The White River flow in Arkansas receives oceans of cold water released from Bull Shoals Dam. Rainbow, cut throat and brown trout survive year round in this forage-rich environment in the same stream that once held smallmouth bass and goggle-eyed perch when it was still a pristine stretch of warm water without dams.

The White River flow in Arkansas receives oceans of cold water released from Bull Shoals Dam. Rainbow, cut throat and brown trout survive year round in this forage-rich environment in the same stream that once held smallmouth bass and goggle-eyed perch when it was still a pristine stretch of warm water without dams.

Today, fishermen lace the often strong currents with lures and bait while trying to catch a huge brown trout to be released or smaller rainbows for table fare.

Gaston’s White River Resort brings in guests from all over the word to sample this world-class fishing and five-star restaurant, some arriving by airplanes that land on their grass landing strip.

But all of this information was lost on 6-year-old Hunter Taylor. He was just happy to go fishing with his dad, Lawrence Taylor (not the one from the NFL) and NFL Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith.

Gaston’s johnboats stretch 20 feet and are surprisingly stable. Hunter’s grin was visible from a long distance as the stout outboard motor cut across heavy currents before turning to push upstream. Soon they arrived at an area toward the dam and started drifting back down river.

Hunter had plenty of room to cast after practicing overhanded deliveries in the front yard before this long-awaited trip. He was more than prepared to fish out of a boat with dad, but dad was not prepared for what happened the first morning.

“I rigged him up with a lure and he cast it pretty well on his spincast rod-and-reel combination Santa left him this year,” Lawrence said. “He hooked up with a fat trout and battled it to the boat where the guide netted it.”

Water conditions made the fishing bite slower than usual, but Hunter patiently waited for his next trout to strike. The guide mentioned that a bank they were approaching always held a lot of fish. Hunter hooked another trout before the sentence was out of the guide’s mouth.

“Well, there are trout here,” Hunter said as the guide released the fish.

He’d hardly cranked the reel on his next cast when another rainbow hit and the battle was on again. His next cast made it three in a row. The young fisherman caught rainbow trout on three consecutive casts on a Rebel Tracdown Minnow while his dad and Smith were trying to get their first bite. Then Hunter laid down his rod, looked up at his dad and said, “That’s how you do it.”

Hunter soon became interested in a package of lures and decided to forget fishing for a while. He looked at the bright colors, while occasionally glancing around the river. Lawrence did not insist that his son start fishing again, but chose to let him sit and watch. This was the young fisherman’s vacation, too.

Lawrence has made a point never to force Hunter to go fishing. He introduced the young man to his favorite sport and let him choose if and when he wanted to go. During the Gaston’s trip, Hunter caught a trout and looked up at this dad, “I told you I was going to fish more this year.”

Taylor had to laugh. His young man slept in the boat the year before, waking up to occasionally fish. He only caught one fish per day, but this year was different. This year he was more into the fishing for a bit longer. The lure of seeing a white peacock and visiting with his buddy from the year before was important too, but this year so was catching a trout.

“He was excited about fishing, but it was obvious that all the other stuff meant a lot,” Lawrence said. “And, just after we arrived, he and Nathaniel, fellow outdoor writer Jeff Samsel’s son, were out in the airstrip with gloves on, throwing a ball back and forth. Dinner at Gaston’s Restaurant always fascinates him and he and Nathaniel went on several walks to take in the bicycles and artifacts hanging everywhere from the ground to ceiling.”

Gaston’s restaurant is perched over the river’s edge with plenty of feeders that attracted birds, keeping Hunter occupied. Darkness soon fell, allowing the lights to attract flying insects and a bat performing acrobatics that apparently didn’t mind cool temperatures. Later, four raccoons showed up to raid the bird feeders and add to Hunter’s adventure.

Hunter quickly fell asleep the first night and jumped up soon as the alarm rang. Lawrence had set their clothes out the night before. The young man dressed quickly and encouraged his dad to hurry up – it was time for breakfast.

“We had a guide to ourselves, and I told him that the day was for Hunter,” Lawrence said. “We rigged him up for baitfishing with a piece of shrimp and a little TroutKrilla on a bottom-bouncing rig.”

Lawrence made a point to throw back all of his trout throughout the trip. His intension was to let Hunter catch the six trout that would feed their family one meal. Hunter easily secured his four-fish limit the first day. 

“You want to keep any trout today?” the guide asked as he unhooked the first of many.  Hunter looked at his dad.

“I knew the answer he would have given, so I said, yes, Hunter, you can catch and keep one for everyone in our family,” Lawrence said. “But remember, you only need two more. That way you can provide dinner when we get back.”

He became a man on a mission.

Hunter’s trip ended later that morning. The young angler was one away from his limit and the guide said he knew right where to go. They motored back toward Gaston’s on the downstream side of the dock.

Hunter cast into the current and the rig bounced once, twice, then “BOOM” – a good strike. The rod doubled and bounced hard as the trout shook its head. Hunter stood with knees bent, showing determination that all fishermen feel when a big fish strikes.

 “It’s a big one!” Hunter yelled

A chunky 15-inch rainbow took his piece of shrimp and was providing quite a fight. Hunter’s tongue stuck out of his mouth and he cranked the reel and eventually worked the fish alongside. Soon the trout gave in and the guide gently slipped a net under the young man’s prize to fill his limit. Lawrence took a picture before Hunter slipped the beautiful rainbow into their live well.

“That one’s mine,” Hunter said. “I get to eat that big one.”

A couple of days later his mother, Susan, cooked Hunter’s trout for the family. She made a big deal about Hunter catching the fish at dinner, and Hunter beamed. Even his sisters were nice to him on that special evening, and all because his dad had taken the time to take him fishing.