Like the local heron, JP stalks a side channel of the mighty white river.
It was probably 5 pm on a chill November evening when the rag tag crew of fishermen bound for the rolling hills of Cotter Arkansas arrived at the Trophy water fly shop in Hampton Tennessee. Since we all had time consuming jobs at the time, we persuaded ourselves that it would be worth losing the sleep to just drive through the night and ensure an extra day of fishing. That sounded like a way better plan than it actually was…
Two SUV’s full to the brim with fishing gear, boat equipment and a couple of stankin’ fishing bums sped through the night, gnawing away at the nearly 700-mile journey we had to complete by morning. At the time all we had to float in was our Buddy Seth’s Ro Deville and an Avon fishing raft that was older than any single person on the trip, which didn’t have a trailer. So, my brother Skye built one out of an old sea doo trailer especially for this trip. Souped up with a new steel tongue and wood platform that bad boy had to weigh 2,000 pounds. Nevertheless, it held the raft just right and we were going to send it. As we sped down the highway toward the western end of the vastness that is Tennessee all I could think about was how many rotations per second those 8-inch wheels were going at 8o mph and if we would make it to Kentucky before they flew off in a blaze of glory. Luckily, that never happened and as the night pressed on and the gas stations became more and more Podunk and sketchy, delirium started to set in. At about 6 am, Arkansas time, we were driving down the road that our cabin was on. The blue tint of dawn was starting to appear when I stuck my upper body out of the sunroof of Skye’s 4runner and hollered “We finally made it!”
COTTER Population 921
The mid-western town is famously known for Brown trout fishing and the abundance of such fish. The size of the river and the constant stocking of small rainbows allow these predators to grow quite big and aggressive toward bait fish, aka the meat in my streamer box.
The Morning of our drive in was a bust for Seth and me, we hit the couches and slept while the other boys went fishing for the rest of the day, like animals. When we picked them up that evening the fishing report was slightly grim. They had been skunked, although, I will let this be known. Anyone who shows up to a new fishery and slays them is just lucky, we were completely aware of how long it can take to dial in a fishery and that’s exactly why we were planning to spend a week in this beautiful place. Accompanied by some geodes we found in the yard and an armadillo we made our first meal on the grill and enjoyed some beers while we talked about our float plan for the following days.
The elusive Avon in her natural habitat.
The Generators on the white wouldn’t be running like we had hoped so we were bound to fish the low water flows of the huge freestone river.
Such a big river really needs the water from the generators to move with any sort of giddy up. Most of the river was essentially a giant flat of slow-moving water, which is probably why everyone that is serious about fishing on the White has a power boat.
But as they say, Suffering builds character and nothing beautiful comes from a lack of effort. You could say we persevered and conquered that giant river all the while it taught us all how to be better streamer fisherman and oarsmen.
The ole Deville sitting below the Cotter bridge and a crisp sunrise.
If your planning a trip to the White, may I suggest having every flavor of streamer in your box.
Ozark cut-throat trout
Seth caught our unicorn of the trip pulling a well-placed fly across a beautiful grass bed.
To top off our luck we suffered through a wicked rain squall our first full day on the river. Worth it though.
If there’s one thing that trout will teach you; Letting go can be a beautiful thing
Skye hoisting a small portion of Arkansas gold
How I caught this fish is a perfect representation of this trip as a whole:
It felt like we had been floating over this pebble flat for days by the time I had noticed a deeper channel hugging the river right bank. Between us and the channel was a very skinny bit of water and with a little bit of skillful maneuvering JP was able to get us into a fishable distance from the incredible looking habitat; long green river grasses weaved between big boulders and colorful river rock, it was true oasis for any fish for at least a mile and sweet sight for sore eyes. A well-placed cast was answered by this stud that I knew just had to be in there.
We put in a lot of faith expecting to show up to an abundance of big fish ready to crush, but the abundance never came. We spent 5 days waking up at 4:45am to freezing temperatures and fished til’ dark everyday. We were rewarded every now and again when we came across various types of trout oasis in the vast freestone tailwater.
Making the best of the outdoors with good friends and learning about how to be a better advocate for our natural world have been the most important things I’ve gained from each fishing trip I’ve been on. Its not always about getting into the best fishing you’ve ever experienced, but to learn how to better experience life in general.
We worked hard and worked together, everyone caught a fish over or near 20 inches and ultimately that was our goal, catch big browns, a buzz and have a good time with our buds.
And after 3 long years we’ll be returning in February 2021. Stay tuned and Stay with it.