Fishing guide Ron Armagost
Ron Armagost was relaxing at home on a sweltering July morning when his phone rang.
He considered not answering it.
“It was about 10 or 11 o’clock and already over 100 degrees,” recalled Armagost, whose work as a fishing guide had taught him to be selective about taking calls.
“When it’s real hot you learn not to answer your telephone,” he added with a laugh. “You might want to let somebody else go, you know. After you been out here a while, you learn things like that.”
He decided the call probably wasn’t fishing related.
“I thought, ‘There ain’t nobody who wants to go fishing in this.’ So I answered the phone, and it was my boss. He said, ‘I got some people who want to go fishing.’ ”
Armagost didn’t mind. He has been a fishing guide for 37 years and has spent most of his life on the water. For the past 13 years he’s been guiding out of Gaston’s White River Resort on Arkansas’ White River, the trout-fishing mecca that flows below Bull Shoals Dam. He’d been at Gaston’s about three years when the phone rang that hot July morning.
He gathered his gear and headed for the resort, which stretches along more than a mile of shoreline.
The volume of water being released from the Bull Shoals Dam dictates the flow of the White River the same way the level of the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam is governed by the water release schedule. Both Bull Shoals and Wolf Creek are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ hydroelectric dams. No generation means low and clear water.
Armagost arrived at the resort, collected his bait and ice, and walked onto the dock.
“There wasn’t one guide boat gone,” he recalled. “Nobody had answered their phone. Just me. No boats were rented. And they weren’t generating. The water was low, and you could see nearly every fish in the water.”
A father with two young children arrived. They climbed into the boat and headed upstream. Armagost anchored near a pod of fish at a spot he knew to be a good trout producer.
Fishing guides are courteous and helpful in the boat, polite and friendly at the dock. But they also are an independent and sometimes bawdy bunch. Armagost acknowledged that he had been “wild” in his youth and had not been much more restrained as an adult, but also had not been particularly unhappy with his choices.
“You name it; I did it,” he said.
At the time Armagost had been separated from his wife for nearly 10 years, but she had recently returned to Arkansas from California and the two were in the process of trying to repair their relationship.
Armagost anchored his boat and moved to the center seat, where he could more easily unhook fish and bait hooks for the two youngsters. It was just another day on the water and he had no reason to suspect that a life-changing experience was at hand.
“The little girl caught a fish. Then the little boy caught a fish,” he recalled with absolute clarity. “I was sitting there in the middle taking fish off and baiting hooks when the man asked me if I went to church.”
Armagost wasn’t a church-going man, although his wife had been a regular church attender all of her adult life.
“I said, ‘No. People just go to church to see what other people are wearing or what kind of hairdos they’re wearing,’ ” he recalled. “I was just making a conversation, really.”
It was an honest opinion and Armagost expected—maybe hoped—that his customer would drop the subject. That didn’t happen.
“And then the man—he later told me his name was Mike—he goes, ‘Ron, do you know Jesus Christ?’ And when he spoke that name, Jesus Christ, well, he had to really [physically] grab ahold of me. I mean I had such a feeling that I just sunk down to my knees right there, right in the boat, as soon as he said His name.”
It took a moment before Armagost could respond.
“I said, ‘Yea. I know Him.’
“And that’s what happened.”
Ron later learned that his fisherman, Mike, was in seminary studies.
“Afterward, he told me that they prayed for a month straight, then they all went somewhere,” Armagost said. “He came up here. I’d never met him before. He told me that he’d just come up here praying to witness to someone. And I was the one.”
Ron recently turned 61. There is no question that what happened in the boat that summer day left him a changed man. In the decade since, he’s been trying to figure it out. He knows that his purpose on the river now reaches beyond simply helping customers catch fish.
“I do know I’m out here to share the gospel,” he said, as we drifted past the spot where he said his transformation occurred. “That’s why I’m here. I’ve heard a lot of different testimonies, and I’ve tried to figure out mine. It’s hard to explain. But it was real. I was just filled. And I’ve been growing ever since.”