My client Larry was from New Orleans. He wanted to do a little winter fishing, with the thought of landing a big brown. We scheduled two days, a Monday and a Tuesday in late January. As the time got closer, we both monitored the weather channel to see how the fishing conditions would work out. On Sunday evening, as we confirmed our start time, the forecast was calling for frigid temperatures and a light wintry mix on Monday afternoon. Larry had plenty of winter gear and the prospect of some cold weather did not bother him at all.
I drove over to the Comfort Inn and arrived at 7:00 AM. On my way over, I called the dam. The recording said that both dams were shut down. The temperature was twenty two degrees. The ten mile an hour wind sent the wind chill factor into the single digits. I grabbed a sausage biscuit and a cup of coffee from the breakfast buffet and I was ready to go. I had chosen to put on my waders at the house before I left. I had on two pairs of fleece pants, two pair of heavy socks, a capeline undershirt, a turtle neck sweater, a heavy pile jacket, my waders and wading boots, an Elmer Fudd type hat (complete with earflaps), heavy gloves with liners and a down jacket. Except for having trouble moving, I was comfortable.
The hot action had been on the upper White River for the last few days. I headed for Bull Shoals State Park. When we arrived, I quickly noticed that they were running water. I stopped and called the dam to confirm that they had been running two generators since six AM this morning. So much for the accuracy of the telephone dam report, once again, it had been wrong. I headed over to Rim Shoals. Rim is twenty four miles down stream and I figured that there would be some wadable water there. I had been doing well there earlier in the month and Larry was game to give it a try.
Larry suited up and I rigged his rod. We walked down the trail from the access and crossed the river over to the upper island. Over the next three hours, we tried several nymphs, soft hackles and woolly buggers. We hit all of the hot spots and didn’t get a decent bump. The weather was brutal. It was still bitterly cold and the guides on Larry’s rod were continually freezing.
I called the dam again and learned that they had turned off the generators. We loaded our gear into my ancient Volvo and drove back to Bull Shoals State Park. We quickly ate lunch. I say quickly because it was still bitterly cold and there was no where to escape the wind. Since the water was in the fifties, we were actually warmer while wading.
We put away our trash and headed for the water. We picked up a fat fifteen inch Cutthroat near the spring. We continued down stream and started picking up fish on a small partridge and orange soft hackle. Around three o’clock it started raining very lightly. We didn’t let that bother us.
Around four o’clock, a couple of fly fishers showed up. It was the first anglers we had seen on the water all day. We continued fishing and landed several nice trout, all rainbows. Around five fifteen it was getting dark. We had not seen the sun all day. It was still in the mid twenties and we had continuing problems keeping the guides clear on Larry’s rod. Then, we heard the horn from the dam announcing that the water was coming up. It was time to go.
We walked back toward the car. I continued over to the restroom. When I got into the light, I noticed that I had a thin layer of ice on my jacket and hat. I looked around and noticed that the roads were starting to ice up. We loaded immediately and headed back to the hotel. The going was slow and I lost traction a few times. The rain was picking up and it froze as soon as it hit. I had quite a bit of trouble keeping my windshield clear. I had the defroster on high and the wipers going constantly. I still had to pull over and clear the windshield occasionally.
I was relieved when I finally got there. I told Larry that I would monitor conditions to see if we could fish the next day. During the drive home, things got worse. The roads got really slick and the freezing rain picked up. Somehow I got there but it took forever.
It rained all night and the conditions got really bad. I hoped that it would stop. At nine thirty AM we lost power. The roads were impassable. I called Larry on my cell phone and scratched that day’s trip. We agreed to try it the next day. The rain continued and then it snowed. We listened to trees and limbs dropping all night.
On Wednesday the roads were still impassable. When I got hold of Larry (the cell phones were busy and it took a long time), I learned that the hotel had lost power and he was in the same situation I was in. He was essentially camping out. We reluctantly scrubbed the trip and he headed home a day later when the roads finally cleared a bit.
The storm had knocked us back some. I pride myself in my ability to fish under the most challenging conditions but this storm was something different. Sometimes you just have to wait it out!
John Berry is a fly fishing guide in Cotter, Arkansas and has fished the local streams for over twenty five years. John can be reached at (870) 435-2169 or http://www.berrybrothersguides.com .