A Summer at Cotter

Well, this week I’m going to tell you a little story…  Or, actually, I’m going to let my Daddy tell you a little story.  You see, my Daddy used to trout fish the White River all around Cotter, long before I was born.  I had no idea that he’d ever been here until after my husband Steve and I bought the resort in 2002.

I remember how excited he was, and boy, he had plenty to tell me about the area!  (Come to think on it, there was plenty he would NOT tell me either…  like how he got kicked out of one of the finer Cotter lodging facilities of the day…  Hmmm…  I’ll have to ask him about that again…)

Oh yeah, forgot to mention…  after you read this, you’ll realize that I am indeed my father’s daughter.  It took a man like this to create the White River Trout Diva…

I’ll let him tell y’all about it in his own words…  enjoy!

A Summer at Cotter

By Bob Watts

It was the spring of 1955.   Just got out of the Air Force for the second time.  This last tour was about 4 ½ years.  Didn’t get any trout fishing in as I was never stationed anywhere close to some trout.  Do I like to fly fish for trout? Well, let’s put it this way — for many years, it was my second favorite thing to do.

My Daddy, Bob Watts in 1955 at the Cotter Big Spring Park

Didn’t take long for me to find out that they had built a power dam on the White River called Bull Shoals Dam.  The river below the dam had been stocked with rainbow trout in 1951and the rumors were that the trout were growing at an unbelievable rate of a lb. or two a year.  Couldn’t find anyone who had been there or was willing to admit it.

Next thing I knew I was on the road to Cotter, Arkansas.  It was right on the banks of the river and should have been a good place to get some information on where some wade-able water might be that had public access.   When I got there, simply could not believe my eyes.  There was so much water coming down that river that a full grown elephant couldn’t have waded across!  Well, I did see a boat dock, so I drove down to it to find out if the river ever got low enough that I could wade out and do a little fly fishing.

Well, I got good news and bad news.  The good news was that the water during the week was low enough in the mornings to wade out and do some serious fly fishing.  But about noon, the water started rising due to the power generators being turned on at the dam several hours earlier.  You had about 10-15 minutes to get out of the water or else.

On weekends, the good news got better.  The high water didn’t get to the Cotter area until mid-afternoon or so.  However, the problem with the good news was that you had to find something else to do on weekday afternoons.  Back then, Cotter had a population of less than a thousand.  Not a whole lot going on.  Hmmm…  Wonder what the elephants did?

The bad news, according to the “experts” at the trout dock was that “trout here just don’t seem to like trout flies”.  Seems the only way to catch ‘em was to rent a boat and motor, hire a guide, buy some worms, or crawdads, old shrimp, or some prepared baits and perhaps some small crank baits.  And gosh, all those things were available right there at the trout dock.  Now how lucky can a guy get?

Well, didn’t believe for one minute their “trout here don’t hit trout flies” story, so the next morning I located some beautiful shoals about a mile below the trout dock.  Not another fisherman in sight.  With water this beautiful, seemed too good to be true.  Tied on a solid brown marabou streamer, waded out, and made my first cast.  What happened next is borderline unbelievable but I’m going to tell you anyhow.

I made three casts and broke off on three trout!  Now, it’s true that my leader was tapered down to 6x (only about 2 lb. test). On the other hand, I was no slouch with a fly rod, either.  Over the years, had caught a lot of nice trout with 2 lb. test leader.  Well, at this point, I was a nervous wreck, so I waded back to shore to calm down a little and tie on some heavier leader and a new fly.  My hands were still shaking so bad I had trouble getting the knots tied.  Knew right then and there I was right in the middle of a trout fisherman’s paradise.

For about the next three hours, I caught a couple dozen or so rainbows in the 1-3 lb range.  And in spite of the heavier leader, still managed to break off on one more trout.  Well, nothing good lasts forever and long before I was ready, here came the high water and ended my fishing for that day.  I drove to town, checked out of my motel, & headed home.  Loaded my camping gear, portable fly tying kit and, oh yes, a few clothes in the car and headed right back down to Cotter.  I had a chance for a once in a lifetime experience in trout fishing and wasn’t about to let it go by.

Well, didn’t take long for me to develop a reputation for a guy who was catching a lot of trout.  So, one afternoon three men from the Arkansas Fish & Game Commission showed up at my tent.  They were making a promotional movie about trout fishing on the White River.  It would be shown on various TV stations in some of the surrounding states.  Then they asked the $64 question.  Could I catch some trout for them in front of their movie camera?  My answer was probably, but with no guarantee.

So the very next morning, there we were, about a mile above Cotter.  They got the boat positioned right where I told them so out I waded to hopefully start the show.  I was certainly wondering if I was about to make a fool out of myself.  But then, if I did, it wouldn’t have been the first time.  Now are you ready for this?  On the very first cast, I hooked into about a 3 lb. plus rainbow.  Whew! Guess good clean living finally paid off.  Good thing, too.  Was about to give it up as an unrewarding venture.

So a few minutes later, there I was, right next to the boat, getting ready to net this gorgeous trout when the guy with the movie camera hollered out, “Look up here at the camera and smile”.  Well, I looked up but sure didn’t smile.  I saw that this world class imbecile had forgotten to take off the lens dust cover.  Not one frame of film had been taken.  And if that wasn’t enough, they were getting low on film, one of the guys in the boat said he really needed to get to the shore to take a leak, and I just heard thunder.  Good grief!

Now for those of you who might have said sometime in the past like “this guy (me) is not playing with a full deck” or something just as insulting, listen up! Almost immediately, I had what turned out to be a brilliant idea.  Told ’em to go ahead and film me landing that trout.  Then I would wade back to my starting point, and hopefully hook another trout.  They could film this up until the time I was about to land the fish, then splice in the film that was taken about me landing the original trout.  Hope you were able to follow all his.

So here we were, starting all over again.  This time it took me about half a dozen casts to hook a trout.  Trouble was, it was only about half the size of the first one.  So did what I could to make it look like it was much bigger, like let him get out in the swifter current, take more line off the reel than was necessary, and so on.  Finally got to the point where they could splice in the original film.  As loud as I could, I hollered, “Stop filming”.

So, is that the end of the story?  No, it’s not.  Glad you asked.  Almost two months later, was fishing along one day when I noticed two young ladies sitting on the river bank.  Could tell by the way they were dressed they were not locals.  Wasn’t hard to figure out.  Their husbands were probably out on the river somewhere fishing and drinking beer as fast as they could.  Their thoughtful, caring husbands probably told their spouses that the river was probably too dangerous for them and after all, they wouldn’t be gone all that long.

Suddenly one of the ladies yelled out, “Hey mister, aren’t you that guy we saw on TV?”  But before I could answer, guess it was the other lady’s turn.  “Hey, how about catching a big one for us just like you did on TV?”  Now, what I felt like saying was that sure lady, and while I’m at it, I pull a $20 gold piece out from behind your ear.  But at this particular time, I was sort of their hero, so why spoil it?  So, told ‘em yes, I probably was the guy on TV and yes, I would try and catch a big trout just for them.  Gosh, seemed like I had been through this before.

Well, almost immediately, hooked a nice trout.  And almost immediately, I started getting help about how to land that trout.  “Don’t let it get away”, “Be careful, don’t lose him”, “Give him some line”, “Look out!  He’s liable to break the line”, “Keep a tight line”, “Don’t let him jump like that”, and on and on.  Hmmm…  Maybe their husbands had a little better reason to leave the ladies behind than I first thought.

Well, I did manage to land that trout, showed it to the ladies, and then released it.  Then my ego got an unexpected boost.  “Gosh, mister.  You just gotta be the best trout fisherman on this whole darn river.”  Well, looked around, didn’t see anyone within earshot, so figured what the heck.

I agreed with ‘em.