Fathers and sons on the White River

By Kenneth L. Kieser
Northeast News
April 4, 2012

Hunter, Zane and Michael show off their White River trout. Lawrence Taylor

Waters flowing down the White River mark passages of time. Fathers and sons have fished and hunted these waters for centuries. Trips to this river started as a means of survival in food and clothing. Today, returns are measured in recreation and good meals, but fathers and sons still return.

Glen Wheeler and Lawrence Taylor treasure these moments with their sons on this prime stretch of Arkansas River. Watching Zane Wheeler, 9, Hunter Taylor, 8, and Michael Taylor, 5, hook and reel in trout makes the drive and expense seem unimportant and the best of times.

Both men fished with their fathers and love to remember golden days when responsibility meant making good grades and mowing the yard. Dad’s kind looks of approval or perhaps a soft laugh while reeling in a good fish was silently received by the boys and mentally stored for later days, even though neither young man realized the importance of sharing time with their dads. But now their dad’s are gone and both men would give a year’s wages to see that kind look of approval or hear that soft laugh once again.

Zane, Michael and Hunter all have one goal in mind on every visit: to catch the biggest trout. They love their annual visit to Gaston’s Trout Lodge and talk about it throughout the year to friends and family. But they love this fish-camp experience and make sure their dads bring them back to the long, green John boats used at Gaston’s, similar to the old wooden versions guides used on the river in days before the dams when the White River was still pristine.

The water was warmer then and guides like the late Jim Owens, former mayor of Branson, Mo., took parties downriver. Dams eventually sent water from the lake bottom through chutes, making White River water ice cold and perfect for trout. But the boys don’t care about that. They just want to catch the biggest fish and impress their dads.
Wheeler and Taylor exercise remarkable patience while making sure their sons have the best chances of catching trout. A constant vigil is required to make sure baits are correct and casts are uneventful, or in other words, insuring no hooks are later dug out of scalps.

But kids get bored when fish bites are slow. Then a million questions start, like: “Dad, why can’t I catch a trout now?” and “When’s lunch?” and “How much longer are we going to fish?” and “Are there weasels in the river; can we catch one?”

Gaston’s White River guides pay attention to moments like this and are very talented in finding fish through constantly changing conditions, but more importantly, they are patient with young or beginning fishermen. So when the bite is slow, they motor to other fishing areas and use different techniques. New hope returns to young minds even when the trout are biting slowly.

“I just like to go down there and catch trout,” said Zane Wheeler. “I like spending time with dad, too.  I always catch more fish than him. But he never gets mad.”

Zane and Hunter have made this trip with their dads four years straight. Both know how it feels to be Michael on his first trip and were surprised or perhaps annoyed when he caught a trout as big as theirs, his first trout ever. I watched both Taylor and Wheeler show a look of pride when their kids compared fish just before a fine trout shoreline lunch.

“I caught my trout by myself,” Michael said. “Dad was there but he didn’t help much. He just showed me how to do it.”

Wheeler and Taylor both learned the importance of these golden years with their sons on the White River and many other fishing spots. Their fathers planted the seeds of fishing in both men and now they are continuing this tradition.  Someday these young men will return to the river with their kids and will longingly talk about those golden days when their dads took them fishing.

“I look forward to coming here every year with dad,” Hunter said. “I love out fishing him, too.”

Zane, Hunter and Michael will remember the looks on their father’s faces when a fish was caught or they baited their first hook, and later they will realize that all was because of a father’s love for his sons. This legacy will continue through many centuries by fathers to their sons and daughters for memories to be stored in their mind’s special place, and some just call it fishing.