Monday, February 1, 2021

Horned Toads For Trout

       Years ago a fishing tackle company invited a number of top-flight outdoor writers to come down to the White River in Arkansas and go fishing. When they couldn’t get them all to show up, they called and asked if I wanted to come. The company was giving away their fishing lures free, and a day of trout fishing with guides. I thought there might be a good story there, so I went. I also never turn down a free fishing trip! The guide I met was a fellow by the name of Donald Cranor. He was a good one, and also a good story.


       He told me, “Rainbow trout aren’t the smartest fish in the water!” On the White, I caught those rainbow trout on a 5-inch-long suspending rogue lure with which we were actually hoping to catch a lunker brown trout or two.  I have caught some very nice browns on the White, lots of them in the 4 to 8 pound range, every one of them on a suspending rogue. I have never even seen one above 10 pounds but a guide like Cranor, who is out there everyday, sees quite a number of them.


       February is the time to catch big browns, and Cranor had seen quite a few of them, the latest a 17-pounder, taken on a white jig. He told me that he likes to get the brown trout on large minnows, which he thinks is the best bait when the river is full and flowing, as it is right now, and was then.  He prefers that bait because he can control how they drift and the client only has to set the hook and fight the fish. The rogues and white jigs get the most fishing time. Cranor says any novice can fish a rogue; you just jerk it and stop it, jerk it and stop it. And the white jig, especially efficient when the shad are dying in Bull Shoals and coming through the dam, is also easy to fish when the river is running high.


       Novice or not, I fished that rogue lure all morning, and I probably hooked and released a couple dozen rainbows, keeping my limit of five bigger ones for a wild game dinner that was coming up. Rainbow trout, no matter where they come from in the Ozarks, are grown in hatcheries and do not reproduce.  They are pretty much always going to be dumb, and ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of them will be 12 or 14 inches maximum length. But they are good to eat, especially when you grew up eating bass and catfish.


       Guide Donald Cranor was a fine guy to get to know, and we exchanged hours of fishing stories seeing who could outdo the other. It was a draw, but I’ll relate one really funny story he told. Not too long ago, he took an Arkansas outdoor writer fishing, and put a big minnow on a hook, trying to help the writer catch a lunker trout. Sure enough, a hefty fish took it, and headed down over a shoal with the bait. Cranor said the writer let the fish take it for awhile, then jerked hard. The fish had swallowed the whole thing and had the hook down in his gullet, where there was also lodged a big nine-inch horny-head chub, a 10 or 12-inch sucker-like fish with little knobs on its head.  Apparently the big brown trout had just eaten the chub, and when the fisherman jerked that hook, he buried it into the chub and it came right out of the trout, with that horny-head on the hook. Cranor explained what an oddity it was, hooking that horny-head, and thus allowing the trout to get away. The writer, as many of today’s suburban outdoor writers often do, got things mixed up, and in his newspaper story allowed as how he had hooked a horned- toad in the big trout’s gullet, confusing a considerable number of readers.  Cranor’s own father called him and wanted to know what kind of big stories he was telling people! 

    “Arkansas ain’t never had no horned toads,” he said.


See my website, where you can see my outdoor magazine. In March we will publish the 68th Issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and the 14th issue of our Journal of the Ozarks magazine.  You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo, or email me at



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