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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