April 18th, 2005

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A family that fishes together... Has fun together:
Or why a woolly bugger is such a valuable commodity in the White River.
By Jorge J. Santiago-Aviles

So a woolly bugger...is a woolly bugger, but on the Arkansas White River, you might be tempted to trade your kingdom for one. My wife Marta got skunked the first day, when even our son Sebastian got his 10-inch rainbow with a salmon egg imitation. That was bad, very bad. Marta does not take getting skunked lightly. We knew that getting something on the top was pretty unlikely, unless we were interested in the very small browns by the launch site. So we had a Pow-wow with our guide and he suggested that as most everyone was doing nymphs or woolly buggers, we should do the same. Of course we "knew" that "true" fly fisherman don't use woolly buggers, so the strategy was clear, we will go nymphing. To maximize the possibilities, we all tied different nymphs. I had a size 16 hare's ear, Marta a size 14 bead head and Sebastian a size 12 yellowish salmon egg imitation. The family was ready for action, let's put the boat in the water.


Sebi with the first trout of the outing, a good ten-inch fellow who took a salmon egg imitation.

This family outing was primarily to the city of Branson in the Missouri Ozarks. The idea was to combine a fun place with plenty of rides and attractions such as Branson that will please Sebastian, with a couple of days drifting the White River for the multiple rainbows and the few but large browns (locally known as "German" browns) often found there. We drove from Philadelphia (two days) to Branson. It was quite a pleasant drive to our exchange resort and the first three days in Branson were simply delightful and intense.

The time to move to the Arkansas White River was here and we did the 40 minutes drive to Flippin AR early in the morning. Mike, our guide was waiting for us by the put-in. As we looked at the White River we noted how beautiful and transparent it looked, just as those aquariums you see in Sea World. What is in a name? For the White it stems from the geology of its bottom. There are long and flat rocks, and as white as snow, among others rocks and plants. This is a good size river, perhaps between fifty and a hundred feet wide and crossing some gorgeous forest and riverside dwellings. Soon you start seeing fish. The first of note are at the put-in place. They are all working the surface and Mike told us they are all small brownies, less than six inches. Latter, one can see the rainbows, mostly between ten and fifteen (if my experience gauging size serves me correctly) with some larger ones interspersed.

It was quite interesting to inspect the boat; totally different from the Mackenzie style we were use to. It was a very long pram, all fiberglass, with square bow and stern, a small outboard and no oars. Our boat was quite comfortable, perhaps more so than the Mackenzie types. We started casting our nymphs as we drifted. We note that the guide seldom turned the outboard off; he was constantly correcting our angle with respect to the current seams. It was a show just to see the guide running the boat with the outboard at full throttle along the shallow channels between some nasty rocks. "Experience counts," was his explanation for this impressive feat. "After you do 180 drifts a year, you have some idea where the rocks are."

The white rocks in the bottom that gives the White its name.

About an hour down river, my son Sebi got a strike, he was fishing with his favorite bait-casting rig; a bobber and a salmon egg imitation weighted with a couple of lead split shots. He landed the ten-inches rainbow like a pro, quick and clean. Mike got it in his net and after the necessary photo, was quickly released. In the bow, things were quite exciting. I kept on getting strikes and managed to land a couple of nice rainbows with the hares ear nymph. On the stern, things were not particularly well.


Marta getting ready for lunch, Sebi of course, looking for crawdads. Note the exuberant forest surrounding us.

Marta got a strike and lost the trout, changed the nymph, and after a period of indifference, kept on changing the fly with not much success. At that time I was not doing much better either (neither Sebi) so I changed to a soft hackle and managed to land one more by lunchtime.

We beached the boat at a peaceful place, with a nice picnic table and a great view of an island in the middle of the river. While we disposed of the required chicken lunch, Sebi was chasing and catching the crawdads and sculpins among the rocks. Guess what, Sebi managed to catch one of the largest crawdads I have seen.


Have you ever seen a bigger crawdad?

Mike took me wading (with hippers) to a very particular run. It was shallow in the middle of the river and deeper in both sides. The river bottom was composed of very small yellow round rocks, and was totally featureless. In my infinite ignorance, it struck me as a fishless place, but Mike said, "Cast the soft-hackle to the bank and let it dead drift." Needless to say I caught two nice rainbows as the fly swung downstream.

The rest of the afternoon was a repeat of the morning; Sebi fishing for ten or fifteen minutes every hour, and playing with whatever he found the rest of the time (I should say that Mike showed to be an excellent guide for a family with kids, he kept Sebi interested in river and fishing stuff, to the extent of giving him a couple of expensive streamers, even one tied by David Whitlock himself, and which Sebi treasures).

I kept on getting a casual strike now and then, with perhaps two more trout landed. Marta was not happy, the trout was eluding her, and she was working hard to get one to take her offering. By seven in the early evening, we make it to the pullout place at the junction of the Buffalo River. Mike's wife was waiting for us with the truck. We quickly placed the boat in the trailer and headed back to Flippin. In about an hour we were back in Branson.

A day was skipped so Sebi could visit a water-park he was interested in. It was a great and physically trying experience so we were ready for the peace and quiet of a slow drift along the White.


Our guide Mike, and Sebi discussing how to best release a rainbow and other pertinent philosophical issues.

The morning was cold for a summer day, but crisp and sunny, and the river as seductive as a river can be. We note the small brownies still working the surface of the boat ramp, as we walked toward Mike and the green boat in the White river. The river looked a bit greener this time and somewhat livelier, perhaps because we managed to see a great blue heron, a kingfisher and bald eagle in quick succession. So here we go, this time Marta was not going to take any prisoners. Mike suggested an olive woolly bugger, but she started with a black woolly worm. I kept the soft-hackle that produced nicely the previous day, and Sebi tried some hardware he is very fond of, a rappala lure with a single hook in the tail end. Marta immediately got hooked, and this time she landed the trout, before anyone could even comment on her good trout, she changed to a white woolly bugger and hooked another trout.


Go for it mom!

They were nice fifteen inchers or so. She kept hooking, landing and switching woolly bugger colors all day long; she was on a roll. She must have landed and released over a dozen and a half rainbows (no brownies, for anyone) all of good size. Marta was on cloud nine, and in this family, if mom is happy, we are all happy! ~ Jorge


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