As the wind took our ears off, it was no great consolation to be told that on a good day a competent fly-fisherman could take maybe 100 trout. Most of those would be stocked fish, rainbows of nine inches and upward, but there would be some good ones among them, certainly a sprinkling of three-pounders.
It is, in fact, arguable whether a naturally rich river like the White needs the kind of restocking program that the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission operates. From April until Labor Day, there are weekly stockings of rainbows at nearly every boat dock along the 92 miles of the White below the dam. But Dave Whitlock, a fly-fisherman of national reputation who lives on the river, believes that the White River is more than capable of regenerating its own natural stock of browns and rainbows, given more protection for the fish. At present, all methods of angling are legal, even bottom fishing with cheese and corn pellets, for which hatchery-reared fish are born suckers.
Whitlock wants a more regulated season, including a single-hook, artificial-only segment, and such methods as cheese dunking prohibited. He has proved his point that the river can regenerate itself from its own resources by the use of a modification of the Vibert box. (In the standard Vibert box, planted in the river, eyed trout ova are hatched out; in the Whitlock-Vibert model, there is a second compartment that acts as a nursery for tiny fry that are still carrying the egg sac.) Slowly but surely, Whitlock feels, the Fish and Game Commission is coming around to his way of thinking.
It has to be recognized, though, that on the White, fly-fishing is always going to be limited to when the water is down, unless one is prepared to use cumbersome high-density, fast-sinking lines. There is some dry-fly fishing—the White has a mayfly hatch—but most of the time fishermen use sub-surface flies, nymph and streamers.
It was to get some fly-fishing in that led Lowry to abandon the White River—still running high—on the second day of our trip, and turn to the Norfork, one of its tributaries. But we were fighting the weather again. The temperature was down to the low thirties. The thin, mean rain was on the verge of freezing. Again, it proved to be only the smallest and silliest rainbows that were willing to hang onto the fly. By nightfall, Lowry was more frustrated than ever. And all we had left was half a day.
So, as the rain drummed down on the last night, we had to psych ourselves up for a last shot at a big White River trout. Lowry had called in an ally, John Cox, who conceded that it would be a considerable task. "I fish most every day," said John, "and maybe meet one big fish a week. That's good odds anywhere for a trophy trout."
And on a big-trout river like the White, what would a trophy trout weigh? "Eight pounds if he's a rainbow," John said, "15 if he's a brown."
"Tell him about that White Hole up there," Lowry said.
"Oh, man," Cox said, "there's fish there you wouldn't believe. No rainbows. All full of browns. When they put stock fish in there, if you don't catch them stockers in a couple of days, you can forget about them. Browns just eat them up. I could show you a fish in that hole, he'd go 40 pounds."
"If they shut the water off early tonight," Lowry said hopefully, "it'll be pretty low up there at Wildcat Shoals. If that water's dead low, we'll get up there early. You haven't caught your big one yet, but you ain't gone home yet, either. Some of them fish in there, they're this doggone long and, hell, this thick." His hands described improbable dimensions.