My friends, “Paddle Don” and his cousin, Tom, had never been to the Ozarks before. I owed Don a trip to repay a favor, and knew he would appreciate the region’s gorgeous land and water. We met up at my house Thursday night, loaded my kayak on top of theirs and hit the road at the crack of dawn.
After the long drive, we quickly settled into our cabin at Lighthouse Point Resort, operated by Bull Shoals Boat Dock, then launched our kayaks on the White River. From our put in at Wildcat to our take out at Cotter, we hammered the trout all afternoon and into the evening. I was taking them on flies, with an egg pattern and zebra midge dropper. Paddle Don and Tom were catching one after another on spinners and small stickbaits.
On day two, we decided to float the Norfork River. Although it’s only four-and-a-half miles long, the Norfork (short for North Fork) is well known for producing monster trout. We didn’t get so lucky. The White and Norfork are tailwaters with regulated flows. The Corp of Engineers hadn’t been running water on the Norfork and the river was so low, the fishing, and paddling, wasn’t very good. We caught some fish, I think I boated about a dozen, but none of them were anything to write home about.
The highlight of the day came when we weary paddlers, sun burned and beat down from dragging boats over shallow shoals, stumbled into a Mountain Home bar in time to catch the end of happy hour, and found a restaurant serving all-you-can eat BBQ ribs.
In my experience, the last day of a trip is rarely the best, but on this trip my theory was shattered. We hired a guide, Kevin Eastwold, from Bull Shoals Boat Dock to take us out on the White River for the day. Paddle Don, sticking to his mad paddler reputation, refused to ride in a motorboat, so he sauntered along behind.
We spent the majority of the morning fishing the river’s famous trophy zone – a catch and release area right below Bull Shoals Dam. The morning produced a nice, steady stream of fish. We decided to splurge and hit Gaston’s White River Resort for the Sunday brunch. One of the best ideas I’ve had in a while. We docked the boat, and headed up to the restaurant on a bluff overlooking the river to fill up on an incredible spread of everything from eggs to prime rib to chocolate covered strawberries. Not my usual shore lunch, but very much enjoyed.
From there, we planned to float a little further to the White Hole take out and be on our way, content that the trip had been a success. Well, fate had other plans. In the final few hundred yards of the float, Paddle Don hooked the fish of a lifetime. Watching him try to land a 12 lb 11 oz brown trout in a kayak was one of the funniest things I ever saw, but eventually I was able to net it for him from Kevin’s jon boat.
The beast was 27 inches long and fat as a football. Most importantly, she’s still swimming the river today.
See you down the trail…