Fog hangs low over a chilly summer morning ride up the White River outside Cotter, AR. Concealed within it is a flotilla of 20-foot-long johnboats with hopeful Midwesterners dunking grocery store shrimp cocktails off the gunnels, their trip’s success measured in how many dead rainbows lay in the cooler at the end of the day (thus reinforcing my disdain for hatchery rainbow trout). My friend Matt, running the tiller, tells me to keep my ears and eyes open for the other boats in the fog. Matt has been guiding the White for a while now. His former life in resort kitchen management is mentioned as an afterthought when he breaks out the charcuterie boards for client lunches.
Over the whine of the jet motor he says, “The dumbasses you gotta really watch for are the bait guys, who will throw two anchors and set their boats up perpendicular to the current to fish. Twenty feet of bad day right across the river.” I had moderately risked life and limb for less-assured interactions with oversized brown trout in the past, but a little sphincter constriction in these types of situations is inevitable. A few more uneventful minutes pass, lulling my brain into a contemplative state. Just as I am taking mental inventory of my pockets, the boat ass-slides left, narrowly missing a bait guide tucked into the fog, perpendicular to the current.
“See? I told ya,” Matt says, letting me know it’s OK to breathe again.