The White River in Arkansas has flowed down the same channel for centuries. The addition of Bull Shoals Dam release of chilling waters down giant chutes created suitable conditions for trout among the rocks and ripples.
Many grow to unthinkably large sizes in their suites of comfort with bait fish, small rainbows, insects and trout intestines that wash through the ditches. Anglers can experience world-class fishing throughout winter and into early spring.
Richie Hays, a veteran Gaston’s Trout Resort White River guide, quickly learned two important facts of fishing for these big trout – brown trout only feed when they want to, unlike rainbows that are opportunistic feeders. Sometimes browns like ditches with heavy water current and sometimes they don’t.
Veteran outdoors writer Brent Frazee and I joined Hays several years ago. We caught two rainbow trout each for Gaston’s delicious shoreline lunch and then spent the afternoon in search of giants. We were both surprised when Richie brought out small minnows he called slicks.
“Most think you have to use big baits for big fish,” Richie said. “These slicks drifting through ditches and other structure will occasionally bring on big strikes. Just be ready because the strikes are generally quick in these heavy currents.”
A half hour later we drifted toward a bend in the river. I tossed the slick toward rock riff-raff and retrieved it slowly, letting it occasionally drop and drift. Richie’s prediction was correct as a savage strike vibrated through my light-weight rod and 4-pound test line. I set the hook and hung on as a good fish dove toward the rocky bottom. The good fish took line off my reel with the aid of good current.
I wondered if my line would hold during each dive, stripping line and diving toward sharp edges on the bottom that would instantly end the fight. Then the big trout changed tactics and jumped about two feet over the river, then three more times between lunges. The fourth jump must have zapped the brown’s energy as it started giving into my light but sturdy reel’s mechanisms. Richie soon slipped a flat, plastic net under the totally exhausted brown trout.
“Nice one, fat and 23 1/2 inches,” Richie proudly announced before gently releasing the trout after a few pictures were snapped. “Browns are a regal fish and always a challenge to catch.”
Richie’s knowledge of the river tempered by 20 years of guiding experience made catching that fine trout possible. Problem is, the river is ever changing and trout react to each change, including river levels, wind blowing across the surface, water clarity, temperature changes and any number of factors that determine a trout’s desire to bite lures or bait.
Minutes later Frazee set the hook on a 20-inch brownie. The big fish gave us a good show with several jumps and line stripping moments. The beautiful fish soon joined mine to sulk on the bottom with a sore mouth and hopefully future days of feeding and growing.
BIG BROWNS: Brown trout on the White River chain grow large, including Lake Taneycomo by Branson, Missouri. Taneycomo has become one of America’s premier brown trout trophy lakes. Fishery biologists and experienced brown trout fishermen know that record browns exist in Taneycomo and the White River.
White River guides cringe when clients insist on keeping big browns. The smaller rainbow trout taste much better and are not as challenging to catch
BASS LURES: Bass fishermen might be interested to learn they probably have a tackle box full of brown trout lures. Jerk baits that imitate minnows are preferred on medium to heavy action spinning or baitcasting rods and 10-pound test line. Varieties that will run through under-cut banks or behind gravel bars work best. Colors vary by the brown trout’s desires that particular day. Light line is important because of clear water conditions. Successful anglers use 10-pound test or lighter. When it gets cold, it’s time to “stick” it to big brown trout with long, slender minnow-type stick baits.
Bass guys know them by many names – Rogues, jerkbaits, twitch baits – and they all share a generally common “stick” shape. Few bass guys know, however, that these lures are the best lures for big brown trout, especially during the cold months.
“This is just bass fishing for trout,” said Ron Wong, an outdoors writer who makes his living writing about and catching bass. “We’re not out there with fly rods and tiny midges – people just don’t understand that you can take your regular bass gear and come out in the middle of winter and use bass tactics to catch really big trout.”
MORE INFO: For more information about fishing Gaston’s or simply dropping in for a good meal, call 870-431-5202 or check their website at www.gastons.com. To fish Taneycomo, contact Lilleys’ Landing at 888-545-5397 or check their website at https://lilleyslanding.com.
– 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.