Days 1 and 2 we used guides from the South Fork Lodge. Day 1 we fished with Chris Conant, a local STL angler, and Brett Novik, head guide at South Fork Lodge. On day 2, Brett had to swap out and we fished with Cole Sutheimer. All guides were excellent and I would highly recommend any of them if you're interested in taking a trip to the South Fork.
Day 1 we floated section 2 of the river. We put in just above South Fork Lodge and pulled out at a private take out only accessible to South Fork Lodge guides. The fishing was excellent. We started by pounding the banks with hoppers, ants, and stimis. This produced a few fish but was really just a way to pass the time until we hit the first riffle where the cuttys were dialed in on PMDs. Once we got on the risers, I understood the why this river is famous for dry fly fishing.
As we approached the first good shoal, we floated through the deep section on the opposite side of the river that we were going to fish. Hundreds of noses were breaking the surface on the far bank as we drifted by. We slowly slid the drift boat into the eddy below the rising fish, rigged up the Winny 5wt with a PMD and PMD emerger, and went to work.
Having not fished dries in a while, it took several strikes for me to get my timing back. Once I was back in the zone, it was on:
Watching these fish work was truly magical. I was amazed I couldn't spot these fish in the shallow, gin-clear water. Johnny and Joe enjoyed similar success:
As the day progressed, our fish count rose tremendously. It was really an amazing experience. Just about every fish was a 15 to 17 inch cutthroat caught on a little tiny dry fly. I was in heaven.
Chris and I closed out Day 1 in search of a big brown on a streamer. Mr. Conant had stuck a pig off the bank just above the take out a few days before and that's where my best fish of the day came. Big 20+ inch brown on a black and yellow marabou jig. Nice work Chris!!
Day 2 was almost a carbon copy of day one. We started by slamming the banks, fished riffles all day for rising cutts and a few browns, and we closed with streamers at dusk. Here are some shots from our second day:
Piggy brown on a #20 PMD.
Great release video. Pay no attention to Davis' cold balls.
Mr. Scott--nice brown out of the boat while seated (lazy ass).
JD--nice looking hybrid (I think).
The highlight of day two for me was actually losing a fish. Chris had some intel on a resident brown that had been spotted in a back water behind a series of islands. With the main channel off to our left, Chris and I snuck behind this island where the water was spilling over a very shallow gravel bar into a deep hole with various root wads and overhanging trees. The entire pool was about 60 feet long and about 20 feet wide. It was strikingly similar to some challenging water on on the Current River back home, Chris and my home waters. We approached from down stream through a two foot clearing in the overhanging trees. Due to the very shallow gravel bar at the top of the hole, and the root wads on the opposite bank, we would have to try to guide any big fish out the two foot gap where we accessed the hole. We discussed our plan. The outlook wasn't brilliant. With very few options, our hope was to net the fish before it could leave the seclusion of the back water. Chris and I sat and watched for a moment. I threw a bow and arrow cast at a little cutty that was tucked under one of the sunken trees. Nothing. That was not why we came, however. As I continued to mess with the cuttys, we both noticed a big roll just below the gravel bar in the riffle. This was the big boy.
It only took one cast with a PMD and a little beadhead dropper. The flies drifted off the gravel bar into the zone and I saw another roll. With a slow hook set, it was on. Before Chris or I could even think about netting this pig, it bolted downstream right through the slot in the trees where we wanted him to go. I began the chase. Chris managed the excess fly line sitting on the water as we passed through the narrow gauntlet so it wouldn't get caught on any branches. Just as the fish cleared the pool, it darted right at a 90 degree angle toward the main channel passing under a submerged log. Oh fuck! I had no idea what to do now. My line was going under this sunken tree and the fish was doing aerials on the opposite side. Quickly, Chris hopped over the log and I managed to pass my rod to him under the submerged tree limb as the fish continued its acrobatics. Chris swiftly handed the rod back to me and I regained control (if that's what you call it). Chris then hopped back over the tree to untangle my excess fly line which was quickly wrapping itself around the submerged log. After a few seconds, we cleared the log and had the fish tight on the line again. How he didn't snap my tippet or throw the fly is beyond me.
At this point, the fish calmed a little and slid into a quiet eddy on the lower left side of the island. I thought we had him. We approached slowly and got a good look at this monster brown. We estimated 25 or better. This was the fish of a lifetime. Chris and I inched forward. The beast was almost taunting us by not moving and showing us his size. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the fish decided to bolt right at us passing just to Chris' right side. Chris lunged with the net--no love. The fish ran back under the tree where we had brilliantly maneuvered the rod underwater but this time the fish completed his mission of snapping my tippet. He was gone. But what a fight.
Days 3 and 4 to come....