Dad and I made our sixth stop in a 10-state fishapalooza in Branson, Missouri. We got in around dinner time on July 3rdand found our place for the night, the Mayfly cabin behind River Run Outfitters’ fly shop. It was a perfect two room cabin with a queen-sized bed and a little living room. The cabin and shop are just off the White River below Table Rock Dam and Lake outside of Branson. Given the upcoming holiday, there were fireworks all over town and people everywhere. We headed into town to a burger dive called Baba’s, a delicious and grungy spot (in the best way) and got geared up for our upcoming day on the water. All we had to do in the morning was walk down to the fly shop and we would be ready to go.
The next morning, we went to the shop a few minutes before 8 to get our fishing licenses and meet our guide. It’s a fantastic “mom and pop” style fly shop that was the Orvis Outfitter of the Year in 2006. When we first met our guide, who owns the outfitter along with his wife, we were instantly stoked for a new experience. His name is Stan Parker. Stan was 76 years old at the time and had been guiding for 20 years in the area. You don’t come across guides of that age very often. The fact that he was 76 and out rowing a tailwater river every day stands on its own, but what led him to this profession struck me as an amazing part of his story. After a career in public service as a fire chief, deputy sheriff, and Coast Guard servicemen, Stan and his wife’s passion for fly fishing inspired them to open an outfitter in Missouri, their lifelong goal, as a means of sharing their passion with others. They soon applied for an Orvis Endorsement in competition with another fly shop down the street. They said that what would set them apart from the other outfitter is their customer service and personality. They have built an awesome outfitter out of a passion for the beautiful sport. As I have seen throughout my quest, fly fishing has the powerful ability to bring people of all walks of life and generations of separation together. It seems to break the barrier of age and creates an atmosphere in which the old and young can share a common experience. As a 17-year-old, I found it pretty awesome to get excited over the same things as someone 50 years older than me.
Missouri is home to a surprisingly good trout fishery, given that I had never previously associated it with cold water fishing. The North Fork of the White River winds for 67 miles through southern Missouri, offering excellent water for small-mouth, goggle eye, and blue gill. What drew dad and I to Branson, however, was not the theaters and shows, but the 12 mile of trophy trout stream just outside of town just below the dam. This is what brought Stan and his wife, recognizing a fishery that had not been tapped into, as well as anglers throughout the south. The dam releases cold water year-round, providing excellent habitat for big fish, even in the heat of summer. Fishing on July 4 brought not only mid-summer midge hatches but also flotillas of tubers and rafters…the rubber hatch. But the water is there for us all to enjoy. It certainly didn’t stop us from getting the job done, nymphing with indicator rigs. The fish were seemingly automatic. I was amazed just looking at in the water at the density of fish in the river. They were everywhere.
As the day went on and clouds rolled in, fish started looking up. We found groups of consistently rising fish on some gravel shoals, sipping tiny black midges. We were fishing from a drift boat, but these shoals make the river accessible to wade fishing as well. Little dimples broke the black mirror surface as fish sipped bugs just below the surface. Though it is a traditional fly, I had never fished a small soft hackle—size 20 to be exact. For the first time I threw this minute pattern and certainly had some epic eats. Fish were pushing wakes to target the fly, then would sip it in slow. Classic trout eats. I am no purist, but I never cease to get excited when the opportunity to throw surface flies arises. That ageless excitement showed through when I hooked up to my first fish on top and Stan seemed as stoked as I was, going on about how a soft hackle is his absolute favorite fly. I was of course fired up, getting to both see and feel the fish hammer the bug. These eats continued throughout the afternoon, and I was so stoked to learn about the accessibility to such an excellent trout fishery in the Midwest. Even more epic was it to be able to fish a great fishery with someone like Stan “the man” at age 76.