From the Bill Ackerman walk-in access on River Ridge Road just off Highway 5, fishermen were scattered upstream and down river. I expected no less. Aside from the humid weather, conditions were nearly ideal. There is little wind and had been no generation since the previous afternoon.
From the power generating Norfork Dam to where it feeds the mighty White, the Norfork River winds across only 4 1/2 rugged miles of northwestern Arkansas. But it’s loaded with trout and when the water is low it affords a fly fishing paradise.
A long riffle that cuts across the river then pulls sharply toward the opposite bank upstream from the access but just downstream from the catch-and-release area was vacant. The fisherman nearest to it was working a flat stretch of water below the tail out pool. His casting was flawless but strikes were few and far between. I assumed he’d been working his way downstream and had already fished this strip of lively water. I decided to fish it anyway.
I moved through knee-deep water toward the head of the riffle and into a little eddy formed by a boulder about the size of an overnight suitcase. I rifled through the handful of flies I’d purchased that morning from Bob Cooke at the Blue Ribbon Fly Shop www.blueribbonflyshop.com in nearby Mountain Home: a couple of bead head Copper Johns about the size of my pinky fingernail, three mutant looking wooly buggers the color of over fertilized grass, and two No. 16 red ass nymphs, a local pattern. For no specific reason I selected a badly frayed No. 12 bead head crackle back from my dry patch, added about two feet of 5x tippet, and tied on the fly.
I had a strike on the first cast – not always a good sign but this time it was. I lost the fish at the net but netted the next one, a stocking size rainbow but with the color and spunk of a fish that had spent some time in the river. A couple more across and down drifts and the fly stopped then bolted downstream, attached to a fish with authority and where, in the pulsing current, it had every advantage and quickly regaining its freedom.
I was using an Orvis www.orvis.com 8-6, 5-weight Superfine rod, full flex and a delight to cast but it is a much softer rod than I am used to and after more time than my patience could tolerate I tried to horse the fish over the lip of my outstretched net. The hook lost its grip and I lost a heavy, handsome fish. It was the kind of dumb and frustrating mistake prone to producing foul language and the resurfacing of other ill habits. For an instant the fish wallowed in the shallow, calm water provided by the eddy, its flanks the color of a cheap Merlot, then quickly regained its equilibrium and darted downstream toward the safety of the pool.
Twenty inches. Maybe 22.