We were at Gaston’s White River Resort in northern Arkansas with a dozen other outdoor writers, and it was cold. Fact is, it was late March and felt like January. The plan called for my wife, Cherie, and I to fish in different boats with different guides every day and, out of pity, I’d given her a coat that was warmer than the one I was wearing because she hadn’t brought one heavy enough. We were catching fish and releasing most but from time to time, the guide would drop one into a little cooler in the back of the long, skinny, fiberglass Jon boat that was invented right there on the White.
A half-hour before noon, my guide advised me we’d head down the river at the end of my cast. The little boat skimmed down the river at almost full throttle with me in the front almost freezing. We pulled up to the bank where a half-dozen of the little green boats were beached and I saw a frosty looking Cherie getting out of one. While we were waiting for a space on the shore to pull in, the guide showed me how to shuck a trout. I say shuck because it was much more like shucking an ear of corn than cleaning a fish. First, he’d make a cut from the anal vent to just under the gills. Then, he’d make two cuts on the side of the head and break the fish’s spine while pulling down. The result was one hand holding the head and skin while the other held a skinned, dressed fish.
He shucked six fish and we headed to a picnic shelter with a huge fire and dinosaur-sized skillets containing fried potatoes, barbecue beans, hush puppies and dozens of shucked trout. The fire drew us in for the heat and the aroma would have kept us there had our clothes caught on fire. A blessing was said and we all sat down at tables covered with steaming food and ate one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
Gaston’s White River Resort is the first and the most prestigious trout guiding operation on the White River, a stretch of water so well known for trout fishing it has a line of fly fishing equipment named after it. When Bull Shoals dam was built in the ‘50s, Jim Gaston’s father realized there was an opportunity for world-class fishing in the cold water from the bottom of the lake. Water levels change drastically during the day, offering a wide variety of fishing opportunities from deep water drifting to shallow water fishing with dry flies with trailers and streamers.
Nestled along the eastern bank of the river, the White River Resort consists of 77 cabins with capacity from two to twenty. The rustic cabins are clean and comfortable with large decks, many with fireplaces. While most cabins have a full kitchen, you might choose to eat in the magnificent restaurant. With thousands of antique items lining every foot of the walls, including antique boat motors and bicycles hanging from the rafters, Gaston’s Restaurant, open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. during most of the year, overlooks the river and serves up local food that’s almost as good as the shore lunch. With lights shining on the river, you can watch trophy brown trout cruise the shallows just below the boat docks.
Guide service is less than $300 per day for two anglers for a full day and the fishing is excellent all year due to the cold water coming from the bottom of Bull Shoals Lake. We caught rainbows and browns, the largest fish of our trip being Cherie’s 19” brown. We witnessed a 19-pound brown caught by another writer fishing the same day as us. Fly anglers and spin fishermen can do equally well. If you fish Gaston’s make sure you have the shore lunch, it’s the best part of the day and something everyone should experience.
This is a class act. Gaston’s knows what they’re doing and they’ve been doing it longer than any other fishing venue on the White River. From driving in the gate to turning in your key at the end of the trip, they do everything right.
I’m on the board of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and every member I’ve talked to has high regards for Gaston’s. I’ve also talked to a couple of corporates who’ve used them as well as individuals who go there every year. I’ve never heard a negative other than weather on a specific trip, something no outfitter can control.
Out of curiosity, I prices other lodges in the area and Gaston’s is competitively priced but with better accommodations and, reportedly, better food. There is no better value than getting the best for about the same price as average.
Good food, rustic but comfortable lodging, friendly guides who know the river and great fishing. This is certainly in the top five fishing locations I’ve experienced in years of outdoor writing.
Images by Dick Jones