KW Morrow, White River

May 31st, 2004

Tradition Lives On at River Run Outfitters, Branson, MO
By KW Morrow (silvermallard)

For almost a century and a half, float-fishing trips on the White River have endured the test of time as a mainstay of the Ozarks tourism economy. In the days before the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams that created Beaver, Table Rock, Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals Lakes, the White River drew anglers from all over the world seeking Smallmouth Bass. Several float-fishing outfitters regularly plied the river's waters with "sports," loaded two to a boat, in long, narrow jon boats beginning near the headwaters of the White River in the hills of Northwest Arkansas and continuing through the stretches of the River in Southwest Missouri until the river enters the agricultural plains of Northeast Arkansas. Many of these legendary floats were as much as ten days long, covering hundreds of miles of pristine riverway.

With the advent of the dams in the 1950s came cold water and large lakes that decimated the warm water stream fishery. In response, the Missouri Conservation Commission and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission embarked upon one of the most aggressive trout stocking programs the world has ever known, focusing on the new cold water tailwater sections of the White River created by the dams in both states. And a new era of angling tourism was born. Also falling victim to the dams were the long float trips. But many historians and angling experts agree that it was here, on the White River of the Ozarks, that the modern commercial float-fishing trip was born. (A.J. McClane, New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia).

Perhaps none of these White River outfitters was more renowned than Branson, Missouri's Owen Boat Line (pictured above circa 1940), owned by long-time Branson Mayor, Jim Owen. Times have changed for Branson's tourism economy, now one of the largest in the country thanks to country and bluegrass music, theme parks, and the large lakes; but the float-fishing trip lives on due to the vision and passion of Stan and Carolyn Parker of Branson's River Run Outfitters.

Located in the historically quaint downtown shopping district of the modern-day sprawling tourist community of Branson, River Run Outfitters opened their doors on May 14, 1999. Two years later, they gained the coveted Orvis endorsement, a long-time hallmark of quality angling goods and services. The proprietors, Stan and Carolyn Parker, have fished the White River system since 1965 and began focusing on guiding on Lake Taneycomo in the mid-1990s. Carolyn Parker is a graduate of the Joan Wulff fly-casting course in Lew Beach, New York, and a member of the board of directors of International Women Fly Fishers. She also chairs the Industry Committee of IWFF and serves on the board of the Branson Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Carolyn began guiding when they opened the store in 2000, and specializes in female clients, adding a dynamic to the business that is becoming a hallmark of modern fly angling: the growth in popularity among women. Visitors to River Run Outfitters' shop in downtown Branson will undoubtedly also meet Shannon Roberts, a veteran of the fly-fishing and sporting goods industry of over two decades and expert fly-tying instructor who moved to Branson from Colorado several years ago.

The fly shop offers a wide array of fishing products ranging from Orvis and Sage to Scientific Anglers and Simms. They also stock a full line of fly-tying materials and tools including Umpqua, Wapsi, Dyna-King, Made2Fly, Hareline, and Cascade Crest, just to name a few. The third Saturday of every month, River Run offers free fly-tying classes to the public. They also offer classes in fishing tactics and techniques and fly-casting in addition to half-day and full day wade or float fishing trips.

Pioneers in their own right, River Run Outfitters is responsible for the growing popularity of western-style drift boat fishing on Lake Taneycomo. And it is their growing status as the leading drift-fishing outfitter in the area that harkens back to the days of Owen Boat Lines, which also operated out of downtown Branson for several decades during the early and mid-20th century (pictured at right). River Run owns and operates Clackacraft drift boats hauled by Ford Expeditions and Mercury Mountaineers. All equipment is top of the line and provided for their anglers, or customers may use their own. All full-day floats and wade trips include shore lunch. River Run employs several Orvis-endorsed guides, and can handle multiple bookings per day. Lake Taneycomo is an excellent year-round trout fishery. Primary species are Brown and Rainbow trout. So the best time to visit is whenever you can get away.

River Run's fly shop hours of operation are from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM, seven days per week. They are located at 212 S. Commercial Street, Branson, Missouri 65616. They can be reached toll free by phone at 877-699-FISH or on the Web at www.RiverRunOutfitters.com. The photo on the left is River Run Guide, Phil Surat, with the author after a day on the water. ~ Ken

About Ken:

Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1988, and spent the next several years serving in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the nation's service in 1993.

Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian, having penned articles and stories that have appeared in several national hunting publications like North American Hunter magazine, on GunMuse.com, in regional and local newspapers, and historical and literary journals. He also provides hunting and dog training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods retailers nationwide and works with other outdoors businesses and conservation organizations in the fields of public relations, promotional marketing, fund-raising, and advertising. He also is a partner in Silver Mallard Properties, LLC. He currently resides with his wife, Wilma, their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe, and their Labrador Retriever, Jake, in Branson, Missouri, where he founded the Branson/Tri-Lakes Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in 1998.


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