Spring in the Ozark Mountains is pretty hard to beat. The dogwoods are in blossom and flowers of all shapes and sizes are making their colors known. The wildlife is happy, the birds are singing and the countryside is coming to life as Mother Nature demonstrates her magnificent pallet for all to see.
Water level in the river depends on generation activity at the dam.
A great place to experience the wonders of the Ozarks is Gaston’s White River Resort at Lakeview, AR. This trout fishing destination is found along the world famous White River below Bull Shoals Dam.
The White River is known for its trout fishing and Gaston’s is known as the place to go if you want to experience excellent trout fishing. It’s not just the fishing though. Gaston’s is a first-class resort with something for the whole family. From the clean comfortable cabins to the outstanding restaurant overlooking the river, Gaston’s is a bucket list destination.
I had the opportunity to visit Gaston’s recently and was immediately hooked on the fishing. While trout fishing and fly casting go hand in hand, I was pleased to discover that I could use with my trusty spinning gear to challenge the brown trout that swim in the river.
Daily fishing excursions depend heavily on the amount of generation at the dam. As more power is generated, more water comes down the river to offer expanded opportunities to trout fish. Believe me, the experienced guides at Gaston’s have fished every possible level of power generation and know exactly what they can and cannot do. As the river rises they expand their trips further from the resort. As the water falls they return to safe waters closer to the resort. Just like the fish, they don’t want to get trapped when the water falls.
Guide Frank Saksa's favorite stick bait is a bone/white version and he is happy to show you how to use it.
Frank Saksa is a Gaston’s guide that specializes in using spinning tackle for brown trout on the White River. “Fishing for browns with stick baits is just like bass fishing,” instructed Saksa. “Throw it out there and let it set for a second. You want that bait to flash. Make that slow retrieve with a variable twitch as you let it set again. That’s when they see the flash. That’s when they normally hit. You gotta’ generate the pause.”
Generate the pause to catch beautiful brownies like this.
“If you do this long enough, and the water stays up long enough, it is just a matter of time until you get it in front of one,” continued Saksa. “You cover a lot of ground with this method. It doesn’t pay to fish the same bank over and over again.”
Saksa pushes his anglers to focus on the task. On this day I was accompanied in the boat with fellow outdoor writer Charles Bridwell. “You need to catch that first one so you have confidence in what you are doing,” Saksa told us both. “Otherwise you are thinking this isn’t working, you are not paying attention and you don’t make good presentations. Remember, you are just pulling that stick bait for the flash. It is when it pauses that they are gonna’ hit it.”
Saksa continued to instruct as he maneuvered the boat downstream at the same speed as the current. “You can’t slow down like a drift boat. You gotta’ be moving the same speed as the current.”
“Once we hit a deeper run it is usually the front and back of the hole that holds most of the fish. Sometimes we are fishing on the outside of a run. This time we are fishing on the inside. Right now we are coming up on a high spot that should be good.”
Saksa had no more than spoke those words when a nice brownie hit Bridwell’s lure. It is an unbelievable strike when they hit a stick bait and then come flying out of the water. You definitely know that you are in a fish fight. Sometimes they walk on their tail like a smallie and if you are not careful that’s when they will be gone.
“Once them brownies hit there is no doubt,” declared Saksa. “They hit it hard. Just keep pressure on them and lead them to the net.”
Sometimes lure color will make a difference, but Saksa’s favorite is a plain bone/white stick bait. He says he will mix it up a bit if they are not hitting his favorite.
He held up a plastic tackle box with numerous baits inside. “That box right there is $500 worth of baits,” joked Saksa. “My wife and I have a deal. She goes and buys shinny rocks, I go and buy shiny lures. There is not one bait in there that has not caught a brown. It’s all about how you use it and when you use it.”
“If you get the right water flow, the right sky and the right bait, it is just a matter of getting that presentation right,” offered Saksa. “We have the flow and these clouds will give some distortion for the lure. In this clear water you need distortion so they don’t see it so well. Now, add the right presentation and you just need to get it in front of one.”
Saksa knows every inch of the river and offered different instructions for different situations. As we started fishing an outside bank he instructed us on the cast. “When you first throw up there don’t retrieve to fast. It is real shallow and you will get in the grass. In fact, when I first cast up in there I like to pull the rod tip up instead of down so it doesn’t go so deep.”
“The same thing is true when you fish a high spot out in the river,” continued Saksa. “You don’t want to throw up on that hump and pull it too fast. Wait until you get away from the hump a little and then do your normal retrieve.”
We were experiencing Saksas’ favorite method to catch brown trout. “Stick baits are more fun for me,” revealed Saksa. “You control what you do. You control the boat, control the cast, and control the presentation. If you do it right you catch fish.”
A Gaston's shore lunch is nothing short of fantastic. Fresh fried rainbow trout with all the fixin's, topped off with dessert of fruit cobbler, also cooked over an open fire.
About this time Saksa noted that we need to be back to our designated location for our shore lunch at noon. We were supposed to provide six rainbows for the skillet and we had been chasing brownies all morning. He rigged some lighter spinning gear with small jigs and tipped them with red worms or Power Eggs.
It took less than 30 minutes to catch our rainbows and we headed for the shore lunch to end a productive morning on a beautiful river.
Gaston's guide boats are comfortable and efficient and they are operated by knowledgeable fishing guides.
The following history of Gaston’s White River Resort is posted on their website. It also outlines the many activities available to all that come. It’s not just the fishing, there really is something for everyone!
Gaston's White River Resort began 59 years ago when Al Gaston, Jim Gaston's father, purchased 20 acres of White River frontage with six small cottages and six boats...the year was 1958. Present day, Jim’s grandson - Clint Gaston - will carry on the family legacy for many years to come. The resort now covers over 400 acres, and has 79 cottages ranging in size from two double beds to ten private bedrooms. The airstrip has grown from 1,800 feet to 3,200 feet. The six boats are now over 70, and with a state of the art dock to hold them all. The years have brought an award winning restaurant, private club, gift shop, tennis court, playground, game room, duck pond, three nature trails, swimming pool, conference lodge, and fly fishing school.
For more information on an incredible destination, visit their website at www.gastons.com and like/follow them on Facebook.