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Little Missouri River Lures A Trout-Fishing Beginner

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Jeff Guerin fishing for a trout.
Jeff Guerin fishing for a trout.
    Jim Taylor learning techniques from Jeff Guerin.
Jim Taylor learning techniques from Jeff Guerin.
Jeff Guerin (fishing guide) landing a trout.
Jeff Guerin (fishing guide) landing a trout.
January 8, 2002

Little Missouri River
Lures a Trout-Fishing Beginner

By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

MURFREESBORO -- It wasn't until a couple of days after I'd waded out of the Little Missouri River that I realized this quintessential trick of fly-fishing for trout: there is a moment -- a Zen moment -- when the trout strikes the fly and the fisherman, purely attentive to present circumstances, manages to set the hook.

Trout are wily creatures. They take an artificial fly in their mouths like people touch a hot stove. So, there is an instant -- and brief it is -- when a trout can be hooked. The fisherman is either ready, or the moment slips away.

Out of a dozen or so such instances on my first fly-fishing excursion for trout, only once was I truly ready when the moment came.


The Little Missouri is all but swarming with rainbows when I come on a warm, mid-December afternoon to try for my first-ever trout on a fly rod that's landed largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie and bream.

Chuck Haralson, chief photographer for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, and I are waiting to meet Jeff Guerin, the only fly-fishing guide on the Little Missouri. Standing on the bank, we see near the water's edge perhaps two dozen nine-inch trout recently stocked by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. More trout can be seen breaking the stream's surface.

When Guerin, a New Orleans native who ran a fly-fishing shop in Shreveport for 10 years before moving to Murfreesboro, drives up, I'm thinking I surely don't need his help to catch a trout here.

Soon, though, we are standing in the stream, and he is affixing to my line a new tippet and fly -- a Long Creek Light he has tied himself. I appreciate the fact he isn't laughing at the conglomeration of monofilament he is replacing. The easy-going Guerin is exceptionally patient with beginning trout fishermen.

We are perhaps 300 yards below the Narrows Dam about six miles north of Murfreesboro. In addition to forming Lake Greeson, the dam brought cold tailwaters making possible the river's trout fishery. The first half-mile of the river below the dam is a designated catch-and-release area for trout, and only artificial baits with a single, barbless hook are allowed.

Guerin takes out his pliers and shows me how to flatten the barb on a fly so that it complies with the regulations. "A good rule of thumb is if you can stick it in your shirt and it comes back out, you're legal," he says.

(Another five and a half miles of the Little Missouri hold trout during cooler months, and in much of that stretch fishing with non-artificial bait and keeping one's catch is allowed.)

While Haralson wanders downstream a bit and soon lands a trout, Guerin is sharing more tips with me. "A lot of people," he says, "think they have to cast further than they need to." He shows me how to execute a roll cast and even offers some suggestions on how to wade the stream without falling into it. His last tip is: "Don't step on me."

It takes me a while to get the hang of keeping the slack out of my line and my rod tip down on the water, but I become convinced of the necessity of both when I feel the first trout take my fly. The fish is gone long before I try to set the hook.

After 30 minutes or so, Guerin and Haralson move closer to the dam and the guide lands 13-inch and 14-inch trout for Haralson to photograph. Meanwhile, I get perhaps six more strikes but still can't manage to hook a fish. I do, however, give each rainbow a progressively larger piece of my mind.

When Guerin returns to my side, he notices that when I am stripping line I release it to grab more line to strip. He shows me a different technique, using my thumb to strip while keeping a better hold on the line. Soon, another fish strikes. To my chagrin, it, too, gets away.

As I continue fishing, Guerin tells me that during winter and spring the Little Missouri is an excellent place for beginning fly-fishermen -- including kids -- to learn the sport. "There are lots of newly stocked fish and they'll hit almost anything you throw at them," he says.

For catching larger trout, Guerin recommends visiting the Narrows tailwaters from June through October. By that time, the fish stocked in fall and winter have had time to grow, he says. However, Guerin adds, they are harder to catch. "When they've been in the river longer, they get pickier about what flies they'll hit and how well those flies are cast."

We are standing near a feature of the river Guerin calls "the Chute." Several small boulders are funneling moving water through a limited space. We watch as a trout Guerin estimates to be 16 inches moves into place to wait on food drifting downstream.

Guerin tells me where to cast my fly so that it will drift into the trout's view. After five minutes or so, the trout has refused to take the bait. I suggest that Guerin give it a try. On the second or third drift of his fly, the trout strikes and Guerin sets the hook. The trout heads swiftly downstream and makes an impressive leap from the water. Then, the tippet snaps -- perhaps snagged on a rock -- and the trout is free.

We move downstream a bit and I resume casting. I'm concentrating a lot harder now that I've heard Guerin's reel singing as the trout pulled line from it. Soon, watching the point where my leader is attached to my fly line, I detect a tug, quickly strip some line and at long last manage to set a hook.

I can tell immediately the rainbow is small, but nonetheless it is my first such fish on a fly. I get the trout to my side and Guerin takes out a camera and records a moment -- a not-so-Zen moment -- when all I can think about is how soon I'll be skilled enough to hook that big one.


For more information on trout fishing the Little Missouri, on Guerin's fly-fishing classes and on his line of hand-tied flies, visit Guerin's web site at www.littlemissouriflyfishing.com. He can be reached by phone at (870) 285-2807.

Riverside Cabins offers lodging and a trout-fishing shop beside the Narrows Dam tailwaters. For details, visit www.riversidecabins.com or phone toll free 1-888-654-6966.

Campgrounds are available at the nearby Crater of Diamonds (870-285-3113) and Daisy (870-398-4487) State Parks. Visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com for more information.

Trout are stocked at several additional locations within the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, including the Little Missouri River upstream from Lake Greeson at the U.S. Forest Service's Albert Pike recreation area and in the Ouachita River below Blakely Mountain, Carpenter and Remmel dams. The Game and Fish Commission's trout-stocking schedule can be viewed on-line at www.agfc.com/fishing/trout_stocking.html.


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"