Copyright 2014 James Marsh
Fly Fishing the White River
Fly fishing all of Arkansas's White River for all its different species of fish would take most a
life-time. The river is several hundred miles long. Originally, none of its waters held trout. It was
known as a top smallmouth bass fishery for years and actually, still is. The creation of Bull
Shoals Dam and Norfork Dam created two tailwaters that are top trout fly fishing destinations.
There are other tailwaters on the White River that also have good populations of trout. The
Beaver Dam tailwater,also in Arkansas, and the Table Rock Lake tailwater (Taneycomo) in
Missouri also provide good trout fishing opportunities. Ther is also the Little Red River tailwater,
a tributary of the White River, below Greers Ferry Dam. This article is about the tailwater below
Bull Shoals Dam, a tailwater I have fished for trout off and on for over 35 years. Fly fishing the
White River ranks at the top of the blue-ribbon trout fishing destinations.
The best White River trout fishing exist for as far as 30 miles below Bull Shoals Dam. This
section of the river is broken up into what the locals call shoals. Most fly anglers would call them
riffles. It also has plenty of pools, long runs, gravel bars, eddies and about every other type of
water found in a trout stream. The brown trout grow very large in this river. Most of them are
wild fish but there are also brown trout holdovers that also grow large. Most of the rainbow trout
are stocked. There's also some cutthroat and brook trout in the mix. The size of the brown trout
are usually stated in pounds, rather than inches.
The White River can be waded in most places but this strictly depends on the releases of water
from Bull Shoals Dam. It can also be fished from a boat. Most prefer the standard drift boat but
other types of watercraft will work, again depending on the releases of water. In fact, fly fishing
the White River depends entirely on the release of water from Bull Shoals Lake. Drift boat
fishing is so popular, many guides are able to make a living on the White River. Many anglers
pull their own drift boats long distances to fish the river.
Many of the shoals have names. The Roundhouse, Wildcat, White, Rim and Bufallo Shoals are
some popular shoals with names. In the Bull Shoals State Park area, the upper, middle and
lower shoals are designated fishing areas. There are four different "catch and release" areas
on the tailwater. Fly fishing the White River at these special regulation areas probably provides
the best opportunity for the fly angler. One could rightly assume that the larger fish exist in
these areas, although large ones are found throughout the length of the White River. It isn't
uncommon for anglers to catch trout over 20 inches in length.
In order to be successful at catching trout, It really doesn't matter what the time of year is as
long as the weather is reasonable. Trout are taken year-round. What does matter greatly is the
release of water from the dam. The water levels are very important. It affects the way and
places the trout feed and the physical way anglers are able to fish. In general, the first half of
the year have the highest flows and the second half of the year the lowest flows but this can
vary greatly from day to day.
Fly fishing the White River during the spring is usually best in respect to hatches. Most aquatic
insect hatches take place in the spring. There's a large variety of aquatic insects, plenty of
baitfish and sculpin, a huge amount of crustaceans including scuds, sowbugs and crayfish, and
plenty of terrestrial insects for the trout feed on. This is why the trout grow to large sizes.
Most summers are hot and the sun is directly overhead for most of the day. This can affect they
daytime fishing and especially when your are targeting the brown trout. Fishing early and late in
the day is usually best during the summer months.
The brown trout spawn during the Fall and become easier to catch during the time they are
moving around looking for places to build redds. This is a good time of the year for catching a
trophy brown on the fly. We suggest you avoid fishing for them when they are on their redds.
Winter days have to be selected according to the weather. It can be very cold or nice and warm.
The very cold weather affects the angler more than the trout. The water temperature varies les
than freestone streams because of the bottom discharges of water.
The White River isn't known as a dry fly stream even though fishing dries at certain times is
effective. Most trout are taken on flies below the surface. Streamers are popular and effective
flies. We think those that imitate sculpin are most effective but streamers that resemble
minnows such as dace and baitfish such as small shad also work well.
You have to use extreme caution when fly fishing the White River. The water can rise fast and
catch anglers not paying close attention off guard, putting them in a dangerous situation. It is
best to always pick out a rock that's protruding out of the water and note the height of it. By
keeping a close eye on that particular rock, you can detect changes in the water levels.
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