This was supposed to be an overnight trip. On the river overnight. The big dip in the jet stream had a different idea.

The four of us were excited about an early winter trip on the North Fork of the White River. Putting in at Kelly’s Ford, we planned on floating to Patrick Bridge, some nine miles downstream.

Smallmouth bass from Little Piney Creek in McDonald County. October 2017

Having seen firsthand the devastating effects of the “Great Flood of 2017,” all were anxious to see how the fish, and the river, had fared.

The “four of us” included myself, Vincent Seidler (Big Vinny), Kacee Slous (Boo) and Jason Vermeiren. This trip had been planned, discussed, and deliberated for several weeks now.

We all agreed an overnight, on the water, was our preference. Mother nature, and her wicked sense of humor, would force us into tiny cabins, with a warm bed, and plenty of food to eat. I guess we’d make due.

Saturday morning dawned cold and clear. The external temperature reading on my vehicle told me it was a balmy 18 degrees outside. Our expected high was 30. And with a 15-20 mile per hour wind, we’d be lucky to hit 25 degrees. Perfect!!

Under cloudy skies, four brave souls slipped into the cold, clear waters of the North Fork.

Anticipation is around every bend, behind every rock. Trout are the quarry of the day, and this river has provided me with more memories than I can speak to. 

One of the group, Jason, has never been on this river. I try to put myself in his place and remember the excitement of a new river. Especially a new river you’ve heard about all of your life.

These are the events that drive us as fishermen; new waters full of promise.

The trip started in fine fashion. I’m fishing a double nymph rig and my first drift results in a fat, 14-inch rainbow that fights with all of the vigor wild trout are known for.

The second drift produces a similar outcome; another fat, beautifully-colored rainbow takes the bottom fly and heads for cover. Well, this is promising.

The ‘Fork has changed dramatically in the past year. The 2017 floods altered its course in such a way that I almost didn’t recognize holes and runs I’ve fished hundreds of times.

Water always wins, and even some of the car-sized boulders below the Blair Bridge access were moved downstream.

As always, most of the fish managed to find safety. Although, more than a few found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

The cold weather didn’t stop Vincent Seidler from catching trout.

We managed a few more fish on that first day, all taking nymphs fished deep, and only one minor mishap: a sniper rock grabbed the bow of the canoe we were using as a barge and turned it wrong-side up. No major injuries and only a minor soaking.

Luckily, we were less than a mile from take-out and all had packed dry clothes for this eventuality. As a good friend once said, “Spend enough time on the water and you end up in it now and then.”

The cabins at Rocky Top were a perfect place to rest, dry off and get our minds right for Sunday’s float. Deer steaks, backstraps and fresh pork steaks with all the fixings replenished our energy and an adult beverage or two lifted our spirits.

I had so psyched myself for sleeping on the ground, in the cold, that the comfy bed and pillows felt that much better.

Sunday’s forecast high was in the low 50’s, a veritable heat wave compared to Saturday. Fresh bacon and eggs were served and it was off to the river!

This was a short float, less than four miles, so we could take our time and enjoy the scenery, fish and float along, talking about past trips and future adventures.

A few fish were caught, eagles were viewed, deer were spotted and life was as it should be. 

As we pulled into our take-out point at Patrick Bridge, I asked Jason what he thought of the river.

His response was, “The fishing was great, the catching was not. But the trip was epic! Finally got to see the ‘Fork and spend it with good friends. I’ll be back.”

Mission accomplished. As fishermen, we tend to forget it’s not the fish we seek, but the experience.

I’ll be back, indeed.

(Ryan Walker can be reached at info@ozarkssmallmouthalliance.com.)