In a couple of days I’ll be standing in the middle of the Current River, just outside of Montauk State Park, trying to catch a rainbow or brown trout; a trophy the ultimate prize. As I prepare myself for the event, picking up additional supplies, buying a license and trout stamp, and any other details that need addressed, I think back to the last fishing trip I went on with my brother and brother-in-law. It was two years ago that we went to a lodge in the southern Ozarks, with riverfront property and presumably all the trout we could catch.
I had been to the state parks to fish for trout, Roaring River and Montauk both satisfying my desire to catch fish, but I didn’t really like the idea of standing next to a bunch of strangers and catching fish that are stocked and stay in the same pool, day after day. I wanted a more rustic experience and so I looked on the internet to see what I could find. I came across a lodge on the Norfork River that runs south into Arkansas and Norfork Lake. We had canoed the river many times over the years and I absolutely loved the pristine waters, beautiful bluffs, and wooded countryside that make up the Ozark Mountains.
I found out that the trout in the stream are sometimes stocked, but mostly reproduce in the wild. When we floated the stream those many times before, I remember staring down into the deep, clear river and seeing giant fish swim underneath us, just begging me to catch them. Trout! Big trout! The lodge is located just south of Rainbow Springs and boasts over a mile of private, riverfront access. The three of us were to share a room and with cigars, food, and fishing equipment we were set.
It was late October and the nighttime temperatures were dropping below freezing with the daytime temperatures reaching near fifty degrees. At just after daybreak, walking across the field to the river, the grass was crunchy underfoot due to the ice from a heavy frost. The river had a heavy mist hovering over it, to be burned off after a couple of hours of sun. There weren’t any other people to be seen on the river; we had it all to ourselves! We identified a great set of rapids just upstream from the lodge and spent most of our fishing time working those riffles. The current was strong and in some spots more than chest deep.
The fishing was slow, but I was catching what few we did catch. I had a specific fly that seemed to work and after a couple of days I was relatively happy with the results. At night we built a large campfire and cooked steaks and hot dogs while we sat and enjoyed conversing and smoking cigars; chatting about nothing and everything; we were relaxed. Deep in the hills, away from most of civilization, the night sky was gorgeous. Stars that you couldn’t see in the city because of light blindness covered the entire sky in the country; yes there is a Milky Way. The air was crisp and the company was good. I made up my mind that even if I didn’t catch a single fish, this experience more than made the trip. We saw giant blue herons on the river and deer in the field overlooking the stream. Getting away for me is something that I look forward to every year and as I see the date coming up on the calendar, it begins to occupy my mind and it becomes hard to concentrate. That is where my mind is now.
It was our last day there and I was by myself in the river when I noticed about a hundred yards upstream some commotion in the water. I knew it was some kind of wildlife, but it was too far away to identify exactly what I was seeing. I continued wading upstream and eventually recognized a family of otters playing in the river; I counted five of them. As I watched the otters and thought about our lack of success catching trout, it suddenly dawned on me and I put two and two together. This was their fishing hole and the trout in the stream belonged to them! At first I was disappointed, but as I gazed up the river, watching the otters diving and surfacing, a smile formed on my face. It was actually quite funny. All the fancy equipment, flies placed so delicately on the water, trying to entice the wily trout to take the bait, we were serious fishermen; meanwhile under the water a family of otters were doing a little fishing of their own. The joke was on the three of us.
When Tim finally joined me at our favorite spot, I shouted across the river to him, “Hey, Tim! Be careful, the rocks are really slick!” He was on one side of a deep, swift section of water and I was concerned for his safety. I suppose I will always be the big brother, even though we both are long past our childhood days. In an effort to get to the best fishing spot I continued to wade into deeper, swifter currents and it was only a few minutes after I had warned Tim to be careful that my feet slipped on the rocks underneath me and I fell face down into the water. My feet reacted as if I was on an ice-covered road, trying desperately to regain my footing and maintain my balance; almost running in place. At the same time, I reached my left hand down into the water to catch myself; the end result being water down the front of my layered tops, pouring down inside the waders, my sleeve dripping wet, my fly rod submerged, and my face full of water. Tim couldn’t help himself and fought back a laugh as I looked up, hoping he hadn’t seen me fall. I was wet and cold, my body shivering uncontrollably; but I was determined to catch one last fish before packing it up to go home.
We weren’t catching anything where we were and decided to go downstream in the hope that we would have better luck. As I waded downstream, not drying off in the cold air, I got ahead of my line and just let it float behind me. Finally I began to retrieve the line and realized that I had a fish on! I was taken by surprise, but played it for all it was worth. I was wet and cold, but I had a fish on my line. Tim looked envious as he glanced my way. It was the biggest fish landed over the three days. Caught by accident!
By the time we had gone down the river about a half mile, we were both worn out and decided to take a seat on a gravel bar. With aching backs and tired legs we both lay there on the gravel, staring up at the mountainside, the fall colors vibrant against the bright blue sky. We talked sparingly. An eagle circled overhead. I had fished with my brother a thousand times over the years and would do so again. I can hardly wait until next week when Tim, Mark and I are sitting around a campfire, smoking fine cigars, and talking about nothing and everything.