Canoe Vibes | Fishing Arkansas | Gabe Levin Mark Vlaskamp

Fishing Arkansas: Nothing Moves Fast in Yellville

Nothing moves fast in Yellville. The north central Arkansas city named for Archie Yell, the winner of the last duel in the city’s streets – or so they say, is home to 1,312 people and an economy that is driven by White River tourism and the Ranger Boats factory right next door in Flippin.

“We hit rush hour” Gabe joked as we pulled up to the three-car-deep line at the city’s big four-way stop on our way to load the boat and fish the White. It didn’t take me many blocks after the traffic cleared to realize things were going to be a little different in Yellville, especially compared to my most recent road trip stop at the college bar scene in Fayetteville.

The Paying Client Treatment

Gabe Levin – my college buddy turned professional fly fishing guide – catered to my unspoken hangover by getting everything set up on the river: unpacking all of the gear, rigging the 20’ Shawnee Jet Boat, and making sure I was comfortable with a Miller Light, a homemade ham sandwich, and one of Betty Crocker’s famous soft-out-of-the-box double chocolate chunk brownies. According to Gabe, being a successful guide is all about customer service. After a couple of years, it becomes an old habit and, well, regular fishing friends like me benefit from that.

I didn’t complain.

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On the ride upriver I couldn’t have been more comfortable except for the 5wt staring back at me, waiting patiently for its chance to turn Gabe’s day off with a friend into another day at the office guiding a noob tangled in a web of nymph rigs and excess fly line. Luckily for him, I snuck in just above satisfactory on his client ability range-o-meter – a scale that seems to need an increase in expectations soon. Luckily for me, we were on fish.

Nothing moves fast in Yellville – except the big browns.* With personalized roots from our college baseball days, Gabe would give me the classic supportive and encouraging guide treatment whenever I set a fish late, only to jump into my next false cast and mumble curse words to myself.

“Still batting above .500, bud” was obviously fake encouragement on an easy missed fish. It’s like the “it’s not you, it’s me” line. You know it’s fake, but it’s nice to think for a second that maybe you didn’t blow it as bad as you actually did.

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While my average on 8-14” rainbows would have dethroned Ted Williams’ .406, my day at the plate against 14” plus browns was less than memorable.

0-3. Hit the showers, kid.

Two Guides for the Price of None

On the second day, we traded the 20’ Shawnee for two Old Town canoes, added Gabe’s brother – who, lucky me, is also a fly fishing guide – to the crew, and decided to stay a little further west and slow float Crooked Creek between Pyatt and MC 4008.

The current was swift and the clear water was surprisingly chilly, which fit uncomfortably with the Levin brothers’ first rule of wade fishing the holes on Crooked: the fish don’t bite unless your balls get wet.

They did. And, they did.

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I’m not much of an angler but with two guides on their home creek, I did my best good-angler impersonation – all of us hammering smallies, up until I snapped my rod at the handle trying to get my tube freed up from a monster north central Arkansas rock. Up until my rods unexpected dust bite, there were holes where one of us always had a fish in hand, making for some action packed fifteen-minute stretches.

On the morning of the third day, I left. But it wasn’t my typical rushed road trip exit. I sat at the kitchen table while we all drank our coffee and played with the animals. I became a casualty of the Yellville-time that I mocked just two days earlier. Between the hospitality, the fishing, and the views, I didn’t want to go anywhere at all, let alone go fast.

While only two of my five days in Arkansas – including other stops in Conway and Fayetteville – made their way into this story, I do want to thank everyone that made my stay in the natural state a little easier and a lot more enjoyable:

  • Neil and Jamie Groat – I think one of my batting practice bombs just landed. Have one of the guys go pick it up so they don’t have punishment running on Monday.
  • Aaron Bowen – ///
  • Brad Bowen – Good to see you bright and early. Hope you had a better rest of the day.
  • Andrew Thames and Megan Pierce – Miss you guys. Sorry AB is an idiot.
  • Fayettechill Guys – Loved the HQ. Keep up the good business.
  • Naked Wade – Thanks for the beers, amigo.
  • Ben Levin – I’m still a huge fan of you on the internet. You in real life isn’t so bad either.
  • SoCo and Sammy – Thanks for letting Cammi share your riverbank and eat your grasshoppers.
  • Gabe Levin – The home cooked meals, fishing tips, and all around set up you gave me was too much. Thank you. Let’s mash the Devil’s next.


canoe fishing, canoeing, editorial, fishing, fly fishing, road trip, trip reports

Mark Vlaskamp

After four years as Marketing Director for Yak Gear, Mark now partners with creative outdoor brands and pursues the gray area between freelancing and (f)unemployment. Currently, he is floating between Austin and Houston, TX - still searching for new water, cool people, and cheap beer.

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