Wild Wade on the White

Many people head for southwest Missouri to vacation at the music and entertainment meccas in Branson. I go for different reasons. First of all, my wife grew up in the Ozarks and we go there once or twice a year to visit the kinfolks. Secondly, I like to visit the White River Fly Shop section of the Bass Pro Store in Springfield. You can imagine how I ogle all of the fly fishing paraphernalia and, of course, buy my fair share. You can also imagine how, while in that region, I would take advantage of fishing some of the fine freshwater streams. A choice way to return to Texas is through the lake region of northern Arkansas. It was on one such homeward journey that Wanda and I stayed several days in Flippen, Arkansas, and I drove a short distance down the road to the White River below Bull Shoals Dam. All through that part of the Ozarks trout fishing is on the rise. The lakes and rivers are stocked with prime trout.

The day most memorable to me is the day I almost drowned. I had driven to Bull Shoals State Park to fish. The place is beautiful, and we would have camped there had it not been for a horrific thunderstorm with hail that hit just as we got to Flippen. We had decided to set up at a motel instead of the park. At any rate, I was up early and ready to trout fish the next day-the day of my nearly fatal adventure.

I stopped at the park store right beside the river about a quarter-mile below the dam. There I bought a three-day Arkansas fishing license and inquired about the best place to fly fish. The young lady at the store pointed to the river where there were numerous pools of water at the edge of the main current. As a matter of fact, several fly fishers were already in the water doing their thing.

I put on my waders and started casting as soon as I could get set up. I could see the fish rising but made no quick catches. Wandering toward the far bank, I took a path along the pebbly shoals and into the shallow part of the river. Still no luck.

To practice my casting skills, I faced downstream and tried some drop casts by shooting my line then suddenly lowering the rod tip to create slack line for a more drag-free drift. I felt that I was getting the technique down pretty well when my thoughts suddenly shifted.

The water had risen at least a foot during the last few minutes ans was still getting swifter and higher at an alarming rate. I was at least 100 yards, closer to 150, from my point of entry, and all the gravel bars along with the pools of water had disappeared below the rapidly rising river. The side of the river closest to me had steep banks and would have been impossible to climb. There was no choice but to head back the way I came. I waded as fast as I could, trying to feel the bottom before I committed to a step that might lead to a sharp drop-off. The water continued to rise until it went over the top of my waders and then up to my waist. I was grateful for some law of physics that made wading easier after my boots were full of water, but I still had big problems.

I glanced up to see people beginning to line the shore to observe my efforts to reach safety. Above all, the name of the game was to avoid panic and to make steady progress while avoiding the thought of being swept off my feet and going under. It was all I could do to keep holding onto my prized 4 weight Loomis with Battenkill reel. The thought now occurs to me of how cruel destiny might have been had I accidentally hooked a 20-inch rainbow while being swept away by the White River.

Somehow I chose the right path and reached a pile of big boulders along the shore before the river was able to claim me as its catch. For this merciful blessing I will always be thankful.

As it turned out, there were signs posted at each end of the park warning fishers to leave the river when a horn blew at the dam, for about 10 minutes later water would be released and the river would become dangerous. I had failed to see the sign, partly because a tree limb was covering most of it, but I had also failed to take note of the horn due to ignorance and being hard of hearing to boot; also, no one at the park headquarters or park store had cautioned me. Whatever the reason for my close shave, I never want to repeat it, and perhaps my experience will serve as fair warning to my fellow fishers to be alert when fishing below dams and know that if water is released, you're in trouble-especially if it's on the big White River below Bull Shoals Dam. By the way, I didn't catch any fish that day, but I did the next. One! And it was no 20-incher. I was happy anyway.

Mike Andrews

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