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Fly fishermen rejoice! NAFF’s annual Sowbug Roundup makes triumphant return

Twin Lake Area Fisherman, the moment you’ve been waiting for is finally here!

After a two-year-long hiatus, the North Arkansas Fly Fishers’ (NAFF) annual Sowbug Roundup finally returns to Mountain home on March 24-26 at the Baxter County Fairgrounds.

The big fishing event kicks off from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday and will run through Saturday. The admission price for all three days is $10, with admission being free for parents who bring children 12 or younger.

“It costs $10 to get in for all three days, and here’s the kicker, you have to listen closely, if a kid brings an adult, they both get in for free,” said Mike Tipton, chairman of the Sowbug Roundup. “We’re pretty liberal on it. So for a family to come to the Sowbug Roundup, it don’t cost anything.”

A photo from the 2019 annual Sowbug Roundup. Photo provided by Mike Tipton.

This year’s roundup will feature demonstrations, seminars, and free fly tying classes from over 100 tiers from around the country. While attending, guests can feel free to sit down at a fly fisherman’s table for one on one stories and tips. Experience for those attending range from beginners to experts in the field.

The Sowbug Roundup will also include food from Bookworm Café and live music from Rio Trio, who will perform at the invitation-only dinner for VIPs and special guests on Friday night. Free coffee will be available for all attendees.

This year’s event will feature 20 vendors for guests to visit and shop with. Tipton said all vendors would be fly fishing related.

“We don’t have any Ginsu knives or anything like that,” Tipton said.

NAFF will also be holding various giveaways and raffles throughout the Sowbug Roundup’s three days of fun. Children in attendance can expect to walk away with a prize for attending.

“We’re trying to get young guys involved,” said Tommy Hagan, a board member of NAFF. “Well, on Saturday, we have some contacts, and we’ve got a bunch of fishing rods and all kinds of [stuff], and we give much of this stuff away to the kids, and it’s fun. You talk about some lit-up smiles. Everybody gets something.”

Special attendees for this year will include Duane Hada, a local Mountain Home artist and famous fly tier and guide, and Dave Whitlock of Tahlequah, Okla., one of the world’s oldest and most knowledgeable fly fishermen.

NAFF has worked with Whitlock on some of their various charitable projects, such as designing the improvements to Dry Creek Run. This year, NAFF is establishing an endowment in honor of Whitlock to provide funding for future improvements and maintenance for Dry Creek Run.

Whitlock was a former resident of the Twin Lakes area some 15 years ago.

Dry Creek Run is one of the most popular fly fishing spots in the Twin Lakes area and is located right across the street from Norfork National Fish Hatchery. Tipton said the spot is famous because fishermen are “guaranteed to catch a fish if they go there.”

Dave Whitlock (left) poses for a photo at the 2019 annual Sowbug Roundup. Photo provided by Mike Tipton.

“He’s the guy that really got fly fishermen to fish warm water, like farm ponds and stuff,” Tipton said. “You know, the first to say you could have fun fishing that kind of stuff. He’s in his 80s now, and he’s pretty amazing.”

This year’s Sowbug Roundup was finally approved by NAFF after COVID-19 restrictions around the county began to be lifted two years after the pandemic spread. The Roundups for 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the pandemic out of concern for causing a superspreader event.

Tipton said this year’s Sowbug Roundup should be a return to form for NAFF and expects that attendance will match previous roundups but also expects that some regulars, including the few international fly tiers that have attended in the past, to not be able to attend due to health concerns and travel restrictions.

Tipton said around 900 people attended the last Sowbug Roundup. Free masks and hand sanitizer will be available for all guests and fly tiers attending this week’s event.

“We had a drop-dead date this year of Feb. 28 that we were going to make our final decision on,” Hagan said. “Thank the Lord, the pendulum started swinging, and it’s good. We’ve over 2,000 masks donated to us. I’ve collected over a thousand pens for people, so for all of the auctions, they’ll have their own pen.”

A fly tyer works on a lure at the 2019 annual Sowbug Roundup. Photo by Mike Tipton.

Money raised from the Sowbug Roundup prepares for next year’s roundup and towards conservation and charity, like at Dry Creek Run or with NAFF’s pavilion at McCabe Park in Mountain Home.

Tipton said NAFF has had to be frugal these past few years due to a lack of fundraising because of COVID-19 but expects the organization to return to its generous giving roots as life returns to normal.

This year’s Sowbug Roundup is set to be a fun time and officially kicks off Thursday morning here in town.

NAFF Philanthropy over the Years – 2022

Annual Donations

$6,000 – $12,000 College Scholarships

$4,000 – Cross Trail Outfitters (youth outdoor program)

$2,000 – $3,000 to present a “name” fly fishing speaker to the public at Bull Shoals White River State Park

$300 – Fly fishing related books and videos to the Baxter County Library

One Time Donations

$17,000 — Pavilion in McCabe Park (2017)

$7,000 – Parking area and picnic tables for Roundhouse Shoals access (2019)

$5,000 – Dry Run Creek renovation (2009)

$1,700 – Steps at Roundhouse Shoals (2013)

$1,500 – Dry Run Creek maintenance (2019)

$1,500 – Raceway diffusers at Norfork National Fish Hatchery

$1,500 – Support of Vibert Box Instruction Video (IFFF DVD)

$1,000 – Towards covered picnic area at White Hole Access (2011)

$1,000 – Research project on native lamprey eels (2012)

$1,000 – Trout Nature Center Banquets ($250 / 2011-2014)        

$500 – Alternative School Fly Fishing Class (2013)

$500 – Alternative School Fly Fishing Class (2014)

$600 – Alternative School Fly Fishing Class (2015)

$500 – Contribute toward cost of live music at Cotter Trout Fest (2014 – 2018) Crooked Creek facilities and support of USA Youth Fly Fishing team

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