Judging by the skill level of the 12 year olds I’ve seen prowling local waters as of late, I’d say the next generation of fly fishers is looking pretty darn impressive, thanks in great part to the efforts of parents who fish. It is heartwarming to see parents taking the time not just to fish with their kids but to teach them the skills to enjoy outdoor activities. Likely, their enjoyment of a resource will lead them to act on behalf of its conservation down the road. Between the enormous opportunities for trout on the White, Norfork, Dry Run Creek and the excellent panfishing/bass opportunities on Crooked Creek and Buffalo River, the White River and its tributaries stand out as a uniquely abundant and diverse fly fishing resource for the parent looking to pass on their love of fly fishing to a kid or young adult.
Scroll down for the link to the weekly fishing report, but first check out local and shop regular Mick Spaulding’s well written account of his experiences fishing with his son and fishing partner, Zachary Spaulding:
Trying to get a 12-year old excited about anything can take some work. My generation could take a stick and a couple rocks and imagine our way into some type of afternoon-killing adventure. That is clearly not the case in today’s society. Video Games, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, 300 TV Channels, multiple sports, and uncountable other activities are in front of our children’s eyes every day. There are so many different things that can occupy their time, it’s difficult to carve out the experiences that you know can truly shape their lives and create memories.
I have taken it upon myself to teach my son the art of fly-fishing and all it involves. Being a sport that challenges men and women of all ages and often takes years to grasp, I knew combining that with all the possible activities he encounters would be tough. The other aspect of this endeavor is keeping a 12 year olds attention for more than 45 minutes is truly a chore. I know I have to walk a fine line between teaching my son the sport and being the Dad who turns him away due to overkill. I have been working with him since he was seven in small enough increments to keep his interest but not overdoing it to the point he despises when dad says, “let’s go fishing”.
Our latest chapter in the ‘Education of Bubba” was this past week when I had a couple of days to spend with him on the water. Zachary Spaulding, “aka Bubba”, is just a wonderful young man who would never display any hint of displeasure that might upset his father. So, committing to a couple days in the drift boat with him was not an inconvenience, but a true pleasure for me.
We try to break the art of fly-fishing into specific aspects that he can fully grasp and not be overwhelmed with the enormity of understanding all there is to know in the sport. Basically, not eating the elephant in one bite. Well this week was learning to fish the hopper effectively. How to fish a long leader, delivering the fly correctly, keeping it in the zone, line control, and of course learning how to twitch the hopper just right.
I knew going in I had about 45 minutes maximum to keep his interest, so the thought of a long drift was not an option. What I didn’t know is that it would only take him a few minutes to satisfy his Dad, in that he would out-perform even my expectation. We were literally in the boat for 10 minutes before he had his first opportunity. A beautiful (large) brown slowly showed himself and sucked down the hopper. After I witnessed this, I was ecstatic. But, had to remind Bubba to set the hook, and it was too late. The next two strikes dealt with line control and tension and led to the same outcome. So, it was time to anchor the boat and do some detailed instruction in these areas.
As always, he was a very disciplined listener and soaked in everything I was preaching. Only a few casts later, he had his next opportunity. Without me even seeing, I saw him raise his rod and the line go tight. I watched to see if he would replay the same mistakes or apply the lesson just taught. You could see the wheels turning as he raised his rod high, kept tension, and began taking the line off the reel. This all happened in a push of water and the fight was pretty intense. During this time, I did my best to not say anything and let him do it himself.
It resulted in a beautiful 19” brown trout and a smile on a boys face that is burned in my memory for life. After the celebration and photo-shoot ended, I knew that it was probably a good thing to end it on a high note. So, we just put the rods up and enjoyed the river and beautiful day back to the take out.
Two days later, he surprised me by being more than willing to take another drift. This drift would prove to be much different. He definitely had a purpose and intensity that was lacking in our first hopper excursion. His cast was good, his mend was only used when needed, and I could hear him counting to himself when to “twitch” the hopper. We were only a few hundred yards from where we put in when he raised his rod and a beautiful brown breached the water. He quickly said, “this one’s bigger than the last one Dad!”. He absolutely did a stellar job in all facets of hooking and landing a fish. The 21 inch beauty was his representation to his Dad that he was focused and determined to do a better job than he did the last drift.
The celebration was continuous for about five minutes as I saw a 12 year old who was really glad his Dad had asked him to go fishing.
Hopper-dropper is the rig of choice currently, allowing the angler a shot at a brown on top while keeping steady action with rainbows on the dropper, wether it’s a Pheasant Tail of some sort, a Hare’s Ear, a Sunday Special, or a midge. The best hopper colors right now seem to be black and tan, though pink is always good early and late in the day. Anglers in serious pursuit of a brown often get rid of the dropper in the late afternoon when the water starts rising, in order to cast closer to structure and to the bank. A decent hatch of varying sizes of tan bellied caddis can be observed in the afternoons, sometimes triggering a good bite on caddis dries, pupa, and even hoppers for those fish looking up.
The dog days of summer are a great time to wet wade the Norfork and stay cool while drifting scuds and midges over fat trout. Tan or olive Hunchback Scuds, dark or natural Wotton Sowbugs, Trout Crack, and Ruby/Root Beer midges are all killer fished alone or together through riffles and slow moving pools. Wading the shallows and sight fishing to cruising trout with small dark hoppers, ants, or other terrestrials is a slightly less productive, but more visually rewarding way to spend the day on the water.
Crooked Creek Update:
The creeks are getting low now that we’re in the heart of summer. Floating without dragging will be next to impossible until we get significant rain, but there is fine wade fishing to be had. Big smallmouth and largemouth are holed up and hungry this time of year, ultra spooky to poor presentations, but a superb challenge on a fly rod. If tough fish aren’t your thing, consider taking a light rod and small poppers for endless fun with the many species of panfish that inhabit Crooked Creek.