Duane Hada with his PB smallie caught from Ozark waters Ben Levin image

JOIN TADD FORE on a Labor Day weekend float of the Buffalo River Wilderness with father-in-law Duane Hada and Ben Levin. I mean Buffalo River in August, 2 canoes, 3 fly fishers one named Hada … what could go wrong? What could go right?

When The Wilderness beckons, you answer. The stars (and schedules) aligned perfectly to allow Duane Hada, Ben Levin, and I to jump ship from the real world and dive head-first into the Buffalo National River Wilderness for a three day smallmouth bass fish-and-float excursion.

Tadd looking for more brats …. Ben Levin image

If you know Duane Hada, then you know a trip like this would not go without a few happy accidents along the way.

 Our first inclination that this would be a trip to remember was realizing that after prepaying for gas, we left the gas station without ever actually pumping the gas. Our next omen came when, upon arriving at the put-in on the Buffalo, Duane and I noticed we had forgotten half of our food for the trip.

Ben came to our rescue, however, as he offered to share his rations with us. Luckily, this mental misstep lead to one of history’s greatest accidental discoveries: The Buffalo River Brat (trademark pending). Ask us about it next time you’re in the shop; we may or may not grace you with its recipe.

Ben Levin Buffalo Smalljaws: Tadd Fore image

The weather could not have been better for the trip, other than a short-lived downpour on our last morning. Recent heavy rains had made the float an easy one, but we had hoped for late-summer steady low flows instead of the 5 ½ feet of dropping water that we encountered. Nonetheless, we fished long and hard for three straight days (and nights) and earned every smallmouth, largemouth, and panfish we managed to fool with a fly.

Ben casting with Tadd in command: Duane Hada image

After a few 8-12” smallies in the first 1 ½ miles, Duane set the bar very high for the rest of the trip by catching his personal best Ozark bronze-back: a 19 ½” brute that shot out from under a submerged boulder to lay waste to a bulky Hada Craft Fur Clouser. After reveling in the accomplishment of a lifetime, Duane quickly released that mythical beast back to the greenish-blue depths from which it came.

 The float was full of quality smallmouth, generally ranging from between 8” and 14”, with a few 16” small-jaws thrown in the mix. Fishing was never dull, though, as we caught up to 7 different species (and hooked 8, as we lost a few gar) many different times.

Ben with a largemouth on a Boogle Bug: Tadd Fore image

During one lull in the action, I (Tadd) got the itch to tie on Dally’s Tiny Dancer in the Sexy Shad color and fished it as a topwater popper. It only took 3 casts to entice a smallie to take. The hunt for a smallmouth bass to rival Duane’s early entry continued until the last couple of miles, when Ben fooled a gorgeous 18” bass with a Solar Flare-colored BoogleBug popper.

Chasing these native fish is quite the experience, especially if you are fooling them with the fly amid one of the most picturesque landscapes in the lower 48. Dangers do exist, as the plethora of cottonmouths that call the Buffalo home can attest, but a little caution, preparation (which we sorely lacked), and common sense can make for a memorable time. Thankfully for us, The Wilderness called and we were there to answer.

Ben and a hefty Ozark smallmouth Tadd Fore image