"Trout fishing in Arkansas now accounts for $185 million a year," says Gaston, who last January was appointed a life member of the state Commission on Parks and Tourism. "And with the conservation tax just passed, within five years the stocking of trout will be doubled."
Stocking of rainbows is necessary because they do not reproduce in the White River system, probably as the result of the water fluctuations caused by the on-and-off power generation, even though they quickly adapt to the up-and-down water levels when it comes to feeding. The water level fluctuates as much as six feet, which may not sound that significant, but I fished the White for two days, and I must say that I found the changing levels irksome because they were unpredictable. If there is a flaw in this artificial Eden, the changing levels may be it. (Anyone who fishes the White system should wear a personal flotation device, not only because of the yo-yo water levels but also because of the danger of stepping into a hole hidden by the submerged vegetation.)
Every year for the past three years, the Norfork National Fish Hatchery, operated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has stocked 834,000 nine-inch rainbows in the White River system, and as a result, says Dale Fulton, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies shop in Mountain Home, "We're seeing a definite improvement. We're starting to see quite a few in the three-to six-pound range now, where they were virtually nonexistent for years."
Fulton, an Arkansas native, guided in Montana for 17 years, mainly on the Madison River, but he prefers the year-round season on the White. Recently he and a party fished off the notorious Whitewater property, which is 25 miles downstream from Bull Shoals and right by Crooked Creek. (Crooked Creek! How did Safire miss that?) "The water was as high as it can get, and we just fished in the afternoon," Fulton says. "We didn't catch any big fish, only several browns of two to three pounds. Using almost entirely shad patterns and the San Juan worm, we probably caught about 25 fish."
With trout fishing like that, how could the Whitewater real estate development have failed? And how come Jim McDougal and the Clintons didn't run ads in Fly Fisherman, Fly Rod & Reel or Trout! They probably would have sold every lot.
" Whitewater was actually a real good idea," Fulton says. "They just did it too soon. It's only in the last six or eight years that we're getting people from all over moving in, not just from the North and Midwest."
Asked his opinion, Gaston said, "A beautiful piece of land, but Whitewater didn't have the infrastructure, just a gravel road to serve the property—that's why it failed. It's just a failed real estate venture, and it's really been blown out of proportion. It was just a bad business decision."
Anyway, the big question on the White is not about the Clintons but about Rip Collins: When will his record be broken? "I hope it lasts for a while, out of respect for him," says Gaston. "Rip passed away early this year. He always said that he'd never be caught dead in his Orvis waders because they leaked. But in his casket he had on his waders, and he had his fly rod, and there was a note that he had written that said, 'Well, I was caught dead in my Orvis waders.' "