Tim with Trout

The Trout Whisperer

I’ve now had a couple of days to reflect on my recent four-day fishing trip to the Current River at Montauk State Park in the Ozark Hills of Southern Missouri. And boy, what a four days it was. Fishing is the main event on these once or twice a year trips, but in this case it was a mini-family reunion, with my brother, two brothers-in-law, son, and two nephews in attendance as well.

Since I don’t fish as much as I used to, I’m a little antsy by the time the trip arrives on the calendar. I told my son Christopher to meet me at my house and that we were leaving at four in the morning; the idea being that after the eight-hour drive we would have the entire afternoon to fish. Needless to say, I was so excited that I woke up at one thirty a.m. and paced back and forth until he arrived. And then out the door and down the highway we went.

For many years my brother and I have fished together,n a real joy for me, mostly for smallmouth bass and mostly in the Big Piney River. Until recently I was a spinning reel enthusiast and loved to wade up and down the river catching bluegill, goggle eye and smallmouth; at least until I was introduced to fly fishing and the hard fighting rainbows and brown trout. Now that I’ve tasted fly fishing, I doubt I’ll ever go back.

Well, my brother Tim and I always keep score when we fish. And to make it interesting, we have a couple of different challenges; who will catch the most fish and who will catch the biggest. On many occasions I would catch the most and he would catch the biggest. Not this time however, this time Tim earned the nickname The Trout Whisperer, mainly due to the fact that he caught the most, by more than double, and he also caught the biggest fish.

Christopher with Trout

Christopher with brownie

The first day was slow and it was just three of us that afternoon. We started in the park and fished above the dam; I was using my favorite bead head prince nymph and at the end of the afternoon the score was three for me, two for Tim and one for my son. I hoped the action would heat up the next day as this wasn’t a good start.

As was our routine, we awoke the next morning at five fifteen, had breakfast, and then headed outside the park to the natural river and so-called “trophy” area. [We fish until noon, go back to the cabin for lunch and a nap, and then return to the river by three thirty and fish til dark. At the end of the day there is only enough energy left to sit around the campfire, have a nice cigar and engage in meaningful conversation until hitting the sack around eleven each night.] In the Current River the brown trout reproduce naturally and the Rainbow spill out of the park and are semi-natural in the wild. The first area outside the park is labeled a “blue ribbon” trout stream, by whom I’m not sure, but after fishing there a few years I would concur. I like it outside the park for a number of reasons; it’s natural and beautiful, the fish are more active, and there is always the chance to land a three or four pound fish, not something that is likely to happen within the park.

Because I don’t fish often anymore and because fly fishing is one of finesse and technique, it usually takes a couple of days for me to get used to the art of casting and catching fish. This year was no exception and at the end of the second day Tim was way ahead, at well over twenty to my nine. I wasn’t discouraged, but knew it was going to be hard to catch him. I was hoping I could at least win the big one. And I was also hoping my son would get some action. This was his first time fly fishing and he wasn’t doing well up to this point.

Bill fighting a good one

Bill fighting one of many

The next day was better and we discovered that due to the caddis hatch, all of our other flies were not as productive as the cream-colored nymph; a fly we could only find in the pro shop at the lodge. I ended the day with eight fish and was still miles behind my brother, but I felt things were going to get better. As the day was ending, we all were beginning to walk back to the car when someone said, “Where’s Tymon?” Tymon is Tim’s son and he had gone ahead of us, downstream, and had not returned. It was getting dark and we began to get worried. What had happened? Had he run into some rough and mean rednecks? Had he fallen and gotten hurt? Or drowned? Tim was worried. He handed me his pole and headed down the river looking for his son.

Meanwhile, Christopher and I went back to the car with the idea of getting some supplies and meeting Tim back on the river to help in the search. Christopher is a Green Beret and being with him brings me confidence on any rescue mission. As we crossed the rapids to where our vehicle was parked, in a part of the stream that’s swift enough you have to pay attention to each step, I became distracted carrying the two fly rods and lost my balance; and I fell into the river and filled the inside of my waders with water. Christopher laughed, but I didn’t think it was funny. The water was cold and my clothes were soaked, but they would dry and I was lucky to not be washed downstream, or worse. When I changed and we grabbed blankets and other supplies, we drove back to the river. On the way we came upon my brother’s vehicle returning from the opposite direction. Inside was Tymon, and he had the biggest grin on his face. Apparently he had come across a killer hole downstream and had slaughtered them. Everyone was pumped for the next morning.

Tymon with Trout

Tymon with brownie

The next day was our last full day and we quickly headed to Tymon’s honey hole. It wasn’t going to disappoint. A good walk downstream, we found that bypassing the river we could reach the spot much quicker via land and a ready-made trail. A few thorns and thistles later and we were there. It was a beautiful stretch of swift, waist deep water that ran along a fifteen foot limestone bluff. The morning air was crisp and a mist was hovering above the water. We almost ran over each other as we each picked out the perfect place along the bluff. Tim caught one on his first cast and it was a free for all from that point. Everyone was catching fish, even Christopher. And they were all good size, many in the two-pound range. One of us however was doing far better than the rest and that’s why Tim earned the moniker of Trout Whisperer. I ended the morning with fifteen and a good size rainbow.

To put things in perspective, Tim was catching fish at a two to one ratio over the rest of us and it was so bad that the following scenario sums up the entire week. I was fishing in a hole for fifteen or twenty minutes without a single strike. Meanwhile, down the river thirty yards from me was The Trout Whisperer, and he was hauling them in one after the other. He finally must have tired of the spot and he said, “Let’s trade places,” so I stood in his hole and he in mine. For the next twenty minutes I had zero hits while up river, in the hole I had just left, Tim was slaying them; shouting “fish on” every few minutes. We all got pretty fed up with him announcing he had a fish on each time he hooked one. All I could do was shake my head.

Taylor with Trout

Taylor with brownie

(Notice the limestone bluff in the background)

At one point I hooked what I knew was a really good fish. My nephew Taylor was downstream and as I fought the fish I asked him to net it for me. I could see the fish a couple of times as I fought it up and down the stream, and it was a nice brownie. When I steered it toward Taylor, I made a classic mistake and tried to horse it in and before Taylor could net it, fly popped loose and the fish swam away. I was livid and my wailing could be heard for miles. My one chance for the big one and I blew it. Maybe next time.

When all was said and done, the master had delivered a performance that left the rest of us speechless. Final tally: Tim- 91 trout, including one three-pound and one three and a half pound brown trout; Tymon- 42; Me- 36, including a nice two-pound rainbow; Bill- 34 (two days); Christopher- somewhere near twenty; and Taylor- 15. Mark and Randy didn’t stick around long enough to figure in the overall contest results.

Me with Trout

Me with nice rainbow

(Notice over my shoulder and barely visible downstream is Tim, who is more interested in catching fish than getting his picture taken.)

The best parts of this trip? I got to spend time with my family away from civilization and emails and computers and televisions; I watched my son catch trout for the first time on a fly rod;I smoked some good cigars around a campfire and enjoyed the company of people I love; and I caught a bunch of fish. It won’t be too soon when I get to do it again. Next time the game is on. Watch out brother, a new Trout Whisperer is waiting in the wings.