COTTER, Ark. – Arkansas’s trout tailwaters are famous for incredible scenery, fast action and some of the biggest brown trout in the world – just ask Kansas angler Calvin Johnston.
Johnston, a resident of Olathe, Kansas, was enjoying his first trout-fishing trip to The Natural State Friday, February 27, when he hooked into a fish that will have people up and down the White River talking for years.
“I’m a bass angler,” Johnston said. “But we have a few ponds in Kansas that are stocked with some small rainbow trout. I’ve gone to one of them a couple of times and maybe caught five or six rainbows, but this was my first real trout fishing trip and my first brown trout ever.”
Johnston grew up in Little Rock and graduated J.A. Fair High School before moving to Kansas. He says his brother and brother’s friends from the Bryant Police Department always go to Rainbow Drive Resort on the White River for a trout trip during this time of year. This year he decided to join them to see what the trout fishing was like.
“I used the same rod and setup that I use to drop-shot fish for bass,” Johnston said. “A medium-light six-foot, nine-inch spinning rod with 15-pound-test braid tied to a 10-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.”
When the group arrived, the current was flowing too heavily to wade more than a few feet from shore, and the cold weather had most of the party taking a break to warm up Friday afternoon.
“It was getting to be sundown, and I know that’s always a great time to fish for bass,” Johnston said. “So I headed down to the bank to cast a little. I didn’t even have any waders or a net and just cast from the bank. That’s when she hit.”
Johnston says nearly all the line peeled off the reel on the fish’s first run.
“I’ve never fought a fish like that before,” Johnston said. “She was running around rocks and grass and there were several times I thought I’d lose her. It felt like I fought this fish for 20 minutes.”
Without a net to land the fish or even waders to go in after it, Johnston was stuck. “I started to yell for anyone to help,” he said. “One man finally asked what was going on. When he saw the fish roll at the surface, he ran to get a net. He said he’s been fishing there since he was seven years old and had never seen a fish like that in his life.”
After a few tries, the pair finally managed to get the trout’s head in the net and pull her to shore.
“Everyone started to come out of their cabins to see the fish,” Johnston said. “One man brought out a handheld Rapala scale, and the fish measured 40 pounds on it. That’s when I knew I needed to call the Game and Fish and get this thing weighed officially.”
AGFC Trout Management Program Coordinator Christy Graham and District Fisheries Biologist Jeremy Risley met Johnston to weigh the fish on certified scales at the Mountain Home Field Office.
“It’s official weight and length was 38 pounds, 7 ounces, and it was 36.6 inches long,” Graham said. “I’ve looked into former records for brown trout in Arkansas, and can only find official records of two brown trout being larger –Rip Collins’ former world-record from the Little Red River that weighed 40 pounds, 4 ounces and the previous world-record fish from the Norfork Tailwater that weighed 38 pounds, 9 ounces.
“This is the biggest brown ever recorded for the White River,” Graham said. “We are extremely pleased by Mr. Johnston’s catch. The White and North Fork Rivers have always been known as world-class trout fisheries and this is just further evidence that anglers still have the opportunity to catch trophy fish.”