I was 17 years old in February of 1970 when I watched a fishing show on television that featured Jerry McKinnis trout fishing on the White River below Bull Shoals Dam. I was already a fanatic fisherman, but sitting in the living room of my small family home in North Little Rock, Arkansas, I began to plot a strategy to travel to Bull Shoals and fish the next weekend for trout on the White River. That is a pretty ambitious dream for a 17 year old kid with no transportation.
The only vehicle in my circle of friends was a small Corvair owned by my friend Billy. I called two other friends, Jack and Marc and we started working on Billy to convince him to try to cram enough camping and fishing gear in his Corvair and get us the 200 miles to the promise land the next weekend. Billy was an easy sell but my group voted that I was the best one to try to sell Billy’s parents on the idea. We decided that I should lean heavily on my status as an Eagle Scout.
The plan worked and on the next Friday night 4 High School boys crammed a 9 ½ h.p. Johnson motor and a six gallon gas tank, a giant canvas wall tent, four sleeping bags and all our food and fishing gear into a Corvair (we alternated holding the gas can in our lap) and headed north.
We arrived at the State Park campground around 10p.m. and set up our tent in sub-freezing temperatures and managed a few frigid hours of sleep. We got up early and cooked breakfast, then broke camp and headed for Gaston’s Resort to rent a boat. I had fished for trout a few times before but we still got lots of instructions from the good folks at Gaston’s on how to fish before we struck out to try our luck.
Jerry McKinnis had been fishing with a white marabou jig which was something we were not familiar with but we were determined to give it a try. The water was high and swift and we had trouble getting the jig down. After an hour and only one trout to show for our efforts we switched to the more traditional offerings of redworms and corn and managed to catch our limit. We drove home Saturday night tired and cold but excited beyond words. We went to my grandfather’s house that night to return the gear we had borrowed and clean our trout in his kitchen. We felt like conquering war heroes as each of us took a bag of six trout home to show off.
The years have come and gone but in February of 2020 four old men returned to Gaston’s Resort for a 50 year reunion to commemorate that trip. We skipped the tent and rented a cabin for 2 nights and even hired fly fishing guides. Two of us were experienced fly fishermen but for Marc and Billy this was their first time and Jack and I really wanted them to have a great experience. I was disappointed when we arrived and saw heavy generation and even a few flood gates open. That is not exactly ideal fly fishing conditions.
I have had the privilege of fishing with great guides in exotic destinations from Alaska to Patagonia but this was the first time I had ever fished with guides in my home state.
Our guides Kris Boulding and Brock Dixon did a great job. Over the next two days each of us caught and released dozens of fat Rainbows up to 21 inches and several nice Browns up to 23 inches. Dying threadfin shad were coming through the generation chutes from Bull Shoals Lake and the trout were feeding voraciously on anything white.
I stripped a white 1/32 oz. marabou jig using a sink tip leader until my hands would get too cold then I would switch to a double jig rig floated below a large strike indicator. We had finally mastered Jerry McKinnis’ white jigs after 50 years. We left to head back to our jobs, families and ministries thankful that God had given us another chance to make a memory. Lord willing we will do it again someday but if not we still have a great trip to remember. Here is to good times with good friends again.