White River Campgrounds… After the weather cleared, we left Blanchard Springs and drove back to the camper. We moved our camper to Cotter, AR on Memorial Day weekend in 2011 to leave it there indefinitely. We fell in love with the area after having visited it several times over the last 7 years. In fact, our first outing in this camper was a 4th of July trip to the White River Campgroundin about 2005. John and his mom Judy are very friendly and more than
accommodating to campers and seem to make friends with everyone that comes in.
Beautiful Week Ahead… Monday morning’s weather was beautiful, the winds were calm and the temps all week were to be in the mid 70’s. We had arranged with John to have a boat for the week, but weren’t sure if we would fish the whole time. We had thought about going to Branson for a night or two if we “got tired of fishing”, oh well, that didn’t happen.
Dragging Lead… Our normal method of trout fishing when the water is high, like it has been, is to run up the river for a few miles and float down with the current dragging a lead sinker with a 3 foot or so tail line attached to various baits, this is what most of the guide services do and is very productive. Today, it was challenging, Bull Shoals was running 6 units and the water was moving fast, plus, it was the day after a cold front and the fish just didn’t seem to want to feed much. We managed to catch enough for dinner, but not much more. The water remained high, but we were able to get the fish count up some the next few days and like the old saying goes…”a bad day fishing, is better than a good day at work”, I do agree!
Our Newest BFF… On Saturday, when we arrived, we were out picking up supplies for the week and I decided to stop by a local fly fishing shop just up the road from the camp to look around. I had an old Walmart fly rod that I had tangled around with for years, but had never caught a trout with it – only a few bream. I was interested in “really” learning how to cast a fly… Beth, was skeptical at best. I asked the fellow at the shop if they could recommend someone who could give a fly fishing lesson to a beginner. “Yep, call Ron… he can teach anybody, here’s his card.”
I sat on the card for a few days, trying to decide if I really wanted to do this. I went to his website: www.ronsflyfishingforbeginners.com and looked around and finally decided to give him a call. “Sure… meet me at the fly shop Thursday morning at 9:00 and plan on a full day of learning”, Ron said. “Great!”, I said.
The Legend… Thursday morning, we rolled in to Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher (Web – Blog) at 9 am and met Ron McQuay. He started with one of the most important tools of fly fishing… how to tie knots. We stripped the line off of one of his nice reels and he proceeded to show us how to tie the backing to the reel, the fly line to the backing and all of the knots that go out to the fly. While in the shop, he introduced us to Chad Johnson, one of his students from way back that is now a professional guide. We later found out that Chad was from just down the road from us here in Mississippi – Crystal Springs. After going over all of the equipment bases at the shop, we loaded up and went to the park in Cotter to start casting.
The Cast… Ron, put a water bottle down and stepped off about 35 feet and placed his hat on the ground. “Thats our target”, he said, and then he proceeded to make perfect casts to the hat, showing us the proper form of a cast. His ability to explain the mechanics of the cast showed his 40+ years of experience. Beth and I took turns casting at the hat and adjusting our form with Ron’s gentle critique. After we got the basics of the cast down, we had a nice lunch under the gazebo at the park next to the river. During that time we learned a lot about Ron, his favorite spots, river flow, trout feeding patterns, entomology and even some local politics.
Wading 101… After a short drive up to the Wildcat Shoals Public Access Area, it was time to get in the water. Bull Shoals Dam was still running 4 or 5 units so there was not much safe wadable water around. I watched Ron pull up his breathable stocking foot waders that weighed all of about 8 oz… Hmmm, then I pulled out my 30 year old canvas and rubber booted waders that weighed more than the picnic table we were sitting on and were several sizes too big for me! We decided that I would get in first and Beth would take some pictures from the bank. I followed Ron into the water as he talked about safe wading techniques. Luckily, my 30 year old “bucket butt” waders did not let in any of the 56 degree water. For an hour or so, we practiced casting, mending and stripping line while tying on numerous fly patterns, but had no luck with the fish. “Next”, it was Beth’s turn at the waders, this is gonna be fun!
“Honey, do these waders make my BUTT look big?”… Wow, I can’t believe I went there! So we went back to the picnic table and proceeded to swap out the waders. While we were putting the waders on Beth, I looked over and Ron had a fish on the line! Once we “put Beth” in the waders and she started waddling back to the river, well, you know me and cameras, I had to get this shot. I’m not sure what possessed me to put the picture on Facebook, but thats another story. Beth did make it to the water with Ron and was doing very well with her fishing skills, but the sun was beginning to set over the Ozark hills. “Boy, I wish we could catch some low water while you guys are here”, Ron said before we left, “I know I can get you on some fish, when are you leaving?”. I told him we planned to leave Sunday and he said he would check the generation forecasts everyday and if we get some “good water” he would meet back up with us at no charge to try to get us on some fish. He also offered to meet us at Dally’s one day to help us get some basic equipment and steer us away from the “eye candy” products, which we did. Over the next few days, I would check the power generation forecast, but it did not look too promising until we got a call late Saturday afternoon… “Paul, It looks like we may have some wadable water in the morning, what is the latest you can leave the airport headed for home?… Could you get 2 or 3 hours in if we start early?”
“Caddis Amongus”… sounds like a horrible desease and I just may have it! The answer to Ron’s question was obviously, “Yes, where do we meet?”. Ron suggested we get together by phone early Sunday morning and look at the actual generation report. The Sunday morning power generation was not as low as we had hoped, but was much better than the rest of the week, so we decided to meet up at Copper Johns Resort office / fly shop. We knew right where that was, since we had been up there a few days earlier looking around. The folks there were friendly like all of the places we had been that week and we also had the pleasure to meet their boxer named “Booger”. When we got there, Ron had secured permission for us to access the river from their pier, so off we went.
Hooked… I suited up in the “bucket butt” waders and down the hill we went. Ron would get me started wading in the current and he put Beth on a point with another fly rod. The water was a little higher than he would like and slowly rising, so we carefully watched individual rocks or grass patches to gauge the rise. As we fished numerous patterns and methods the wind picked up dramatically, making it very hard to get a good cast. It’s like practicing cross-wind landings, the more you do it the better you get. Finally, I felt it… while stripping in an olive “Wooly Booger”, I felt a tap, then another tap and the rainbow was hooked and so was I! I struggled with trying to let Ron & Beth know I had a fish without yelling it to the world. Ron came over with his net and helped me net it and release it. What a feeling, I had caught hundreds of much bigger trout on the White River over the last several years, but none were more memorable than this one. As the sun climbed higher in the sky and the winds and current increased in strength, we were forced to move off of the river banks. I was getting concerned about the winds for the flight home so we met Ron back up at Copper Johns shop for a quick cup of Libby’s great coffee and to buy a few more flies before we left. As we were saying our good-bye’s, Ron said, “ya’ll give me a call on my cell when you get back on the ground in Mississippi, with this wind and all I just worry about you guys up there.” Wow, what a nice caring guy, I could see why everywhere we went, everyone LOVED “Mr. Ron” and now we do too. So, now we’re shopping for waders and planning our next visit to the White River and “hooking” up with Ron.
Shake, Rattle & Roll… The flight back to KJVW would prove to be a little challenging. With a 19 to 27 kt cross-wind at Flippin, the takeoff looked like something off the TV show, Flying Wild Alaska. About 50 feet in the air, the plane turned to the right about 30 degrees on climb-out and the bumps began. Once we got through the clouds on our IFR flight plan and level at niner-thousand we picked up a great tail wind. 60 knots on the tail, for some of the trip, got us home in less than an hour and a half, with ground speeds of over 235 mph! The cruise phase at 9K was smooth as glass, but once we started our decent, it was punishing below 6000 feet. Winds at Raymond were 20 to 25 straight down the runway… with a hot approach and plenty of runway we were on the ground safely with a brain full of wonderful memories.
This trip was quickly deemed… THE BEST VACATION EVER!
Time for a vacation to one of our favorite spots on earth, Cotter, Arkansas on the White River. This is one of the most beautiful places you can go in the country. The river spills below the Bull Shoals dam and winds through the Ozark hills with crystal clear 58 degree water year round. A trout fisherman’s heaven, the river is stocked full of rainbow, cut throat, brook & brown trout. This would be a week of fishing and exploring the Ozarks, once we got through the major weather event arriving on Sunday.
We arrived at the Marion County Airport (KFLP) in Flippin, AR, before the weather started moving in on Saturday. One of the things we like about KFLP is that they usually have nightly hangar space available. We put Caddie in the big hangar and buttoned her down for the week. KFLP is a small non-towered airport located right next to the Ranger Bass Boat facility which makes it easy to find from the air. Overnight hangar rental recently went up from $6 to $10 per night but fuel prices remain reasonable for the area.
Blanchard Springs Caverns… So what do you do in the Ozarks when the weather is threatening and you can’t get on the water to fish? With one of the worst days for tornadoes in years forecast for Sunday, we figured the best place in the world to be was 200+ feet underground. I had researched a few places to go and came up with Blanchard Springs Caverns, which was just an hour or so down the road towards Mountain View. Since we had been to a few caverns throughout the years and had not been terribly impressed, our expectations were not too high. WOW, what a beautiful place! This was not at all like the other places we had been… no tight spaces with small corridors, but a huge underground theatrically lighted wonder of nature. They have three different tours, but only offer the easy (1 hour) upper level tour this time of year. The dim lighting did make photography a little challenging, but I eventually turned the ISO up to 3200 and got some pretty good photos… click on any of the photos for a larger view.
The Exit… After the cavern tour was over, we went down to the outfall of the springs about a mile away. This area is where all of the water exits the caverns and creates a beautiful waterfall flowing into a small stream. I set up the camera and tripod to experiment with some 3 frame HDR photos that you can see below. These were all shot at normal exposure and +/- 2 stops. The lighting was not great, but was enough to make the HDR’s look decent. Feel free to comment about the level or quantity of processing in the HDR’s.
Further down, the stream feeds into Mirror Lake, a beautiful lake with a large stone dam at the end. Below the dam, the stream fed an old grist mill that was left on the banks but was not reachable this time of year. In this photo, I chose a more surreal process for the HDR, it seams to portray the looming weather conditions more appropriately and makes the mirror of the lake surface kick a little.
We ended the afternoon with a late picnic lunch next to the creek… luckily, the weather never got too bad in our area like it had the day before just northwest of us. And, the best news was that the weather looked perfect for the rest of the week for fishing. We’ll cover that in the next post! To catch the next post as soon as it is out, click the “follow by email” box in the right hand column and enter your email address for instant notification.