Friday, April 26, 2013

A Drift Boat Conclave? Brilliant! We're in...

It was back in March on one of our trips to the NFOW (North Fork of White) that Justin of Sunburst Ranch made mention of a possible get-together at his place. There would be plenty of food, adult beverages, and a place to crash for everyone who attended. His plan was to invite as many drift boat owners as he could along with lots of anglers who normally don't have a chance or never have fished from a drifter. Distribute everyone into as many boats as possible and do some fishing. Hmmm. I liked the idea. Is there a name for this little event? Why yes there is! The 1st Annual Drift Boat Conclave. Ok, CTD is in...

Fast forward about a month, Crik, Squatch, and myself could be found piled into the Squatch's FJ with my Clacka in tow with Sunburst Ranch being our final destination. Just a little side note here, about 99.9% of the time on our trips, we drive my truck with my boat so this was the 1st trip where I had to ride shotgun. Well, actually I had to ride in the back seat because Crik doesn't seem to know the proper rules of calling "shotgun" and took the front seat. Real dick move Richardson. Needless to say, I was like a bull calf in a china closet the whole ride down there. Anyways...

We were late arrivals to the Lodge and sadly missed the night's festivities but we did find Justin, Rusty, and Kevin huddled around the kitchen table, still nursing an adult beverage. Introductions were made, BS was passed for a short time about fishing, and talks of tomorrow's fishing/boat arrangements were discussed before we found our way to our room for the weekend. We were beat so Squatch made his nest in the corner on the twin bed while Crik and I climbed into our sleeping bags on the king size bed. Night night....


Day 1

The next morning, we awoke to the sound of pots and pans being banged around in the kitchen as someone was rustling up some breakfast for the masses. We climbed out of our sleeping bags and began sorting our gear for the day's trip on the water. The plan was to float the entire blue and red ribbon sections of the river, just cover all bases since we had all day to do it. We were fired up and ready to get going. After grabbing some homemade biscuits and gravy, we finished hashing out float and shuttle plans for the day with Justin and the rest of the crew. We were gonna be joined by Jeff House of High Plains FlyFisher, Dan Forget, and Paul Port in Dan's Hyde drifter with Kevin following in his kayak for the longer float. Couldn't of asked for a better group of guys to chase down the river. Let's roll...

 View of Trout Island from our room

We piled back into the FJ and made a quick drive upriver to the Kelly access to drop the boat in and get the party started. We decided to bring streamer sticks and bobber rods on the float with us, be able to handle either condition especially once we got downstream of Patrick Bridge into the "brown trout water". I took my turn at the sticks first while Crik and Squatch dug out the 5wts for a little bobber action to start the day off. The upper section of the NFOW is a nymph fishermans dream so its pretty hard not to pick up a bobber rod to put some rainbows in the boat. Just as we made our pass down the 1st run below Kelly, Dan and the boys pulled up to launch their boats to start their day. Looks like the plan was coming together...

It didn't take the boys long to do work on a few rainbows and get the skunk off the boat. Always feels good to get that 1st fish in the boat and get the trip headed in the right direction as far as the fishing goes. We couldn't of asked for better weather too, it was an absolutely beautiful day on the river. If you have never floated the NFOW and you're an Ozark native, you really are missing out on a great float. Its an amazing river and easily my favorite trout river to float/fish from the drifter. Anyways, we had beached the boat to allow Crik to re-rig so Squatch jumped out of the boat to do some wade fishing while I took some video and photos. About that time, Dan and the boys came around the bend with streamer rods in hand and chuckin' that chicken at the opposite bank. I was taking photos when I heard some kind of hillbilly bigfoot call coming from their boat. I looked up to see Paul's rod bent pretty hard with a fish making a run downstream. I began making my way upstream to get some photos but then I got this real smart idea that I could net fish for them in the slack water so I grabbed Dan's net from and began working my way out to the fish. Then it dawned on me that I still had my DSLR camera hanging around my neck so there I was trying to get in position to net the fish and keep my camera out of the water. Yup...you guessed it, epic fail! The fish finally came in close and just as I was going for him with the net, he flopped over and the bug came out! It was a stud of a wild rainbow too, a solid 20" fish. Sorry Paul...




After this little piece of drama, Dan and the boys floated on past us while we piled back into the skiff so they could get some fresh water on the sections just above and below McKee Bridge. Crik and Squatch both hooked up on rainbows right at the bridge but couldn't put them in the boat. Then we made the inconvenient squeeze under the bridge (Someone really needs to blow up these low water bridges) and made a swap on the sticks so I could get a fly in the water. We pushed through to the next nice run just above ROLF (River of Life Farm) and dropped in. I snuck a cast into a seam on the outside of edge of the riffle just in time to see my thingamabobber dive and pulled a pretty wild rainbow in the net to get the skunk off my rod. We continued downstream and covered every inch of the river but couldn't get any love before we came to The Falls at ROLF. We shuffled around on the sticks and I shot the boat down The Falls, then swapped back around. We caught up with Dan's boat  and he let us slide in front of him for the next section of river. What a scholar and a gentleman!

We continued our way down the river, picking up rainbows here and there but nothing to brag about. Just your normal run of the mill NFOW rainbows for us minus a smaller brown that Crik picked up on the ol' rubberlegs. We made our approach on Patrick Bridge and we dug the streamer rods out to see if we could entice a big ol' brown trout into eating some meat on a hook. We started pounding the banks from there for the rest of the float for the most part. We didn't exactly have primo conditions for the streamer bug but we stuck with it. Crik stuck a fat bown at Sunburst on a smaller baitfish pattern and missed a couple other fish but then it got pretty quiet for as far as the brown trout bite goes. We kept with the streamers though in hopes of turning a big fish, but the Unicorns kept to their hiding spots on this day. I stuck another small brown on the big bug and then plucked another one out of a nice run with a bobber rod while we took a piss break. That pretty much ended the day for us after that as the bite totally died off on us.






The last highlight of the day that I HAVE to share with everyone involves some expert casting and a turtle. As we were floating, we came upon a log and on that log was a few turtles. At some point, someone said something along the lines of, "Chance, I bet you can't knock that turtle off that log." Challenge accepted! I made a quick double haul with the 8-weight and launched the VooDoo Squatch I had on at the biggest turtle on the log. It was about halfway through the cast that I realized that I was actually gonna come very close to hitting the turtle so I raised the rod to slow the bug down. In doing this, somehow I literally wrapped the fly around the turtles neck! I'm not even kidding! Indiana Jones don't have crap on me!! It was all fun and games till I got the turtle in the boat and tried to get the fly back. He was pissed! Finally, we got the big guy un-tangled and dropped him back in the water...

The following evening was filled with talks about the days fishing and great food. The typical BS of what flies were working, biggest fish caught, and the excitement from a few newbs who got their first wild NFOW rainbows. Everyone pitched in inside the kitchen to help get the dinner of fresh fried fish, beans, fried potatoes, and corn bread all put together. The food was delicious to say the least. My compliments to the chef on the fish, which I think might of had several guys helping, including Crik. It was an awesome evening with friends, some new and some old. The adult beverages started to flow pretty freely and it didn't take too long for everyone to start finding the way to their beds for the night...

What a day!

Day 2

The next morning was filled with everyone gathering up their gear and packing stuff away for the last day of fishing and then the trip home. Most of the group seemed to be heading downstream of Sunburst so we decided to go back up top to float Kelly to Sunburst. We said our goodbyes to everyone, got our shuttle lined out, and made the quick drive upstream. Once again, we launched the skiff armed with bobber rods and streamer rods so we could cover any situation. This time, Squatch started out on the sticks while Crik took the front of the boat and I piled into the back of the boat. Time to fish...


We made our way down from Kelly and came to the 1st good run of the section where we instantly started to get into rainbows once again. I can't say enough good things about these NFOW wild rainbows, they are just awesome! A 12" fish will put a deep bend into any 5wt rod and a 16" fish will make your drag sing that sweet little tune! The fish were really showing us some love this morning...

We were working our way down the run when I set the hook on a fish that instantly felt "heavy". I put some pressure on it and it didn't seem to phase it as it turned to run downstream. I cleared the fly line of my feet and the boat so I could get the fish on the reel. It hit the reel and immediately started to pull drag. Oh boy! We followed the fish a short distance in the boat and then it sulked down in the current. Squatch placed the boat in the slack water close to shore and I bailed out of the boat. Crik followed me with the boat net. We still hadn't really seen the fish yet except for a quick flash so we weren't sure just how big it was. We made our way out to edge of the current and I started to put the pressure back on the fish. It finally came out of the current and rolled over on the surface. Holy shit...





It was a BIG brown, the biggest I had ever hooked from what I could tell. It wouldn't give up either, it just keep running back into the main current just when I would start to its head turned. Crik waded out pretty deep to try and net the beast out of the current when I'd get its head up and turned. No dice! It basically turned and chased Crik out of the hole. It was pretty comical and stessful at the same time. Tensions were high as the fight went on. Finally, I got the fish turned and it swam into the slack water away from the main channel. Crik swooped in below it and tried to put it in the net but missed as it swam away. He was quick on his feet and took a couple of long steps to make another stab it. It was a struggle and the fish tried to flop out but he finally made a good scoop to put in the net! Yes! I let out a "Finding Bigfoot" inspired whoop and holler than rang out down the river!



It was a beast! It had a huge head and mouth on it, almost like a Golden Dorado! I couldn't hardly get my hand around her belly to get a photo op with the piggy. We had been fishing hard for a big fish this season and it felt great to finally have a toad in our hands. It was a beautiful fish with brilliant black and red spots, blue cheeks, and a HUGE adipose fin. We took a measurement and she came out a solid 25". My personal best brown trout. We took a few photos and got some GoPro footage of the release as she swam back into the hole. Wooohooooo!!!

So after I finally came off the high of catching that brown, we did a swap on the oars and continued our float downstream. The fishing stayed steady for us through the rest of the day. We had a nice mix of browns and rainbows, no more big fish though. The fish couldn't get enough of the Pat's Rubberlegs in brown, it was THE fly of the day. We picked up a few fish on some caddis type bugs as a dropper but the fish preferred the meat fly! It was one of those days where every place a fish should, they were there and they would oblige your good drift with an eat. A lot of people hate on the bobber but when its good, its a lot of fun to fish that way. Making a good cast, getting a good drift, throwing in a mend, and then almost calling the strike before it happens. I love to throw streamers more than most guys but there ain't nothing wrong with chuckin' the ol' bobber some days.




We finally finished up our float at Sunburst Ranch around 3:00pm which worked out great for our schedule. We got the boat loaded up, all of our gear stowed into the FJ, and headed for Springfield so we could get some dinner. We made our normal stop at our favorite pizza place, Old Chicago! Whoever came up with the idea of putting pepper jack cheese on pizza at the place, deserves a huge raise! It is amazing pizza and a very cool place. Stop and eat there...

The North Fork of the White River is an amazing river and is easily our favorite place to float for trout in the Ozarks. Its a beautiful river, fun river to row, wild rainbows, and trophy brown trout....yeah, it rules! Wait, I mean, the fishing sucks and all you catch is little fish. At least thats what some people say....we will just keep letting them think that! Can't wait to get back down there...

Until next time...keep chasing the dream...

6 comments:

  1. TOAD! Way to go Chance! And nice net job Chris. You should have knocked it off.

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  2. I woulda killed him...with the net...

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  3. whatta trip. Ya'll must've been calling them hogs.

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