State of the Hogs: Shack Nasties

Snow and ice produces a severe case of shack nasties, the winter blues that hit a fly fisher. It doesn't help when friends taunt by text.

I did this to myself, this extreme case of the shack nasties. But I'm not getting the right kind of help from two not-so-good friends.

You get shack nasties gradually as the winter rolls along and fishing becomes tougher because of the elements. You can only tie so many ruby midges. I'll fish in extreme cold, but there are times you just can't get on the river because of ice or the threat of bad roads.

I'm not a fan of the stretch between Huntsville and Alpena on the way to my favorite spots on the Bull Shoals and Norfork tailwaters.

I can make it in most conditions. I have new tires and four-wheel drive. But it's not so much me, it's the threat of getting stuck behind a load of turkeys, the real ones or those driving small two-wheel drive cars.

I was slated to fish last weekend, but I decided it was better to haul my wife to and from work with those icy roads. Her car wouldn't make it. She pushed me to leave her for a few days, but it wasn't a smart idea.

There were a couple of duck hunting trips that got in the way of fishing in mid-January. Otherwise, there's been only one real fishing trip in the last 45 days. It was that 70-degree Saturday two weekends back, a glorious solitary kayak float in the upper stretch of the catch and release on the Norfork.

My buddy Bill Pettit, Cotter resident and the creel survey man for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, helped me run a shuttle before he set up at the confluence of the White and Norfork to fill out his reports. I had the upper C&R to myself for most of the day, except for two guys in a Shawnee john boat who got trapped on a shoal when the water fell out.

They watched me land a 24-inch brown, two 18-inch cutthroats and a few nice rainbows in a 30-minute stretch while their boat was high centered on a big rock. They were giving Pettit a creel report when I drove down to the confluence with my kayak in the back of my truck around 5 p.m.

"That's him," one said, "the guy with the yellow kayak."

Pettit laughed about that over dinner. Those guys had caught only three fish the entire day, but most of it was spent dragging the boat over low spots when they misread the generation forecast. My 12-foot Ocean Kayak was perfect. I had an ice chest with lunch, extra gear and a dry storage to pack clothes as it warmed. I finished in a long-sleeved T-shirt.

Pettit asked for my report, although he heard plenty from those two guys. I explained that it was a great day for length, but not overall numbers for that stretch of river. There were probably only 30 fish landed total, but maybe six topped 18 inches.

My friends have tortured me the last two weeks. Bruce Ritter, a retired Procter & Gamble executive, sent me messages that he was on the way to the river on a day that he knows there was a Bobby Petrino press conference.

Then, there's Pettit. He's on the river daily, filling out creel surveys. His house is across from the public ramp in Cotter, in a beautiful spot on the White. He knows my favorite spots. He takes pictures and sends them to me via text. The worst was Tuesday. It was a shot of an exposed log in the Bull Shoals C&R, my top spot.

The message: No one at the log, very lonely, calling your name. Will leave beverage there. Love, Bill.

That's not a nice message. In my current condition — with 24 inches of snow waiting to be shoveled away from my truck — it's torture.

I will get you, Bill Pettit. Don't know when or how. It may be when we are on a ridge on the Continental Divide in Colorado. I'll have something you need. I have more stuff. Or, it may be on the way to a George Strait concert somewhere on a long highway when you ask for a pit stop. I'll torture you. Or it might be divine intervention.

Ritter got his. His battery was dead the morning after the text taunts. Pettit, your day is coming, too.

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