Report: Sowbug Roundup and Fishing the Norfork River, March 21-26, 2023, Paul E. Robertson

Joe Nicklo and I headed the the Sowbug Roundup for a few days. We decided to tack on a few days of fly fishing on the Norfork River.

We drove to Mountain Home, AR, on Tuesday and arrived in time to get over to the Norfork River and check out a few places, including Dry Run Creek which is designated as fishing for youth only. We enjoyed helping a young man catch a few rainbows. Later, it was Thai food for dinner.

Wednesday was to be a wade fishing day. The flows on the Norfork were quite high and swift. The lake behind the dam was quite high, thus the overflow gates were open as they are trying to lower the level of the lake. Thus, we could only safely wade fish a small section of the river. The conditions were not too good for wade fishing, and as a result the catching was not too great. I caught two—one rainbow and one cutthroat. Joe was able to land a nice walleye. Interestingly, that day I ran into a guy that was a high school friend to my long time friend Tim Rayburn (he died in 2021). It’s a small world. That evening we joined other fly tiers at Sowbug Roundup fly tiers fellowship for a hamburger dinner. Joe enjoyed connecting with some long-time friends and I met a few folks.

The next day, Thursday, a friend, Kevin Daniel, arranged for a couple of boats so we could fish on the river. Joe and I went with Barry Analorra in one boat and Kevin fished with his friend Alan in a second boat. The temperature was mild. The overflow gates were still open so the water was again running quite fast. But with a boat we could manage it. We nymph fished. In terms of rigging, the first fly was down about 10’ below the indicator, with a second fly down about another 18” below that. We had to use three AA split shots to get the flys down to the fish. It felt like I was casting (or rather lobbing) a chain. But the good news is it worked. Joe and I caught over 50 fish that day. That evening we all met up with Barry’s wife (Kelly) and Kevin and Terri Hutchinson at Whispering Woods restaurant for a nice meal together. 

A storm came through Thursday evening and dumped rain all night and all day Friday. But that worked out okay as that was the day we planned to spend at the Sowbug Roundup. Joe tied for about a half a day and I wandered around, checking out the fly tiers. I have no idea how many people were there. There were a lot! I’d guess in the hundreds. I heard that there are usually about 150 fly tiers. The fly fishing club there puts on quite an impressive fly tying festival. At times it was difficult to find an empty seat to sit down and watch. That evening we attended the Sowbug Roundup dinner for the fly tiers. It was a special evening. Several highlights included: a tribute to Dave Whitlock (he died in November 2022) given by Davy Wotten, a tribute to Tom and Ann Shumacker (they died about 3 weeks apart earlier this year) who owned WAPSI (a manufacturer of fly tying materials), and the auction. It was fun to watch our friend Kevin Daniel bid for and win a framed Dave Whitlock painting. He was all smiles. My friend from the Texas Fly Fishers of Houston club, Ron Mayfield, won tying awards for best bass fly and best streamer in the show. 

Saturday was another day of fishing. There was some uncertainty at the beginning of the day. At first, the overflow gates were closed and there was no generator on, so there was not enough water to get the boats in the river. But they turned on one generator about 7:00 and the water rose enough to launch and run the boat. Again, Joe and I went with Barry. Kevin and Alan were in the other boat. We were not sure what to expect after all the rain. The river was full of boats! It was like navigating bumper cars. And in fact a few boats did bump! But the fishing was phenomenal. Joe and I hooked up 70+ fish that day. The fish were bigger this day—we caught quite a few in the 17”-19” range. Joe caught three species: a rainbow, a brookie, and a cutthroat. I hooked, but lost a large brown trout. If we had gotten it in, we would have had the Arkansas boat slam. For dinner, we met Kevin and Terri at Colton’s for another delightful evening sharing stories and food. 

Sunday morning it was time to make the long drive home.

We arrive tired, but happy. What a memorable trip.  The quote below captures some of my feelings about fly fishing on a river. 

“Sitting on an embankment above the Colorado River, I had none [answers]. Only the glow of a flower, the warmth of the sun, and the invigoration of the river’s energy and strength. I had only mystery and awe. And peace. For once there was no compulsion to explain, or clarify, or analyze. Which meant that I was lost in the moment—what Jean-Pierre de Caussade (18th Century) called the Sacrament of the Present Moment—seeing each ‘present moment’ as diffused with the sacred. It reminded me of Susanna Wesley’s immortal prayer, ‘Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church, or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation but that everywhere I am in Thy presence.’”

               —Terry Hershey

One thought on “Report: Sowbug Roundup and Fishing the Norfork River, March 21-26, 2023, Paul E. Robertson

  1. Very nice write-up of Sowbug! It is quite interesting to read of your fishing exploits in the area since I am not very familiar with those waters. The expo was indeed well attended this year. The “shindig” was well attended too. I was fortunate enough to win some of the fly tying awards.


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