by Sammy Hampton
The sky was gray above and spotted with darker clouds beneath. The Bull shoals dam stood tall and gray matching the sky above it. Ice hung from the ferrules of my fly rod as the green line played its way through them following my cast as it floated down stream. The river was quite and the few fishermen who were braving the cold winter and fishing that day, seemed each to be in a world of their own with the river.
The only warmth on the river came from the fish. They did not mind the cold, they seemed to relish it. Taking advantage of an increased flow from the dam, the fish in this tail water were feeding and taking almost any fly that drifted down the stream. If it were not my turn, a fisherman up or down stream would raise his rod and then lower it as it formed the arc and bent to fight a fish. I lost track of my strike indicator frequently and missed several fish while watching someone else bring one in. Each time someone caught a fish, it warm me up.
A fine mist started falling about ten o’clock. It was not really cold enough to snow and the mist made small dimples on the surface of the water. I changed my strike indicator to a bright red color so I could see it better. The trout would occasionally come up and hit my indicator. The falling mist had caught the trout’s attention and they started feeding closer to the surface. The glare off the water mixed with the falling mist and had glazed the surface of the river and the trout keep feeding closer and closer to where I stood. It is much easier to catch a trout if you do not have to make a long cast. The fly rod can be highsticked when fishing close in. If a strike comes it is a simple matter of mending in line and setting the hook. My movement of fishing this way made me a little warmer. But the river was kind on this gray morning, just when I started to think about being cold, the strike indicator would pause, I would set the hook, the rod would arch and then bend as the hook found it way home. Each time it happened my feet felt warmer.
I had just hook into and was about to land a nice trout, when I heard the splashing of a fisherman approaching close behind me. Mary Kallemeyn smiled as I looked back to see just who was invading my stretch of the river.
“Looks like you got a good one.” She hollered.
“Good for nothing, you should have been here an hour ago.” I replied. “I got a 21 incher on my second cast.” My mind wandered back for a moment to a few weeks before when I met Mary and her family.
Mary and her husband and three grown kids and son-in law came to the White River to fish for their annual Thanksgiving vacation. They normally went skiing. But this year Mary wanted to trout fish. They were from Minnesota. They had been on the river a week before I met Mary and her family. The six fishermen had only caught three fish since they had arrived.
I was pulling in fish after fish when Mary approached me and introduced herself. She edged up beside me and asked the wrong question. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you using to catch all the fish you are catching?” She continued. “My husband has not caught a fish in a week; he is just fit to be tied.”
“You are asking the wrong question.” I replied. “It is not what I am using, but how I am fishing that makes the difference. I am using a balanced dead drift rig.” She looked puzzled at my answer.
“A balanced what?
“A balanced dead drift rig. It sometimes does not really matter what kind of fly you are using, but how you fish that makes the difference.”
Mary was one of the first lady fishermen I taught to use the balanced dead drift rig. I proceeded to show her how I was fishing. I took and re-rigged her line. Let her stand beside me and cast. Within four casts she had hooked in to a nice fat twelve inch trout. She had not landed the fish before the rest of her family had formed an audience behind us.
“Way to go Mom.” Her daughter encouraged as Mary fought the fish. “What are you using?”
I turned to Mary as I raised my knowing eyebrows when she netted the fish, “She is asking the wrong question.”
The kids all gathered around Mary to marvel at and admire the trout that she had landed. Her husband stood back a bit farther downstream, but craned his neck to see the fish.
“Honey, come on down here.” She shouted to Frank. “This man can show you how to catch one.”
Frank, being a man of considerable decorum and pride, overcame his normal reserve. He wanted to catch a fish. The invitation, no matter that it came from his wife, he pulled in his line and joined us to look at and admire the fish. Success when fishing on the river has an allure of authority all of its own.
“Mary, now that is one nice trout.” He smiled at her. “What did you catch him on?”
I caught Mary’s eye and lowered my head and whispered, “He is asking the wrong question.” I said.
Mary smiled as she held up the fish for Frank to see. “It not what he is using, but how he is fishing that makes the difference.” She said. Mary was a quick learner.
It was like a bee hive swarm with the kids looking on, as I took Frank’s line and re-rig it. Showing them all how to balance the dead drift rig. Mary had had her lesson and was casting downstream as I took Frank under wing and let him fish the water where Mary had caught her fish. On his sixth cast He got a strike, but missed it.
“Got to set that hook quickly when the indicator pauses,” I said. Frank made another cast and connected with a small trout. His face lit up like a Christmas tree as he handily pulled in the little trout. He quickly released it, with a grin on his face like it weighed four pound. Somehow size just did not matter, He had caught a trout.
I later renamed the family, because I could not understand their name with my southern ears through their strong European accent, the Family Von Trout.
My mind returned as Mary splashed up beside me smiling. Frank and the rest of the Von Trout family spread out along the river upstream.
“I ended up catching sixteen trout yesterday,” She beamed with pride, “Frank caught nine, nothing as big as twenty-one inches, but nice ones. You know today is Thanksgiving. We have made reservations up at the little restaurant on the way to Mountain Home. We included you, if you will be our guest, please.”
“I would love it,” I said.
“My son is flying in to join us this weekend,” She looked with expectation. “Maybe you could show him how to fish. He is not as good a fisherman as the rest of us, but when we told him how many fish we were catching, he booked a flight and is coming down.”
“Sure, I would be glad too,” I replied.
Thanksgiving dinner was a feast of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie and filled, too, with stories recalling the recent days of fishing, big ones missed and several that were landed. Mary Von Trout was in trout heaven with her family that Thanksgiving and her record sixteen fish in a day. It has always amazed me how the fellowship of fishing on a river can transform strangers into friends so quickly. I will always smile when I recall and think of the Von Trout family and the Thanksgiving River.
Mary sent me a nice package of pictures of her family and their vacation on the White River just before Christmas later that year. I did not hear from them again. Mary Von Trout passed away in 2006, but she will be remembered on the White River, by her family, sixteen trout and me.