Oct 28, 2022

Buffalo River and Smallmouth Float

On a crisp, fall morning two anglers set out on a three day river float. Autumn leaves turning and falling sets up a gorgeous scene on America's first National River.

The Buffalo National River was established by an Act of Congress on March 1, 1972, ending forever the plans of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct one or more dams on this river. Officially the Buffalo River is 153 miles long with 135 miles within the boundaries managed by the National Park Service.

The local region has been dry for most of the summer and the flows are just a trickle until the fall rains come. For this low, clear and slow journey we chose to do the last 24 miles of river ending our trip at the mouth entering the White River. In this stretch there are no other road accesses.

Day One was sunny and warm like a Indian summer day. Leaves are falling all around us as we push through the clear water. The first riffle revealed the prevailing species, Micropterus dolomieu or the wily smallmouth bass. The respectable specimen came out of his ledge rock hiding spot to take a hellgrammite fly pattern that has been very successful over many smallmouth pursuits. He would be one of many to fall victim to this simple black fly.

As we pushed on with our Stealth Pro's through the slow pools on the bright sunny day I soon realized I would be rowing far more than I want to for the next three days. Love the Stealth Pro but speed is not one of its attributes. While wondering if I'd been better off in a kayak each smallie that came to hand was continued testament of the fish-ability of this craft. On this day we only caught a select few of fish but each one took careful, precise navigation work to coax them from their safe refuges into the exposed, clear water.

We set camp, ate a dehydrated meal and discussed the conditions and shared our experiences of the day. Quiet was the setting as the stars became bright in the clear sky. Although off the grid we were aware of at least one other paddler on the river that launched just before us. He was in a canoe and was soon out of our site for the rest of the trip.

As we glanced to inspect a noise from the hillside we saw flashlights angling downhill. "Oh wonderful, we have guests" I believe were my words at least in my head that's what I said. Next, about 100 yards downstream they crossed the river and in the moonlight we could see they were on horseback.

Being my first time on this river I wasn't sure to expect to see others or not. I can say I didn't expect to see people on horseback. But I took it as a good sign in the fact that while accessible, not easily accessible! I'm not sure if they even saw us and we never saw them again.

That first night got very cool and morning was downright cold. My 40 degree bag was just warm enough.

Day two started out matching day one. We needed to cover some miles on this day since our late start on day one had already put us a bit behind schedule. During the morning we just focused fishing on high percentage spots and came upon a few willing participants.

As we sailed past noon the wind began to pick up. My thoughts were consumed by fighting the wind as we pushed forward but soon this would all change. The river at this point seemed to get rockier with deeper holding type of pools and more moving water. The wind was rippling the surface, meanwhile the fishing action had greatly improved.

By evening with camp set I reached for my popper rigged on my G.Loomis NRX+ Swim Fly 788-4 fly rod and set afloat in the camp water pool. With just a couple small fish inspecting the bug I began to work it faster and more aggressive trying to avoid hooking any of the small biters. That would turn out to be a good play when moments later my best smallie thus far exploded on my bug. After a moment of hesitation I set the hook solid and this fine bronze kind would come to hand.

More about that rod!

All spring, summer an fall I've been fishing with this NRX+ 788-4 Swim Fly. It really is a true, dedicated smallmouth rod perfect in these river environments. It does exactly what you ask it to do whether it be a popper on a dry line, streamer on a sink tip and everything in between. It luvs the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Bass Bug fly line as if it was made for it. It's a comfortable rod to cast all day and so far tough as nails. I have not been gentle with it. I also fished a similar rod known as the Thomas and Thomas Exocett SS-200gr. Another smallmouth workhorse.

Long day set up for an early turn-in on the second evening. A southern breeze came in to create a perfect fall camp night. The setting remained serene until the coyotes howled in the early hours of morning.

Up early the third morning. The predetermined pick up time was 5pm and we had seven or eight miles to go. Again, first time to do this float and naturally I had some concerns as what we would find toward the end of the river. Would it delta out to shallow and have to walk it? Meanwhile the southern wind grew ever stronger throughout the day. Lucky for us the general course of the river was north and our strong, southern winds really gave a boost.

Fishing on this day seemed to be the best yet. From the first couple cast we connected and rewarded with some respectable fish. The increased action got us to throw some streamers and the response was as expected, great!

It was a battle between good fishing and making ground. I checked our progress often as we pressed on with only short stops to cast prime water. Well past noon and covering alot of water the river had showed no signs of slowing down.

We came upon a group on horseback at a landmark called Elephant Rock. They were on a day ride and was not the others we saw on the first night. This wilderness area has many trails.

Almost to the end we finally did hit a wide, slow area littered in boulders. It's was a tough go on a long stretch with several times walking our craft's. Coming to the end of the bumper pool stretch we got rewarded with another fast run before pooling out along a tall bluff entering to the flow of the White River. We made our last cast along this bluff but nothing chased.

An interesting challenge to this trip is one must actually row up the White River in order to access the closest take out, otherwise it's many miles downriver to the next. Once again with some luck on this beautiful fall day very little power was being produced at the hydro dam therefore the river current was manageable to row.

Arriving to the pickup spot about ten minutes early we unpacked our boats. At the pick up we caught up with the canoeist that launched before us at the start of the trip. His name was Tom and he was just out to enjoy the outdoors and do some river cleanup in the process.

While I prefer to not see others on my trips it was interesting to see so many others out enjoying their quest in this beautiful country. Everyone respecting each other, their sport, and their space. It was a refreshing change from the destinations were all are there for the same reason.

In closing a few words to the Buffalo River itself; I hope to see you again soon and long for that day to come. Next time more water please.

"The Gorge"
Gorge Fly Shop Team - 541.386.6977

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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