Arkansas HillBilly Trout Tactics…

SUBMITTED january 2015


I grew up in rural Flippin,  Arkansas on the tail waters of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam & the go to fly there was a number 6 hook loaded with corn or a red worm.

No kidding, by the time the 70s rolled around (I was a kid) most fly fishing in that area was gone & I never knew anyone that fly fished regularly or even spoke of fly fishing without the words “back in the day” or something similar attached.  I would see fly rods and reels on the walls of boat docks or in the corners/closets of peoples houses covered in dust, but no one fished with them. Fly fishing gear had been relegated to wall decor or Brown Recluse habitat. The White River served two distinct purposes then, feeding locals a steady diet of trout & generating local revenue through guided fishing trips. In both of those cases, using corn, worms, or some artificials such as spoons or rooster tails were so effective that little else was used.

The goal, particularly in my case as I loved to eat trout and trout were free, was putting fish in the freezer. The mechanics of reaching that goal were of a secondary concern. The concept of catching less fish in a longer amount of time at a greater expense, albeit with a more back to nature warm fuzzy way via fly fishing, was foreign to those of us in that area back then. We were a more direct and simple crowd, and looked upon fly fishing as a rarely seen high-brow activity only found in old ‘Field and Stream’ issues and Hemingway novels. Besides, no one knew where to buy any fly fishing tackle.  Zebco 33’s and 303’s dominated the local tackle scene & both were available at the WalMart in nearby Mtn. Home.  HillBillys are known for our practicality. It’s often been said that we just make do with what we have, and that’s a very true statement, but it really should be amended. Starting in the late 60’s, early 70’s, we began to make do with whatever we had or whatever WalMart had on sale. Zebcos were always on sale, so that’s what we used. Looking back it’s a wise thing WalMart didn’t carry dynamite next to the dipnets.

The opinion towards fly fishing in that area of course took a dramatic turn in the early 90s with the movie release of  ‘A River Runs Through it’ and soon the White River was inundated with fly fisherman (as was pretty much any river, creek, or ditch in America I surmise). Not only did tourists come in to fly fish, but locals began to fly fish as well & while corn and worms are still by far the primary bait used there, fly fisherman are now very common on the White River & there are several selections of fly rods and reels in the local WalMart. Guided fly fishing trips are now easily available as well as the more common float trips & you are just as likely to see fly rods swishing about from the front of a john boat as you are a spinning reel flinging corn. A multitude of flys can be bought in any local sporting goods store, and many locals are tying their own woolys and nymphs trying to match the hatch as the seasons change.

Me? I’m still a bit more on the practical side. I’m a certified corn and worm aficionado. I have three goto rigs for trout fishing. 1.) red worm on a hook. 2) two pieces of corn on a hook & 3)  the top secret deadly ever so complicated… two pieces of corn *and* a red worm on a hook.  In my world, simplicity equals dinner.

Not that I haven’t given fly fishing a chance, Last year my wife and I went to Taos for a week & I purchased some decent (or so I think) fly rods and gear and we set out to fish the trout waters of NM. I caught trees, shrubs, and even myself cursing out loud alone in the woods several times.  I became very adept at leaving both wet and dry flys in the surrounding tree line, and seemed to mutter like Yosemite Sam each time I had to tie on a replacement fly.  Serenity it was not, and trout were not fooled, not one bit. I could see them, tucked away back in their little hole leering at me, smirking, laughing as I did my best Brad Pitt imitation. They would investigate, slip out of their shadows to inspect, and tease my fly, but they wouldn’t bite. They knew I was a faker, they could see it in my corn and worm loving eyes. Disgusted, I contemplated my next move and in true HillBilly fashion, I looked for guidance from the All Mighty, Sam Walton. A quick trip to Walmart & I was re-equipped with a $12.99 spinning reel, a can of corn, & a box of worms. Five casts later, I had three trout! They were small, but they looked tasty. They were no doubt embarrassed to be taken by my bold use of a lowly red worm, and they were also lucky that I had plans to eat at Sabroso that night or their fate might have been a little dimmer no matter their diminutive size. All were released to taunt & torment the next fly fisherman to come along.

Truth be told, I would like to be a bit more successful at fly fishing as it does intrigue me, but I suppose until I get some proper tutelage, there will always be corn, worms, & WalMart. 🙂


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60 thoughts on “Arkansas HillBilly Trout Tactics…

  1. Great story clinger! I didn’t even realize Walmart had been around so long.
    Our tummy’s will amke us use survival tactics!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Spallies,

      I have never been inside corporate but I’ve done business with their technology/engineering division. I worked with some of their engineering team & designed/manufactured a small part of their RFID system electronics. I currently live in NW Arkansas and my company is based just a few towns from Bentonville.

  2. Love the story Clinger,,, add shrimp and minners and that’s pretty much me, although I carry a few lures. 🙂

    Thanks for the story.

  3. Thanks diggins,

    Yes, WalMart was started in the late 60s within a few hours of my hometown. I believe the store we went to was store #12 or some other such silly low number. I remember specifically when it opened and I could have only been four or five. 1972ish.

    Every trip I would stare in the display case at all the new reels & dream. I saved enough to buy my first open face reel (a Diawa of some long forgotten model) & I thought I was the fish slayer.


  4. Clinger,
    Entertaining story about hillbilly tactics.. Truth be told, I suspect they’re tactics known world wide with a few subtle differences. Thanks for sharing your story !

    • A little bit all over, but this story takes place on the Rio Hondo near Taos Ski Valley. It should be easy to find, just look for a copious amount of wooly buggers in the tree line at about the 6-8′ range. 🙂

  5. “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Maslow

    Some of the finest humans to walk this planet have long since been known as adept at improvising. Making their own tools is part of that natural impulse.

  6. Clinger

    You wrote a Nice story I’m not much of a fisher woman. I believe for the most part fishing is a guy thing. I do know some ladies that like to fish. I’m more of a Hunter 🙂

    • My wife would argue with you. She loves bass fishing & has competed in many tournaments and routinely out fishes me, at least with bass. Catfish is another story. I think it’s because of the fact that while we do keep some bass to eat, we mostly are just practicing catch and release, and with catfish it’s always for catch an eat. I do love the sport of fishing for sake of sport, but in the back of my mind, I’m anticipating the payoff of fish in the skillet.

      I also love to hunt, again for the same reasons as I fish. There’s not a single meal in the world that can top fried deer meat & gravy. What do you like to hunt?

  7. Shoot that sounds like me but I go for the bigger fish like more to eat and why stop there i mean turtles,small gators, even a beaver is good eaten 🙂 if you can land one… great story.

  8. Clinger, great story and very well written! You give Forrest and Dal some competition in the story telling department! Looking forward to reading more of your adventures. Would love to know if you ever do get something published. 🙂

    • CJ,

      Thanks. I do have a magazine article published, but it’s a technical article on fuel injection systems as found on the Datsun 280Z. It’s far from entertaining for most anyone who isn’t a Datsun nerd such as I, but I was able to work in frying catfish into the article.

      I’ll probably leave the publishing to my wife. She’s a literature professor at a university & has written several books and such, mostly research and journal related, but is currently working on a novel. I am a lowly engineer who never lets facts get in the way of a good story. 🙂

      • “I am a lowly engineer who never lets facts get in the way of a good story.” – sounds like the right mindset for a writer Clinger! 🙂

  9. as I read these comments I’m reminded of a funny little story I was only about 45 but I remember it well I was coming in from the back yard through the door leading into the kitchen, and as I walked into my right was our kitchen table- it was an old wooden table with three chairs around it and set against the wall below the window. there was nothing on the table but a little jar with some red little balls in it. Looked like candy to me so I opened it and I ate the whole thing! I don’t remember what it tasted like but I remember my mom walked in just as I finished it and I put the jar down like I was in trouble. She started laughing and I was wondering why she was laughing, and why wasn’t I in trouble? Then she asked me, “did you eat those eggs?” I nodded cautiously, and she started laughing some more! What the hey? I was thinking…then she told me, ” those are fish eggs that’s for fishing!” 🙁

  10. Great story. Reminds me of fishing with my Dad, who was from the Ozarks in Missouri. My first fishing memories were using a bamboo pole at the pond of the water treatment plant where he worked in Southern California. When we went “real” fishing for trout in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, we used the balls of fire , worms, and if they were being finicky, added a bit of cheese. My brothers didn’t care too much for fishing, have some wonderful memories as a teenager of outings with my Dad, out on a stream.

    • Now that brings back memories. My first was a two piece cane pole that I would use on the end of a small dock on a farm pond. It was a great day when I “graduated” to a zebco 33 real when I was probably 5 or 6.

  11. Great story Clinger. If Brad Pitt were fishing the White River, I believe he would say, “oh, I’ll never leave Arkansas.”

    In my family old fashioned family only the guys were taught to fly fish or wade the dangerous waters concealing greesed bowling balls. I was allowed to hike along but felt cheated out of learning to flyfish. indid learn a bit about flora, fauna, geology and Native Americans on those treks which has made TTOTC a rewarding trip trough memories and really fun thanks to Forrest’s dare.

  12. Really enjoyed your story Clinger. The only thing I snagged during my only attempt to fly fish was the back of my pants. The fish got a good laugh. I don’t know if I’ll try fly fishing again but I must admit that I’ve been thinking about pulling out my pink tackle box, pole and reel and try and catch something after hearing all of this talk about fishing. My husband bought me the tackle box as a get well gift many, many years ago when I was recouping from surgery after having my appendix removed. It was such a odd gift for several reasons but especially because we hadn’t been fishing together before and had never even discussed fishing. I married him soon after that– he had shown me that he had a good imagination and it made me laugh which is the best spark for kindling any relationship.

  13. A super story, Clinger!

    You claim to be a Hillbilly, but you come across well educated and very articulate. I could put myself into every word you wrote. The history was so real. I believe that when it comes to fishing, it’s whatever works is best. 🙂

  14. Nice story Clinger…Enjoyed the read…Guess in the end and when you’re hungry for fish whatever works is the way to go…

  15. Thanks Clinger for sharing a fine story.
    It rolled back the pages of time past for me. After reading it I recalled my 1st fishing trip. It was with a cousin in Indiana. He took me to a stream and handed me a sawed off broomstick with fishing line wrapped around it. Caught a lot of hand size bluegill with that thing 🙂 Was hooked on fishing ever since.

  16. Clinger great story.

    My first fishing UTENSIL was a Pocket Fisherman. I think Ronco, was the name of the Co. “If you can slice, dice and chop with it.. you can fish with it.” Okay, Maybe not so much!

    My best catch was a snag, it was an old 5-6 pound bass in a stocked pond… ha. I bet he never saw me coming…

    I’m thinking NM in May and then YNP in June? I’d might stay out west the entire summer if I could get some work. With the prices of gas down, it’s a good time to travel.
    Mark H.

  17. Ha, i have that ronco pocket fisherman also.I keep it in my golfclub bag for those slow rounds on courses that have ponds..I also had no idea walmart had been around that long.Flyrods do take some practice.I was gifted one as a youngster and every neighborhood kid and family pet within a block radius of my home probably felt the sting of a hook or a whip from the line during those backyard practice sessions.Ive never caught a trout on mine but have caught many bluegill, crappie, and bass using tiny poppers on farmponds in the midwest.Im curious to see if trout will fall for my techniques.I also remember some of my zebcos getting thrashed by big carp that always seemed to wreck the gears in those things.I liked your story, clinger. 🙂

  18. Here’s a big fish story from last year in Colorado. Hey, us fishermen can’t help it; one good fish story deserves another. You’ll have to forgive my lack of prowess at prose; I’m not nearly as eloquent as Clinger.

    I finished the job I was on later in the day than expected. I was planning on driving to check one of my spots for the treasure on the way back home but it was going to be late before I arrived. It was such a beautiful day I decided put off checking the spot until next time and lay over at a secret, secluded, fishing spot I was told about that was close by. I stopped at a grocery store and picked up a nice steak, some fixin’s and cold beer. I wasn’t planning on fishing, just wanted to relax and have a good meal.

    Turns out the “secluded” spot wasn’t so secluded or secret. There was several guys fly fishing and a family having a picnic. I thought oh well no big deal, it was a nice area and it didn’t look like anyone was setting up camp.

    I got camp set up and was relaxing in my super comfy camp chair drinking a beer when the fishermen walked by…….they told me I had the right idea because the fish just weren’t biting; they had been there most of the day with nothing to show for it. I offered them a beer; so they pulled up a spot on the ground and started showing me their fancy rigs and telling me their fish stories.

    Bout dusk a couple kids came down the river in a canoe. They put in and started setting up camp down by the river. They pulled out a couple, what looked to be, bamboo polls and started tying some line and bait on. I didn’t see any reels on the rods. Sure enough they wadded up their float, line and bait and just threw them in the river. One kid had a girly wind mill underhand pitch to get his in the river. The other kid looked like Nolan Ryan pitching from the stretch. He leaned over eying his spot like he was getting a signal from the catcher; came up to a set position while still eyeing his spot, then let er rip.

    Needless to say my new fish buddies and I were having quite a laugh while watching them. We didn’t laugh long; those kids had three real nice fish in fifteen minutes. They just “reeled” them in with their gloved hands working the fish by letting out some line then pulling them in…….I said hey, don’t feel bad they’re just lucky. They nodded their heads in agreement with some very long faces.

    I thought the kids were done having caught a nice supper, but they stopped walking back to camp and made a huddle discussing what looked to be something important. Sure enough they laid down one pole and the fish and headed back to the river. They waded out in the river in what was obviously a practiced tag team. The underhand kid held the pole and Nolan was doing the pitching. He made several cast/pitches and didn’t miss his spot by six inches every time; that kid was good.

    It looked like they were finished when the kid with the pole pointed to a different spot. Nolan took an extra long time leaning over eyeing the spot; came up to the set position and let it go. The bait barely hit the water and that big fish hit it like a freight train. The pole almost bent double and the pole kid was running up and down the river trying to give some slack. Nolan would jump up and get the line and start pulling him in while the kid with the pole would reposition himself for when Nolan let the line back out. There was no way those kids were going to land that fish.

    Those kids ran up and down that river for a good twenty minutes fighting that fish. By that time we were all running up and down the bank with them cheerleading and hollering commands; let em out!!! Bring em in!!!! Go that way!!!! No this way!!!! Faster faster he’s coming at you!!!!!

    Well those dang kids landed that fish, the kid with the pole dropped the pole and reached in the water while Nolan held tight. Nolan removed the hook while the other kid held the fish and they just stood there admiring the fish. We were going crazy clapping and hollering. They looked up at us; I think that was the first time they even knew we were there; he held the fish up with a big smile on his face. Then he did the unthinkable; he bent over and put the fish back in the water and let him go.

    We just sat down right there on the bank emotionally exhausted. Someone said, “I can’t believe they let him go”. Another said, “Well, they already caught enough to eat no need in keeping that one”. And another said, “You know only a real fisherman, like those kids, deserves to have that fish.” We all agreed and stood to give the kids a standing ovation as they walked past.

    What a glorious day fishing that was.

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