Fishing the rivers of Southern Missouri, Brian Wise never thought about being a guide — but he’s been at it now for more than 15 years.
“I pretty much fell into guiding in 2001. I had never really… had any aspirations to be a guide, but I got an offer to try it out and loved it,” he says.
Wise and his service, Fly Fishing the Ozarks, specialize in putting their clients on the big, wild rainbow trout that rule the river in his part of the world — the Missouri/Arkansas border country. His home water is the North Fork of the White River, and the thriving population of rainbows in the river hasn’t been stocked in more than half a century.
According to Wise, “The river is a lot like streams you find in the West, with a lot of the same food base as well.”
The wild rainbows make the North Fork of the White River unique in the region but also challenging, even for an experienced guide like Wise.
“I really like helping people figure out the ‘little things’ that take them to the next level in the sport, [but] as a guide, these fish can make you look like a hero one day and a total idiot the next,” he says.
Yet the wily guide relishes the cat-and-mouse game he plays with his quarry. “Once you get them figured out, their patterns change and you have to start all over. So fun.”
But the rainbows that Wise puts his clients on are not the fish that keep him awake at night.
“I am a total big fish guy… [and] I am really more of a brown trout guy. Big brown trout have a strangle hold on me.” he readily admits. “Once a brown trout reaches a certain size, they become major meateaters. These fish get very predacious… and will literally eat fish that are half their size.”
And brown trout do get big in the Ozarks. Three browns in the 40 lb. range have been pulled from area rivers, including a 38 lb. 7 oz. winter monster that came out of the White River in 2015. (The world record is just over 42 lbs. and was caught in New Zealand).
“The White River is also at my doorstep, add those rivers to the North Fork of the White River and I live in big brown trout mecca, so I have the option to chase big brown trout all year long,” Wise says.
When targeting brown trout, the guide looks for “any change in depth, structure, or even color.” These are all “great place[s] to find a big brown.”
However, when you’re using a fly rod to chase a trout the size of a five year-old boy, you need to make some adjustments.
“Chasing these fish with saltwater sized fly rods, sinking lines, and 9″ flies on rivers in Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas really makes for a fun time,” Wise says.
For Wise, “The main thing about chasing big brown trout is persistence. You have to keep going. Long days turn into long weeks of chasing these things, but… you keep your head down and keep casting…. You have to be willing to change tactics, flies, locations.”
Wise’s success as a guide and as a reeler is not only his persistence in chasing but also his persistence in learning — and then sharing what he learns with his clients.
“Fly fishing is a constant learning thing, you never really master it–you just hope to scratch the surface.” And to Wise, sharing his knowledge with others is something he loves. “As a guide, if you can’t teach, you should probably find something else to do with your time.”