Big Browns in Your Rear View Mirror

Trout live in beautiful places and it's normal to want to hit the road. Pennsylvania proved to be as advertised, just gorgeous for this vacation. But it's clear that big brown trout were in the rear view mirror as evidence of what Jordan Watts caught with guide Kristopher Bouldin in north Arkansas.

I know enough about fly fishing to understand there is no need to leave Arkansas if it’s big trout that floats your boat.

I was reminded of that this month in two ways. One, I caught them with guide Kristopher Bouldin in the Cotter area, actually learning to row his Supreme trout boat, too. Two, Bouldin took a first-time fly fisher to Dry Run Creek, where they landed a brown measured at 31 inches with a 28 girth estimated in the 30-pound range.

That fish was caught again two days later, evidence that Kristopher and his client, 15-year-old Jordan Watts of Florence, Miss., handled that brown properly.

Kristopher texted me the picture of the big brown from Dry Run, the under-16 kids fishery that starts next to the Norfork hatchery and empties into the Norfork River. I was packing my bags for an eight-day trip to Pennsylvania, which included four days of fishing and one day touring Gettysburg.

I knew I was leaving the land of giants for a wild trout fishery that could mean low numbers and small fish. The tradeoff is that it’s challenging water and beautiful mountain scenery near State College, Pa., or 100 miles to the south in the Cumberland Valley.

There was a random meeting at a State College sidewalk cafe with Penn State coach James Franklin. His team joined him to hand out schedule posters, and the personable Franklin came to each table to shake hands. He was aware that I covered Arkansas in the SEC, so there would be no mistaking that a column could be written after the vacation. He wished me well with the fishing, and a tip of the cap to what Bret Bielema has done with the Razorbacks.

The conversation with Franklin was a reminder that football season awaited at the end of the vacation, after one last fishing column. There had to be one after a wonderful hour listening to Kristopher’s tale of the big brown. Massive is a better description.

I thought the one he helped me land earlier this month was big. It was JUST a 25-inch brown in the 8-pound range. He’s dialed in on the White and Norfork, and that’s just one of many trophy fish clients have landed with Kristopher in the last three months, all in big flows as we’ll likely have for several more months with all our reservoirs dumping.

It’s hard to imagine 30 pounds on a fly rod. It’s likely only been done a few times anywhere. Most of the true monsters – and all of the state records – have been landed on spinning gear.

Bouldin was guiding Jerry Moorehead, of Brandon, Miss., and his grandson, Jordan, on the epic trip.

“Jerry had fly fished before, but not for trout,” Kristopher said. “Jordan had never held a fly rod. We spent the morning on the White and caught fish, among them a few decent browns, and broke off a few good ones. We stopped for lunch and I asked Jordan his age. When he said 15, I knew we just had to go to Dry Run.”

By then, Jordan had learned the basics on how to cast and fight a good trout. It was quickly clear that it was going to be a great day.

“He was hooking good fish right away at Dry Run,” Bouldin said. “He had broken off some good ones and getting better every time.”

Then, they spotted the giant in a big pool in the upper part of Dry Run Creek.

“Jordan locked in on it, but it wasn’t feeding,” Kristopher said. “We kept changing flies, and he kept putting it on his nose. He just wasn’t eating, but Jordan didn’t want to leave it. Then, after about an hour, it moved into the feeding lane. I knew Jordan had a chance then.”

That coincided with Jordan’s improved abilities. So when the take came, Kristopher knew the stars were aligned.

“It didn’t move at first,” Kristopher said. “I told Jordan that he had to put some pressure on him. And, he got it to move. It went up stream, then came back. Up and right back. It didn’t try to go down or it would have been over.”

Finally came the instruction that it was time to put real steam to the rod and give Kristopher a chance with the net.

“I got the head in the net and grabbed the tail,” Bouldin said. “We all screamed. I did. I was as excited as Jordan and his grandfather. We got a couple of quick pictures and then got it back in the water.”

The work began to make sure it would survive the battle. There was one scare when it swam off only to return to rest between Kristopher’s legs.

“That freaked me,” he said. “It came right back and just suspended there. Then, off it went into a deep pool.”

I wasn’t surprised by any of it. I’ve known for some time that Bouldin is the best on our rivers. He’s good with his jet boat, the oars and puts clients on monsters. Days with double-digit browns are the norm.

Some fly fishers are fearful of the coming high-water autumn. I know Bouldin’s clients will catch fish. He looks forward to hopper fishing and nymphing as the big browns move out of the flows onto the bank. I’m always confident in his boat.

Bouldin took a famous friend of mine on his first fly fishing trip two summers ago for some hopper action. He caught 25 trout over 20 inches. The first 30 minutes of the trip were spent in the parking lot with Kristopher pulling line away from the newbie’s rod, pretending to be the fish. It was perfect preparation for catching monsters all morning.

It’s that kind of a trip – or the one at Dry Run Creek with Jordan Watts – that creates the insanity for fly fishing that permeates my mind. It spawned the name for Bouldin’s website:

I wonder if young Jordan has it now? Or, perhaps he’s smart enough to know that he’s already been to the mountaintop. Maybe he should take up bowling? No, I’m betting he’s a fly fisher for life.

“He’s going to be very good,” Bouldin said. “He was a great kid, a pleasure to guide – respectful, smart. I’m not just saying it because he caught that brown. He worked hard, listened and is going to be a good one. At all times, he was asking for feedback. What was he doing wrong? I think he’ll continue to grow into it and I am sure our sport has hooked him.”

It’s hooked me. I know that trout live in beautiful places. Pennsylvania qualifies, but just remember, true monster brown trout are in your rear view mirror.

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