It’s a cloudy, misty Sunday morning in January and Scott Hood called his catch as the fly fisherman stood in the clear, gently flowing water of the Lower Illinois River near Gore.
“Always cast to a rising fish,” he said, as his line curled through the gray morning toward the water and his “fly that catches everything” — a wooly bugger variation — dropped gently near ripplets left by a rising rainbow trout.
“Come on, take it,” he coached a trout he could feel playing with the fly as he retrieved his line bit by bit. The hiss of line springing taut between fish and fisherman as it whipped up out of the water soon followed, Hood’s rod bowed and he said, “Ah, there he is.”
Another one of countless rainbow trout Hood catches week after week on the river near Oklahoma’s “Trout Capital,” an hour’s drive from Tulsa, came to his net and was released to play another day.
Winter is a “no worries” time — and a great time — for fishing the Lower Illinois River, Hood said. But for a guy with no worries, he sure has a lot on his mind lately, such as summertime on this river and how that time of year hurts the fish.
“In the winter, it doesn’t matter as much. It’s cold and the water has plenty of oxygen and the fish do fine,” he said.
May through November, it’s a whole other story. That’s when the river suffocates in the heat. It gets thirsty but has no permission to drink.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is charged with managing the “conservation pool” behind Tenkiller Ferry Dam, and 100 percent of that water is allocated to public and private entities — 93 percent of it to Southwest Power Administration. For the past several years, water to support the lower river was “borrowed” from the now-defunct Sequoyah Fuels utility company under conditional approval of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, which ruled…