I’d like to do the shad kill !

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