David Hammond with 16 inch brookie from the Norfork, Ben Levin photo and guiding
Fish that make your laugh are my favorite catches. These could be any species, any size, it’s the circumstances (usually unexpected) of the catch that create the comedy. Some catches are so tiny that they’re cute – hard not to laugh when your client puts a Bassmasters set on a 4 inch trout that suddenly becomes airborne towards the boat. Some catches are so large that you laugh from the thrill and the excitement of playing the fish, and the moment of release when the net slides under its fat tummy. Laughter is always the result when the fish do not bite according to your schedule, and bite instead when you are trying to cast, mend, or even perhaps when your flies are just dangling beside the boat as you work out a tangle.
This week’s adventures on the water included some unexpected catches for sure, some of which will become memorable moments of hilarity. The first strange catch happened to Phil Goab, whose party was fishing the Norfork with Ben Levin and myself on Sunday – Monday. I was heading upriver in the jonboat and needed to pull over on the bank to relieve myself. Watering the bushes a few yards away from the boat, I look over my shoulder to check on the commotion I hear from the boat and see Phil hooked up to a strong fish directly beside, almost underneath the boat. Strangely enough, Phil had hooked the best fish of the day, a 20inch rainbow, in water that I had just run over with the boat and outboard. The hilarity of the situation increased when the fish headed downstream towards a logjam and I realized I had to finish watering the shrubs in a hurry or the fish would be gone. We landed that fish and I still had to pee.
The next strange catch came the following afternoon during lunch break. We were all pulled over on the bank enjoying a nice break when I noticed a sizable rainbow cruising around the back of my boat happily munching on scuds, not at all concerned with our presence. With sandwich in one hand, I picked up my client’s rod in the other and dangled a fly in front of this fish, not expecting anything other that the fish to flee. It instead happily ate the fly, took off under t ped me around the outboard before I regained control. My client Phil netted the fish for me and I returned my attention to my potato salad. Luckily it was not the best fish of the day – it’s never good for the guide to catch the biggest fish, especially in such a nonchalant manner.
Later that afternoon Ben put Daniel Goab on his personal best trout, a 23 and 3/4inch rainbow. The strange part about this fish, other than its great length, was its location. On a tailwater as small and popular as the Norfork, there are no secret spots, but this spot is as close to secret as you can get around here and is rarely fished by anyone. Lucky for Daniel, Ben is always curious about little hideaways like this one, and keeps a few tricks up his sleeve.
Daniel Goab with 23 3/4inch rainbow from the Norfork, Ben Levin guiding
And now onto the rest of this week’s report
Bull Shoals Lake is less than 3ft. from the top of power pool, and the latest turbine release reading on the chart is 6,557cfs, the lowest reading I have seen in months. As the river drops, fish will re-concentrate into various funnels and the catch rate should improve. Who knows, perhaps some wade fishing opportunities are just around the corner! For now though, deep drifting eggs, worms, and large nymphs are probably your best bet for consistent bites. Try orange eggs, red, pink, or natural worms, Copper Johns, PT’s, Hare’s Ears, and large Sowbug patterns. The dropping flows and fall spawn might push more browns towards the center of the pools and runs, where they might be targeted with deep running streamers like weighted sculpin and baitfish patterns.
A steady, stained one unit continues round the clock for Norfork flows, and fishing is consistently good with egg patterns, San Juans, and scuds. I’ve had lots of fish puke up scuds in my net recently, and size 14-16 tan, grey, or olive scuds are producing some quality fish even when the egg bite slows. Small flashy streamers like Sparkly Minnows are also a great way to entice fish in dirty flows, especially on overcast days when the big ones are more likely to chase.