At 7:30 Monday morning, the White River was so low it looked like a creek. All the generators at Bull Shoals dam were shut down and you could have waded across the river in some places without getting your underwear wet. That was the bad news ... the worse news was, it was 20 degrees.

But I have learned that sometimes things will always get better. As Rich Abdoler and I watched, waiting for guide Frank Saksa to show up, the water began to flow and you could see it grow, swirling and quickening, swelling and surging. They had opened three generators at the dam. Frank arrived and there was a sense of urgency.

"This is just what I hoped for," he said, loading gear into the long White River johnboat. "We had no water much at all over the weekend, three generators is perfect. The browns should really turn on with this rise."

Brown trout are the big fish of the White River ... the trophy fish. Rainbows are stocked regularly, and most are caught before they know what hit them ... caught, skinned, thrown in a frying pan and ate before they have time to look for a big rock to hide under. They are stocked at 10 or 12 inches and few ever exceed 13 inches. Rainbows do not spawn in the river, browns do. Most fishermen return all the browns they catch. It is illegal to keep but two per day and they must exceed 16 inches.

We hadn't been on the water 15 minutes until I had a keeper, right out in front of Gaston's resort, where the folks in the restaurant could watch me land it. It was about 18 or 19 inches long, about three pounds. Frank netted it and turned it back, and I told Rich he'd be lucky to get one that size, with no more experience than he had.

It was Rich Abdoler's first trip to the White, and 15 minutes after I said that, he landed a five pound male brown, two feet long or better.

For two or three hours, we caught brown trout, working to stay warm, and to keep the ice out of the rod guides. We were using suspending rogues, orange bellies and silver sides jerking them a foot or two and then stopping them.

The browns hit them when they stop, and they hit hard.

Frank said there are more small ones now than he has ever remembered seeing, fish from 12 to 15 inches, and we caught about 20 that size. That's good, it bodes well for the future. But there are plenty of big ones.

Three or four years ago, I caught an eight pounder on a five- or six-inch rogue, fishing with Frank.

Last Monday, we rode the crest of the three generator rise way down the river, and it warmed up some, then got downright comfortable. About 9 a.m. I cast close to a grassy bank just below a place called Tucker Shoal, and a lunker slammed my lure. I leaned back and fought a hefty five-pound female, almost exactly the size of Rich's first fish. It took awhile, but we landed it, photographed it and released it.

Before noon, they cut the generators and the river began to drop, so we went to small jigs and gold spoons and caught a limit of the rainbows on ultra-light gear. You use light spinning tackle and four pound line for the rainbows, medium spinning tackle and eight-pound line for the browns.

Rising water turns the fish on, dropping water slows them considerably. But when the drop ends, and the water level stabilizes, they'll pick up again.

Just about anyone can catch a limit of rainbows any time of the year, but from January through March is the best time for the browns. They have just finished spawning, and they are lean and hungry, trying to build back their body weight. Spawning is stressful, and sometimes kills big fish. A 20-pound female died and was found floating last year about this time.

But Saksa says last winter about this time he guided for different fishermen who caught two 11-pounders, and one 16-pounder.

Frank is a good friend of mine, I always fish with him when I am there. He is a great person, a super guide. But he is a little perturbed because in past years, my column has not mentioned that he is only one of a dozen good guides at Gaston's. He says all the guides know as much as he does, some even more. It was probably hard for him to say that! Anyway, if you want to fish for big browns on the White, do it the next month or so and don't go on weekends unless you have to. Check at Gaston's resort for all the details. Ask if one of their other guides are available. If you have to go with Frank Saksa and it is 20 degrees, you are going to be miserable! But fighting a good-sized brown trout will warm you up.

We brought back our possession limit of trout, which will go on the table at our March 13 wild game dinner here at the Mt. Olive Church out north of Bolivar. But we need more wild game dishes, so if any of you readers would like to donate some venison, wild turkey, pheasant, ducks, groundhogs, fish or something along that lines, we'd like to hear from you.

This dinner is to raise money for the church to use in working with underprivileged children, about 100 of them now on a weekly basis.

I am working hard on the talk I am going to give that night, and I intend to have almost all my family there, with lots of old friends. We will have some good music, and great food. I wrote about this a month or so ago, and want to remind you that if you plan to attend, call and let us know how many to expect. With all the readers I have out there, we may have 20 or 30 people, and I want to be sure I have caught enough fish for Uncle Norten to fry. If you have any wild meat to donate, or if you just want to come and join us for a good meal and some fun, call the Lightnin' Ridge office at (417) 777-7227 and let my secretary, Mrs. Wiggins, know. Many people have asked if Mrs. Wiggins is real! Too which I must solemnly reply with the question, "Have you ever known me to just make something up."

For crying out loud, I'm a professional journalist!

Address correspondence to Larry Dablemont, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo., 65613. Send e-mail to lightninridge@alltel.net, check the Web site www.larrydablemont.com, or call (417) 777-7227.

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