The White River has attracted kids and their families for generations. Anglers visit resorts up and down this pristine stretch to catch trophy brown, rainbow or cutthroat trout. Cold water released from Bull Shoals Dam makes it possible for trout to survive throughout the year. Sound conservation work has made Arkansas’ trout programs a huge success.
Annabel Butler, 7, could not have cared less about dams, cold water or conservation efforts on a warm day in March, 2018 – she only cared that daddy was taking her fishing. She snuggled in her warm coat covered by a life jacket while her Gaston’s Trout Resort guide motored up river toward the dam. Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri soon hooked a trout and handed Annabel the rod.
Soon she was listening to instruction and figuring out how daddy was catching the trout. The independent young lady decided to have a go, make her own cast then hooked and landed a fine rainbow trout, much to her dad’s delight. She had managed a successful fishing venture while her dad moved closer to developing a fishing buddy for life.
Upstream Lawrence Taylor, public relations manager for PRADCO, was running out of energy while helping his boys Michael, 7, and Hunter, 10, catch rainbows. Both boys were catching trout while Taylor released each fish after saving a couple for Gaston’s amazing shoreline lunch. The more experienced Hunter had caught several rainbow trout.
Farther downriver Glenn Wheeler, an Arkansas emergency medical technician, was watching his son Zane, 11, reel in trout. Earlier Zane asked if I would give him a dollar if he caught a 30-pound trout. I raised the amount to $100, knowing chances were good I would never had to pay, even though it would have been worth it to see the young man catch a monster.
Both Taylor and Wheeler know their boys look forward to their spring White River trip more than most, and this is the beginning of their journey in the good, clean outdoors. Chances are good Zane will be trying to catch this monster trout 40 years from now.
But that is the beauty of Gaston’s Trout Resort at Lakeview, Arkansas. Jim Gaston and company encourage you to bring kids to a place where guides take special pride in helping young ones.
“We have to get kids away from computer games and out here in the beautiful outdoors,” Gaston recently said while speaking to a group of writers. “We hope parents or guardians will bring their kids down here to fish. Children are the future of this outdoor heritage after our generations are gone. We just have to give them a chance to fish now so they will want to fish later.”
Gaston believes kids belong in the outdoors and so do many of his guides.
“I love helping any kid catch trout for the first time,” said Richie Hays, veteran White River trout guide. “I always feel a great sense of relief when they hook a nice fish and fight it all the way to my net. They really have a good time, and so do I.”
I have watched Hays work with novice anglers and marveled at his patience. More importantly, he is good at quickly untangling a mess of fishing line around the rod, a problem we have all encountered. He simply either cuts or untangles the mess.
“They don’t want to make a mistake while fishing,” Hays said. “So what good would it do to be upset at them? They just want to have a good time catching fish and it’s my job to make that happen. Nothing is better than watching kids cast out and catch a trout on their own. We just make sure and find trout for them to catch.”
Catching trout on the White River is a challenge that Gaston’s guides face daily, especially a challenge when kids with limited attention spans are in the boat. Lake fishermen can return to a favorite fishing hole the next day, a luxury that is not a certainty on the White River. The White River is ever changing with the time of day or amount of water released from the Bull Shoals Dam. Learning how to cope with changing river patterns takes years and Gaston’s guides have a lot of experience.
“One day the trout are biting on certain kinds of lures and the next day slicks (a type of small minnow.),” Hays said. “Power bait or nightcrawlers are sometimes the hot baits; we just have to let the trout tell us what they want.”
Problem is, what trout feed on could change with a raising or dropping of river levels. Even the wind occasionally makes a difference. I once watched the trout hit when wind gusts came up and then stop biting when the wind settled. White River guides really earn their money.
Annabel doesn’t care about any of this, she just wants to catch another trout with her daddy. And make no mistake, her daddy is living for their next trip together.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.