Most of us try our whole lives to break the hallowed 30-inch mark with a brown trout. Many who achieve it travelled off the continent with that very goal in mind. Kari Gentry, a registered nurse from Conway, Arkansas, was able to lock up that milestone on her first ever day of fly fishing.

On May 23, Gentry and her husband Austin floated the White River near Cotter, Arkansas, with guide Ben Levin of Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher.

“This is a Saturday on a Memorial Day weekend and there’s like 9 million boats on the water,” Levin told MeatEater. “My expectations and hopes are just to get them into a few fish, show them a nice time, have Kari, especially Kari, catch a few fish. The last thing you expect to do is catch a giant fish on a Saturday afternoon, on a holiday weekend, in full sunshine.”

Right off the bat, Austin Gentry caught his own personal best brown trout, a 19.5-incher. Kari got in the game with her first fish on the fly, a rainbow. The float was going quite well but Levin was quickly growing tired of all the disturbance from so much motorboat traffic, so he pulled off the main channel into a riffle and dropped anchor.

“I was just doing some instruction with them on some upstream nymphing and it was working,” Levin said. “We were catching plenty of rainbows and the odd normal-sized brown. And Kari hooks this rainbow, 10 inches long or something. Fishing is kind of a second choice right now ‘cause we’re just kicking back watching the boats go by.”

Then Levin saw a big swirl. And it looked like Kari’s line was hung up on the bottom.

“Sure enough, all of a sudden I see the fish, which is just this big, old, giant, dark brown. It kind of rolls up near the surface, right where her line is. And I knew immediately what was going on because this has happened three or four times. But I’ve never actually landed the big fish.”

Brown trout will become primarily piscivorous past a certain age, meaning they mostly stop eating insects in favor of meatier meals. This one tried to eat the rainbow trout on Kari’s line.

“I knew that big brown was either latched onto her rainbow or was still chasing it one way or another. So, I was just like, ‘let him have it, give it a little bit of loose line.’ And she did. And this goes on for four or five minutes. I was not expecting it to hold on that long. But I was like, ‘alright, well let’s just play this out as much as we can and see what happens.’”

Levin coached Kari on how to apply as much tension as the 9-foot, 5-weight rod and 4X tippet could take.

“She was like cool as a cucumber the whole time. And I actually think being a newbie, being like her very first time to do this, I think that allowed her to sort of not even realize what was out there on the end of her line and not freak out. I can guarantee you that if it was somebody who’d been fly fishing a long time and they actually saw that fish that they would have just like pooped their pants right away and snapped it off. She was just cool and calm and just did everything I told her to do.”

Kari diligently recovered line and worked the fish closer to the boat. After a 15-minute tug-of-war, Levin reached out as far as he could with the net and scooped the fish. He said they all nearly fainted with elation. The giant fish measured 31 inches long with a 19-inch girth. The size 14 caddis pupae was hooked perfectly in the roof of its mouth. Levin thinks it swallowed the rainbow and got to keep the meal. Win-win.

Austin captured a few photos and then they released the fish without even attracting attention from the numerous boats nearby.

“I just really appreciated all that Ben did for us,” Kari told MeatEater. “There’s no way that we ever would have been in the right area to catch something like that, but we also wouldn’t have been able to get it in the net if he hadn’t been such a great guide.”

Kari works as a labor and delivery nurse at Baptist Health-North Little Rock Hospital, which has been treating patients for Covid-19.

“We have been lucky, but it can be stressful and tiring dealing with all the changes during the current situation,” Kari said. “We have kayaks so we have tried to go a few times. We love to be outside so I’m glad that we have still been able to be outdoors. It has been a great stress reliever.”

Kari grew up catching catfish in Mississippi but she’s excited to add fly angling to her arsenal.

“I’ve already bought in. I’ve already bought a pole,” she said. “I was actually using all of their gear just to kind of see if I would like it. And that was the first thing that some people were saying afterwards, ‘You’ve most definitely made a fly fisher out of her now!’”