The Big ‘Un… A Trout Fishing Story by Bob Watts

Hello, everyone! 

I hope you enjoyed your Christmas and New Year…  Steve and I did.  Yup, we had some quiet, alone time…  It was great! 

Anyway, today I have another story that my Daddy, Bob Watts, wrote about fishin’ the White River that I wanted to share with you…  I hope you enjoy it! 

The Big ‘Un – A Trout Fishing Story by Bob Watts 

Rainbow Arch Bridge
Rainbow Arch Bridge, photo courtesy of AR Highway Dept


Most fishermen go through three stages before they take their final fishing trip… 

The first stage is that they want to catch as many fish as they can.  About half the fishermen I have ever met are still in stage one.  Sure, if a big one comes along, they’ll take it.  But they are usually more thrilled by the number of fish they caught than one stray big one.  “Yeah, had a great trip.  Caught at least a couple dozen, and one really good one.”  And that “one really good one”?  Well, you’ll notice it took second place. 

The second phase is they want to catch as big a fish as possible.  After all, a photo of a really big fish usually draws more attention than a photo of a whole bunch of ho-hum sized fish.  And besides, if you have already figured out how to catch a lot of fish, you probably need a new challenge.  Catching a big one could be just what you are looking for. 

As far as phase three goes, the few fishermen that get there are trying to catch as smart a fish as they possibly can.  Now the thought of holding up a 10” trout and trying to explain why this particular trout was so darn smart is something that really doesn’t appeal to most people… 

“Hey, did it fight real hard?” 

“Do you plan to mount him?” 

“If you have him for a fish dinner, what are the rest of your guests going to eat?” 

“If that trout is so smart, how come you caught him?” 

“What time are you due back at the institution?” 

So, the wise fishermen generally stay away from trying to catch “smart” fish.  About the only thing phase three has going for it is that there is really no sure way to figure how intelligent a fish is. 

So when you tell ‘em why you think your 10-incher was extra smart, they can’t prove you’re wrong!  And besides, it’s also about this time that the crowd you’re talking to starts to lose interest real quick-like… 

How can you tell?  Easy.  Your first clue is when they turn around and start to walk away.  Yeah, both of ‘em. 

(Suggestion:  If you ever find yourself on the way to catch the last remaining intelligent trout in Lake Empty, or anywhere else for that matter, turn around and head for the golf course.) 

Now, where was I?  Oh, yes.  It was 1955, and I was fishin’ the White River near Cotter, Arkansas.  At that time, it was already a trout fisherman’s dream come true.  The word about the fabulous trout fishing there had not yet permeated the trout fishing community, either. 

How good was it? Well, I am thoroughly convinced, based on my vast personal experience, that there were plenty of trout in the river at that time that had never seen a trout fly.  Matter of fact, you could fish the river for a week or so and never see another fly fisherman.  That should tell you all you need to know. 

Now, there was this stretch of water just above the railroad bridge at Cotter that was about perfect for fly fishermen.  Took a little walking through some tall weeds to get to it, but well worth the effort.  In the two months I was there in 1955, caught at least fifty trout up to about 5 lbs at this particular location.  But since I was still in phase two, was bound and determined to get one at least 6. 

So one day, there I was again, just above the railroad bridge.  Was using a woolly worm I tied myself.  10-2x hook wrapped with lead wire, a peacock herl body, and grizzly hackle. 

Well, the strike I had been waiting for all those years finally came.  I knew right away it was a big fish.  Man, was I having fun.  Sorta lost track of time.  Then along comes a boat floating downstream with a guide and two customers. 

“Looks like you’ve got a pretty good one on.  Seen him yet?” 

“Nope, but sure does feel like a good one!” 

At this point, need to change the subject for just a little bit.  Bull Shoals Dam is 18 miles upstream.  Back then, they would almost always turn the generators on at about 8:00 a.m. during the week.  It took a little more than 4 hours for the water to start rising around Cotter. 

Once the water started rising, waders had about 15-20 minutes to get out of the river – or maybe drown.  No, am not kidding.  Several people a year drown in this river, some because they didn’t pay attention to the rising water! 

Now back to my big trout.  Suddenly the guide had some good news and some bad news for me. 

“Just saw your trout.  It’s a dandy.  Looks like he might be 2 feet long!” 

Good grief! A trout that long in this river would probably weigh at least 8 lbs.  But then came the bad news… 

“Guess you know the water’s coming up?” 

Well, no, I didn’t.  Did a chill run up and down my spine?  You bet!  I had not been paying attention to anything since I hooked this trout and had no idea how long the water had been rising. 

I knew right away that I did not have time to land this fish and then get back to shore safely.  Told the guide I was going to break the line and head for shore.  Then patted myself on the back for making a wise and intelligent decision. 

He reply was something I would have never thought of. 

“Hey, wait a minute.  If you can hold that trout that trout right about where he is now, believe I could net him real quick and you would still have enough time to get back to shore.  If we get this guy, I’ll drop him off at Millers (the local trout dock which was about a half mile downstream) as we go by.” 

Sounded good to me.  Figured I could spare a minute or two.  Still can’t quite believe it but he netted that trout on his very first try.  He cut the line and I set some kind of record getting back to shore.  Even at that, did get a little water in my waders which I guess was to remind me that I came very close to getting into some serious trouble. 

OK, now I was back at my car.  Always carried some spare dry clothes so changed pants and off I went to Millers.  This trout dock was located in a small lagoon just off to the side of the main channel of the river. 

As I drove up, I could see several people standing around and some pointing down at one of the screen wire fish cages.  Were they pointing at my trophy trout?  You know, the one I had been after about half my life??? 

The answer was, “No”.  They were pointing down at a wire cage with a big hole in the side.  My trout was nowhere in sight. 

Good Grief!  Turned out the screen wire was apparently old & rusty.  The trout that I had been after for about half my life had poked a hole in it and simply swam away. 

But wait a minute…  I had planned to get a picture of me holding that monster trout and spending just a little time looking at the faces of the admiring group of people that would be surrounding me! 

Not to be.  Almost enough to make a grown man cry.  Almost did. 

Turned out that the guide who brought my trout in to the dock did measure & weigh him at least.  The length was indeed right at 24 inches.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that the trout was very thin and only weighed 5 ¾ lbs, not the 8 or so lbs. he should have weighed.  Why so thin?   No one seemed to have a good answer. 

Actually, things didn’t turn out all that bad.  I sure didn’t want to eat the darn thing.  Been my experience that big rainbows don’t taste nearly as good as small ones, anyway.  Besides, would have been a little suspicious about eating a trout that was that thin.  Have it mounted?  Nah, too thin.  But on the bright side, I can now look forward to catching a real trophy trout that just might be extra fat! 

Sometimes things have an unexpected way of working out for the best.  Wonder who’s responsible for that? 

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