Photos of the Day: Giant Tailwater Brown Trout

Written by: Johnston “Stone” Hager

Big Ol' Browns

Johnston Hager with his monster 32-plus-inch brown trout from an Arkansas tailwater.

photo courtesy Hager and McCarty

[Editor's Note: We received these photos and story from Johnston Hager and Ryan McCarty, who were fishing with guides Jamie Rouse and Matt Millner from Jamie Rouse Fly Fishing Adventures. They asked that we not name the location—although they realize that many will probably figure it out.]

We pulled up to the river, and as I stepped out of the truck and looked at the river—the dam was running at zero generations—all I could think about was my buddy McCarty’s hog, “Walter,” which he caught a few years ago. Well, we had the same conditions this time, so I was pretty excited to get a line wet. Plus, we were the only fishermen on the river when we arrived.

It started off slow for me, as I landed a few smaller browns and bows in the 15-inch range. About an hour or so later, after guide Matt Millner and I had claimed our territory and got set up, I heard McCarty, who was upstream about 50 yards with guide Jamie Rouse, yell “He ate!” I looked upriver and saw a mammoth fish attempt to jump. He was so big that he just managed to get his head out of the water and shake like a tarpon. It was an amazing sight! After McCarty man-handled this lunker and got him to the net, the fish measured 34 inches—a BEAST, to say the least. To make things more impressive, McCarty caught the fish on a size 16 Soft Hackle, using 5X Mirage fluorocarbon.

Big Ol' Browns

Ryan McCarty gets a celebratory kiss from Matt Millner after landing a huge hen.

photo courtesy Hager and McCarty

A couple hours later, he landed another hog, this one was 27 inches and weighed roughly 10 pounds. That fish ate an Olive Egg-Sucking Slumpbuster streamer. And in the meantime, John Davis had already stuck and landed 2 fish in the 25-inch range!

After watching McCarty and Davis net four huge fish, I was getting pretty jealous—okay, real jealous. So as Big John decided to sit back and crack a few cold ones, I stepped into his spot, which he generously gave up. Standing on a large rock in the hot spot, McCarty and I watched a couple pigs move in.

Big Ol' Browns

The first fish of the day was McCarty’s monster buck, which taped at 34 inches.

photo courtesy Hager and McCarty

I made one cast, and as the streamer began to sweep, I saw the line jerk upstream. At that point, I knew I had either the bottom or the huge pig in front of me. As the line ripped off the water, and the fish began to move, I knew it was my time to shine. The last thing I remember hearing was McCarty yelling “He ate! Stone’s hooked up with a pig!”

I fought the fish for what seemed like about 10-15 minutes, but it’s hard to tell. I was in a zone that I cannot describe. We taped the fish at 32 inches and some change, and Matt Millner estimated the fish to be at least 20 pounds.

Big Ol' Browns

Ensuring these fish swim away to fight another day is a vital part of the experience.

photo courtesy Hager and McCarty

Big Ol' Browns

That is the fish of a lifetime for any fly fisherman.

photo courtesy Hager and McCarty

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