Drift fishing for White River trout

After a season of intense tournament fishing on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail, it’s nice to relax and fish for pure enjoyment. Trait and I just returned from a perfect outing to the beautiful Ozark Mountains with my brother and sister-in-law.

We stayed in a cabin at Rose’s Trout Dock right on the White River. When tournament fishermen come to this area, we’re here to catch bass. We don’t have time to slow down and fish the White River, which is renowned for rainbow and brown trout. The water that flows from the Bull Shoals dam stays at 50 degrees throughout the year, which is ideal for trout.

We hired a young guide who navigated a drift boat as we floated down the river at 2 1/2 to 3 miles per hour. This is such a world-class fishery that pretty much every eddy and current break had at least one trout on it. It’s common for anglers to catch 50 trout in a day here, mainly rainbows.

This was the first time I had ever used a fly rod. I just had to see what all the fly fishing hype was about.

I got a 9-foot travel rod combo from Cabela’s for the trip. It came with everything I needed — rod, reel, line and a good assortment of flies. Given my experience catching smallmouth on marabou jigs, I tied on a marabou fly they call a Wooly Bugger.

I picked up the basic fly-casting mechanics quickly and caught half a dozen rainbows on the Wooly Bugger. While it was fun, fly fishing isn’t for me. It requires three times as much patience as needed for bass fishing.

What I really wanted to achieve on that trip was to catch one of the White River’s trophy brown trout. You can dupe rainbows and small browns on flies, hair jigs and small spinners. But to catch a big brown trout you have to power fish for it, just as you would for a smallmouth.

I put the fly rod down and started slinging a full-size jerkbait with a spinning outfit. I opted for a rainbow trout pattern, because it mimics what those big White River browns feed on. Five minutes later I caught a beautiful 24 1/2-inch brown trout. That made my vacation right there.

I’m convinced that the big brown wouldn’t have bit anything else. I had to make it react to the jerkbait just as I do when bass fishing.

Actually, fishing for brown trout on the White River has a lot in common with fishing for smallmouth on the St. Lawrence River. In both rivers the fish hang out near boulders and other current breaks. But instead of fishing 30 feet deep on the St. Lawrence, you’re fishing only 3 feet deep on the White River.

As we drifted down the White River, I would look for boulders and other current breaks. Then I would cast my jerkbait just upstream from them and work the bait back erratically with the current as close to the current break as possible.

I also enjoyed watching Trait catch a slew of rainbow trout. She brought a smallmouth bass box filled with marabou jigs, inline spinners and spy baits. She caught trout on all three.

It was a relaxing outing with my family, which is rare treat for me nowadays.