Gabe on the hunt this week _ Gabe Levin image
Giant tailwater browns, that “next level” fish we all dream about hooking on a fly rod, are mysterious, unpredictable creatures. Put them in a big, wide river like the White with highly variable conditions day-to-day and season-to-season, and you have one of the most elusive game fish in the world. Through the collective experience of our local fly fishing community, and with appreciation for the wisdom of seasoned conventional tackle and bait fishermen, we understand just enough about these fish to warrant their pursuit, but not nearly enough to guarantee success, and that’s why we like it! Where is the fun in easy, predictable fishing? It is the mystery of giant brown trout, perhaps, that draws people to the White River and causes them to brave all types of weather and water conditions for the chance at a fish of a lifetime.
Tuesday’s big fish hunt, including myself, fly guide Ben Levin, and the ever-watchful fish hawk Alex Lafkas, started out slow, turning no fish after many dozens of good presentations to prime holding water. But that’s normal, and we constantly remind ourselves that the difference between a good day and a bad day when you’re hunting big fish is, well, one big fish. And as usual, the big one comes out of nowhere seemingly, follows Alex’s fly to the surface little more than a rod’s length from the boat, lifts it’s massive head and shoulders out of the water as if to say, “HA! You thought I was going to eat, and now you’ll never see me again,” and then disappears back to the bottom. The three of us stare wide eyed at the nervous boil where the fish appeared, shouting things like: “Did you see that!?” “What the_____!….What just happened!?” “Holy ____! That was huge!”
Why that fish chased, refused, and then jumped out of the water is a mystery, but a sighting like that will remind you why you should continue to cast big flies in the wind all day even if it seems like nothing’s happening. Later in that same day another brown over two feet followed the fly all the way to the boat. That’s what trophy brown hunting is all about. You just never know when the incredible is going to happen. _ Gabe Levin
John Boatwright from Tx with a solid fish last weekend _ Steve Dally pic
Feisty browns anywhere between 15 and 22 inches are hitting double deceiver style flies fished on fast sinking tip lines, and trophy fish are starting to show themselves, even if they’re acting a little non-committal. Cast as close to the bank as you can, and retrieve at a rate that allows your flies to split the water column, about equal distance from the river bottom and the surface. That will give the fish a good look at your fly while minimizing the number of hangups on the bottom. Olive and white was the color of the day Tuesday, but any combination of olive, white, yellow, or chartreuse is going to get some attention. Try to put your boat in on rising water if you can, and plan to fish hard in the late evening, as the bite has been most consistent in the last couple hours of daylight. Don’t be surprised if flows diminish in the near future as the lakes enter power pool again. Lower flows could still fish very well with streamers, concentrating the fish and making them a little easier to locate, as well as open up some better opportunities for nymphing.
Siphon malfunction on the dam has created very low water on the Norfork, as low as it was before the minimum flow regime. That means lots of shallow, flat water and more spooky fish. Long light leaders with small midge pupa, unweighted eggs and worms, and small unweighted nymphs are the safest choices. Try to limit the amount of weight you’re using in order to achieve a more natural presentation in this low water, and use as small an indicator as you can to avoid spooking fish. Also try swinging small thread-head woolies and light wire or thread body soft hackles as opposed to the heavier bead heads. When they do run water again, that would be a good time to try for some of the Norfork’s bigger fish that may be resting and not eating during these periods of extreme low water.