Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nasty Narrows

Isaiah 43:2
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee.

Last year on a hot summer’s day, I drove to the Narrows access. The larger island entertains numerous rock beds and drop-offs. Once known for big browns and quality fish, the flooding of the past several years has taken its toll on the “fishability” of the main island.

I rigged up in the small parking lot. As I always do, I tread carefully down the rock steps; and as I moved off the last one, I realized I’d forgotten my Ziploc bag in which I usually store my phone. Oh well, I thought anxious to fish, it’s zipped in my wader pocket. No problem.

The run next to the island has deepened since the Dec. ‘15 flood so that the former safe crossing spots are treacherous. I found this out when I attempted to wade across a place I perceived as safe. Since I’m a lightweight, I’ve always utilized a sidestep approach that has served me well in past fishing trips. I trekked halfway across and suddenly realized I was in a poor position, balance-wise, to the current. Quickly perceiving the danger, I knew better than to turn around, but instead attempted to anchor my wading staff and one foot then move the other foot along attaining a more stable position. In the blink of a baby’s eyelash I was down and twirling like an out-of-control drum major’s baton. My first thought was don’t let go of your rod. My second was don’t drown!

The water wasn’t deeper than about 2 feet, which didn’t keep me from tumbling under even with my life vest. Each time I attempted to rise, the swift current thrust me back down. The more I tried to get my feet under me, the less successful I became. I didn’t think I would drown as long as I didn’t hit the steep drop-off where the water accessed the main channel. But at the rate I was progressing, that became more tenuous. Somehow I finally managed to get on my knees and crawl up the bank.

I sat and surveyed the damage: multiple water droplets sparkled under my IPhone cover (so much for the expensive “waterproof” case); my wader feet squished in my boots; but my wet sleeves would dry. I emptied my boots and stood on shaky legs. I would survive I thought and headed around the island to begin fishing. I threw my first fly of the day, one similar to a crackleback in a lime green color. The beauty of this fly, given me by a friend, is that it can be fished wet or dry; and I’d never had an opportunity to try it in this venue. When no takes rewarded my cast near the first rock pile, I decided to try something different.

Reaching for my fly box, I found only an empty pocket. This was my favorite filled with 10 years of flies both store-bought and those given me by friends, like Bob Krause, Ron McQuay, young Michael Schrader and others. Sick at heart, I knew they couldn’t be replaced. Discouraged I returned to the spot where I’d sat after falling, hoping the box would be there. It wasn’t. Disconsolate, I decided to forgo fishing and instead concentrate on a safe place to cross and return to my car. I kept walking upstream along the edge of the treacherous run and found a “softer, gentler,” spot. As I exited into ankle deep water, 2 fly fishers met me. I told them of my disastrous morning and urged caution, saying in a mocking tone, “I guess I just didn’t have enough lead in my butt.”

One of the guys, a most skinny fellow muttered, “Well I’ve got enough in mine.” The other guy stopped and commiserated with me when I told him of my lost fly box; and I begged him to return it to Dally’s fly shop in case he recovered it. As I left, I turned around to watch the first lean fisher. He crossed near the spot of my disaster and seemed to stiffen his legs and stalk as he waded, almost like a Blue Heron when it searches the shallows. The sight would have been comical under normal circumstances, but not today.

Chagrined all over again, I tromped back to the car and removed all my gear, thinking of my losses for the day: a full fly box and heaps of dignity and pride. I resolved to come back but stopped at my favorite Sonic Drive-in where I drowned my sorrows in a diet drink.

Two weeks later, I returned, determined to “get back on the proverbial horse”. I crossed at the better spot with no problems, only to behold a fallen tree that blocked the way around the island, unless I tried the swift current again. Refusing to quit, I waded back across and considered slogging the opposite way around the island; then realized it was uncharted territory in terms of current and distance. I chose instead to fish the lesser island where I’d never been before.

I tried several flies but with no results. A guide boat anchored below me but I saw no fish captured in their net either. However, I found some slight drop-offs, some sloping gravel bars and encountered new possibilities there. By this time, the hot temps convinced me to return to the parking lot and call it a morning.

Reviewing the outing, I thought about spiritual lessons God tried to teach me. The struggle to get on my knees to save myself was one of the more obvious. I have an active prayer life and often feel as though I’m chatting with a friend rather than entreating God for a request. Had I lost consistency and continuity in my prayer endeavors?  Has my prayer list not received the devotion those people deserved?  I contemplated David’s words in a new light—“thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” My fly fishing equipment is valuable but not as cherished as my salvation. What have I clutched to myself rather than sharing the story of the cross? In warning the 2 fishers about my catastrophe, had I been a Good Samaritan, while at the same time, seeking empathy from my fellow men or was I just throwing a pity party? These topics deserved further study and thoughtfulness.

But the outings weren’t a total loss. I’d conquered my anxiety about the crossing, found different locations to fish and realized new potential in The Narrows. Most people see only the beauty of fly fishing. I’d witnessed some of the ugliness and lived to tell about it, thanks to God’s grace and protection. Those thoughts lightened my heart and kept my resolve firm. I’d be back.

Monday, September 26, 2016

September's Silly Sucker


Corinthians 4:7-8

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in desperation.


A fine September day found me immersed in river water to my knees, anxious to fish after the inconsistent generation patterns of the summer months. Perfect weather, floating leaves and a sense of peace flooded my brain as I made my first cast with a Partridge and Orange. With no success, I changed to a Little Randy and felt a small bump but missed it. I flung it back into the spot and waited a bit longer before setting the hook. The fish jumped and I could tell it was small. However, after waiting months to fish, even a dink sounded good to me. As I reeled it in, a rasping noise assaulted my ears. Eager to capture the fish, I should have looked at my rod butt. But in a few short seconds, it was too late as my reel unseated and flopped into the water. Could my rookie days have come back to haunt me? I made a grab for the reel trying at the same time to keep tension on the part of the line that held the fish. My problems only multiplied as the reel sank further and I finally managed to grab it after submerging my arm to the elbow. I couldn’t believe it but could still feel a flopping fish on the now restored line. When I finally managed to get it in, I found a small sucker on the other end. No wonder I didn’t lose this ugly creature. Those thick lips were there to stay.

Much chagrined at this point, I removed the Little Randy and switched to a purple wooly. No success there either, so my new choice was a White River special. An over-zealous guide sped by almost swamping me with his wake. The next people were more courteous. The two fly fishers recommended an olive wooly. I observed their success as they caught fish after fish and I quickly tied one on. Within a few minutes I hooked a stout Rainbow with a robust fight equal to my racing heart. Its vibrant colors graced my day with a beauty to fill any canvas and the 16” length gave me a sense of purpose. The friendly fly fishers were spot-on and another take brought a tussle similar to the first. About the same size and color, he challenged my skills and soon flopped in my net for a quick look and release. The third fish was much smaller but no less appreciated. Since my success rate had been poor during the summer, I was thrilled and several more missed fish kept my enthusiasm going. Somehow, I’d experienced a one-two-three sucker punch in reverse. Could the old thick-lipped piscatorial character have brought me luck?

God often touches our lives in ways we don’t understand. A troubling experience points the way to renewal. A difficult time sends us a friend who needs our wisdom. He is in control though the path we’re traveling seems unbearable at that moment. I often want my difficulties to be removed rather than to learn the insight of the lesson. God is waiting to teach me the difference.

Before the day’s end, my friend Scott Branyan (a.k.a. The Fly Flinger) rowed his drift boat by with 2 fishers and we exchanged hellos across the river. Life could be no better than this: an enchanting day on the water, an incident to give me patience, several strong fish to stretch my line and greeting an old friend. Blessed beyond measure, I finished the day, took one more look around and made my way back home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Birthday Bamboozle

Psalm 116: 6
The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.

An April Sunday after church I waited till late afternoon for my birthday wish--to fish along the edge of our campground. High water conditions hadn’t allowed me to wade in months. Although I was out of practice, everything went smoothly until I stepped into the water.

The landscape had drastically changed after the December floods had deepened the holes beyond the boat ramp. Where I had previously waded through gravel beds to a shallow place, I now encountered sticky sand and drop-offs. I backed up and began to cast, forgetting about the tree limbs over my head, After 2 casts I snagged one. Climbing up a muddy bank to reach the tree. I was lucky enough to bend the branch down and retrieve my fly.

Thinking I was good to go, I stepped back into the water. Failing to check that my fly was secured to the rod, I soon discovered it lodged on the back side of my boot. This fly was a new creation given me to try. I intended to accomplish that mission. However, the hook was so deeply embedded that when I attempted to pull it out with my forceps, it broke off.

On my way to full-fledged exasperation, I tied on another one of the same type and within a few moments managed to snag a different tree behind me. This time it was too high to reach and I snapped the second fly along with the tippet. 

About this time my husband rode up on the four wheeler to innocently ask how I was doing. I went into full-blown whine and recounted my poor techniques. He offered to tie on more tippet and I gratefully accepted.

Finally after thanking him and breathing deep, I set off to try again. He wisely left and I found a new path through the water near a giant tree root left gnarled by the flooding. With one cast my 3rd fly of the set managed to discreetly land in the water unencumbered by any more obstacles. Lo and behold, I felt a strong take and a few seconds later captured a small female brown. Even though she garnered no prizes, she fought with a courageous heart and I thankfully accepted my birthday gift.

I wondered briefly how Job endured all the tests God put before him. Surely my difficulties this day couldn’t compare with his tribulations and yet he managed to keep his faith. My hope was to measure up in tiny increments and the challenge was to meet the travail with gratitude.

No other fish graced my net that day; but neither did I bury my boots in sucking sand or embarrass myself further. Memories of my rookie days beckoned but I resisted.

Maybe this birthday was special after all. I’d learned some patience, caught a fish and arrived back at my starting point without tumbling into the water.

Light the candles and bring on the cake. I’m done!



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Obligations and Opportunities

Hebrews 12:28-29 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear;  For our God is a consuming fire.

Last fall Murphy’s Law ran amuck in our household: 2 flats on hubby’s truck, a Turkey Buzzard’s collision with my windshield, and a TV which fried then died. Dealing with insurance, car repair and hanging the new TV on the wall bracket tested my endurance beyond measure. I wondered how often we test God’s patience.

By Friday, I was determined to fish regardless of circumstances. But despite a prediction of zero, Bull Shoals Dam actually generated one unit. By mid-morning, work-out and chores completion, I discovered that the water had been shut off. Suddenly I realized my fishing license was outdated and detoured to purchase one.

Finally at about 1:00, I reached my favorite White River spot, The Narrows, to find the small parking lot jammed full. Stubbornly believing my special fishing place would still be available, I quickly parked and began to gear up. A man crossed the lot and as we spoke, I recognized him as my friend Bob Krause, a writer, excellent local tyer and active fisherman. We chatted as I finished preparing. He had been invited to help with a class in Africa, but instead decided to send the teacher some materials including the recipe to his favorite fly, the White River Special.

Before I left, Bob gave me one of his creations. As I reached the water, I quizzed the next group of fishers who were leaving. One young man showed me what he’d used, a fly similar to the Little Randy I’d already attached. “That looks like this Little Randy,” I said.

He laughed, “Well my name’s Randy. So maybe you’ll be lucky.” The walk to the upper end of the island was a long one given the fact I’d worked out and done chores. But the afternoon sunshine glimmered. A light breeze tossed fall leaves across the river and the fish were rising!

I reached my favorite riffle only to find it holding three fly fishers and a guide with a boat pulled up onshore nearby. So I moved to another pool upriver and began to cast the Little Randy. On the second cast while stripping it slowly, I felt a fierce take and began to reel in a strong fish. As I caught a glimpse of him, I realized he was bigger than I’d hoped. He appeared to be a Brown as skinny as a Musky. Suddenly he tired and I easily scooped him into the net. His mouth drooled long strands of green moss and I speculated he’d been lying in one of the large moss patches as my fly drifted past.

The guide stood next to his boat with his back to me watching his clients. I couldn’t resist a quiet “Wahoo” as I rushed to shore with the Brown to get a photo.

I quickly laid him out next to my rod on a grassy knoll and guessed he was 18-20’ long--not the largest Brown I’d ever caught because of his depleted girth, but definitely the longest. His hooked jaw gave him stature. My two digital photos didn’t capture the pronounced jaw line or do him justice; but I couldn’t take the chance to wait for another opportunity when he needed to be back in the water. So I hurriedly waded out, held his tail for a few seconds while I pushed him back and forth. On the second push, he flicked his tail and surged away reassuring me of his quick recovery.

Eventually the fishing slowed on the Little Randy; and I tried a green Anna Kay, a green Wooly and a Partridge and Orange with weak results. By this time the guide and his clients were ready to leave. He looked upriver at me and we both realized he needed to back his boat out near my area. “Come on ahead. You won’t bother me. I know how hard it is to get out where you are,” I said.

“Thanks, ma’am,” he said. And carefully backed out as courteously as he could. By now the only fisher left in the pool had moved past the rock pile bordering the riffle and my heart beat faster as I moved back into my favorite location.

Remembering my latest gift from Bob, I fastened his White River Special and was into fish immediately. For the next hour, I caught feisty small stockers about every third cast. Bob’s fly, worthy of a trip around the globe, had definitely lived up to its reputation on OUR river!

By 4:30, my aching back convinced me to leave. On the way I stopped and talked to a man in a small western fly fishing hat and asked him how he’d done. “Not very well. I think my western flies are too big for this river.”

“Well here’s what I caught my big Brown on today,” I said. “If I had another, I’d give you this one.” I held out the Little Randy for him. Somehow in the exchange, he dropped the fly into a large clump of grass. I stifled my dismay and watched as he squatted down and began to comb through the grass attempting to find it. Finally I said, “Listen, don’t worry about it. The fly shop has plenty. I’ll stop and get more.” I wished him good luck and headed toward the car. I speculated how often God grants us gifts when we live our unworthy lives and ignore his outstretched hands.

I sat down at the edge of my car seat and began to remove boots and waders. Just as I stood to put them in the trunk, the westerner and two buddies crossed the parking lot. He approached me with a half-smile on his face. “You’re not gonna believe this,” he said. “But I pulled that whole clump of grass up and found your fly at the bottom.”

“Well, bless your heart.” I laughed and this time held my flattened palm out to make sure of the fly’s retrieval. Can God’s grace be passed to complete strangers on a riverbank in Arkansas? I’m sure God provides opportunities for us to witness in small ways totally unrecognizable to us.

Despite a week loaded with obstacles, I’d renewed a friendship, received a gift of a new fly, and witnessed countless examples of God’s blessings in my life.

Yes Randy, some might call it my lucky day. God simply calls it grace!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In June the fly fishing community lost an icon. Dean Darling’s contributions to NAFF and Sowbug were stellar. His down-to-earth personality and wry sense of humor blessed everyone he met. Dean’s Little Rules for Life might be summed up this way: Keep your loops tight. Always put your boots on wet. And never wear a belt with your Levi’s.

Make Mine Brown Darling
On December 26, 2005, Dean Darling didn’t think of shopping any after Christmas sales. White River conditions were just right: water low for wading and temps in the 40’s. Dean and his buddy Bob Chapman decided to go fly-fishing. Partly cloudy skies didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. They drove to the upper part of the White River downstream from Bull Shoals Dam where they strapped on waders, vests, and equipment and waded across the gravel bed. Darling’s fly rod was a Sage nine foot five weight piece of fish-catching engineering accompanied with a Hardy reel and 4 X tippet. For most of the morning, catches were light. In fact, only two small Rainbows summarized time spent for the two men. Up until about noon they had few braggin’ rights. Deciding to change his luck, Dean tied on a Ginger Prince Nymph and made what became the cast of a lifetime. The savvy fly fisher observed a fish swirl and turn on the bait. A large spawned-out female German Brown trout accepted the princely challenge, clamped the fly in her mouth and attempted escape to deeper waters. At first, Darling couldn’t tell how big the fish was until she ran upstream. After feeling a couple of powerful surges, the trout-conqueror knew without a doubt he held a trophy at the end of his rod. For ten minutes Dean battled Queen Brown, keeping up the pressure until he could lead her to the shallows and horse her in. By now Bob heard his shouts, ran as fast as waders would allow and assisted Darling with the landing. “It was the biggest fish of my life,” said the wide-eyed fisherman. The German Brown measured thirty-one inches in length with a sixteen-inch girth, and by best estimate weighed sixteen to eighteen pounds. After completing measurements and assuring himself he’d captured quality pictures of the amazing female, Darling freed the fish. When asked what part of the event affected him physically, he responded, “I didn’t realize how big she was until I let her go. When I watched her swim away, that was my heart-pounding moment!" Dean believes in the protection of the fishery and fly club conservation goals. Like most ethical fly fishers everywhere, an additional thrill comes with the knowledge that some other person will receive an opportunity with this fish. Although the two men brought cameras, the best photo came from a resident near the river. Not only did he bring a digital camera to record the event, but his entire family arrived to watch and applaud the efforts of Dean and Chapman in landing and saving the prize. The good neighbor even took the time to E-mail the picture to Darling. The casting duo spent the remainder of the day escorted by only five other small Rainbows at the end of their rods. When Dean complained of their low numbers, Bob impolitely told him, “You got your fish; go sit on the bank!” After a month of tall tales and pictures, Dean’s wife asked how much longer she’d have to listen to these stories. Dean’s reply didn’t make for marital bliss when he told her, “Honey that’s not the bad news. The bad news is I’m gonna take these pictures and make wallpaper from them and decorate, so everywhere you look, you’ll see me and this big fish smiling down on you.” As for next year’s after holiday sales, Dean will probably skip them again. But you can bet your lucky fishing hat he’ll be dreaming of a Brown Christmas and looking for more wall paper paste.

God Bless you Dean Darling. As you fish the heavenly rivers, may you find slow currents, light breezes and a big Brown lurking in every riffle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee:  be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

After 20 days of 100+ temps, the August weather greeted me with a crisp fall-like morning. I prayed my usual prayer: “God, just keep me safe.” The long walk to my favorite fishing spot was pleasant with little wind. The river welcomed me with only a few foggy curls but several fishermen. I hiked toward the end of an island and found my favorite place already occupied by a man and his 3 teenage boys. Their canoes full of gear rested high upon the bank. Dad directed his boys on where and how to cast their spinning rods. Two boats full of clients with their guides drifted above the next site. So I stationed myself between the two boats and the canoers.

I tied on a Little Randy, named after a local guide who ties them. I had one take, a small Rainbow stocker, but no other interested parties. Next I reverted to my go-to fly, a Partridge and Orange. Several tiny pecks let me know small fish were intrigued but no hook-ups resulted. Growing frustrated I noticed a lot of surface action and tried a zebra midge with a silver bead and was rewarded with another small Rainbow.

It was time to add tippet and I was hungry. I walked downriver and passed the stringer of the canoers. The fish were in much too shallow water and most were already dead. The guys were gone but I could hear them talking upon the island. One of the boys hid almost lost in tall weeds reading a book unaware of all the activity around him. I stopped to rest on a grassy knoll, cleaned my fingers with a wet wipe, sipped from my small canteen and munched a golden peanut caramel bar. By this time the sunshine stole all the fog away. I absorbed the view from my perch and took a deep breath, grateful to be alive on such a stunning morning. Could life be any more perfect?

A fellow fly fisher stopped to talk. From Louisiana, he spoke in a soft accent and told me that he visited the area usually twice a year and enjoyed fishing when the river was not crowded. “I’m not like some of those guys who say, ‘look at me I’ve caught the biggest fish,’ he said. We spoke a bit longer sharing fly suggestions and stories and then he traipsed on upriver. By this time I was anxious to return to the water. I often struggle with my surgeon’s knot; but after 2 attempts, the new tippet held. I attached a green Anna K with dark wings and hooked it into the small eye near the rod handle as I always do when I finish.

As I stood, I reached for the rod with my right hand. Somehow my momentum created a sliding motion and a sharp bite occurred. My eyes widened as I saw the hook buried in the soft pad underneath my index finger. I quickly sat back down and stared at the problem of my own making. Multiple solutions rampaged through my brain. Should I cut the line, gather my gear, walk back to the car and drive myself to the ER? I tugged gently trying to back the hook out. Don’t faint. But the hook held fast. I pushed the opposite direction hoping maybe I could pull it through. No luck! I began to wonder if I should seek help from my fellow fishers. Whom should I choose? Mr. Louisiana self-centered? How about one of the teenagers or their dad? Dead fish indeed! Did I really want a stranger pulling this fly out? I tried to think rationally. Thank God I‘d just had a tetanus shot 2 months ago! Thank God the hook was barbless!

Deciding to attempt one more withdrawal, I fumbled the forceps into my left hand, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and pulled. Nothing … one more time … much harder. At last the hook came loose in my hand. Relief and gratitude washed through me. I knew I hadn’t accomplished this by myself. My earlier prayer for safety echoed in my mind. I cleaned my bloody finger, wrapped the wet wipe around it and applied pressure. I seriously thought about calling it a day. But the morning was young and I was stubborn. God had given me another chance. Why not use it? There were more fish to be caught and cool weather might not show its face for another month. I applied more pressure, swirled the finger around in the cold river water and began to fish.

The green Anna K outperformed my earlier flies. Sore finger quickly forgotten, I caught fish after fish. Grateful for another opportunity, I fished until heat and hunger forced me back to my car.

On the drive back home, I couldn’t resist calling my choir director friend, Terre, who I knew would be working in her office after staff meeting at our church. As soon as she answered the phone, I began to sing to the tune of the old railroad song.

I’ve been fishin’ on the rivvvv er

All the live-long day.

I ran a hook

up in my finger

And it went in

all the way.

Don’t ya know

I had to get it?

But I pulled it out

real slow.

Rolled around

in the gravel.

Yelling oh oh oh oh OH!

Of course I took her by such surprise she began interrupting my singing:

“Did you have to have stitches? Are you alright?” And soon the entire story rolled out with multiple questions until I reassured her I was fine.

At our choir picnic the next evening, I sang it again to my alto buddies. What was serious only a day before became another great tale from my fly fishing escapades. But as usual on my adventures, I came away with new bits of knowledge: Always begin each outing with a prayer. Don’t panic. God will provide a solution. Keep your head. Consider your options. Accept God’s second chances.

And never … forget your wet wipes!