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Arkansas’ White and Norfork rivers are perhaps the most challenging yet productive fisheries that I’ve experienced. Water levels may rise or lower several times daily (as much as 8 ft.). This causes hydraulic cushions (current sanctuaries) to appear and then disappear, requiring instant changes in rigging. Sometimes this leaves even the most seasoned fly anglers scratching their head. The key to being productive throughout these conditions is to understand the river’s subsurface topography in all levels of hydroelectric generation.
Bull Shoals Dam is the third hydroelectric facility located on the upper White River basin. Its outflow is also the beginning of our trout habitat in Arkansas. The “powerhouse” is equipped with eight hydroelectric turbines. Each one, at capacity, can generate roughly 45 megawatts, which in turn produces water release of approximately 3000 cubic feet per second. In full generation (all eight turbines on line) the water release rate can reach an astonishing 26,000 cfs. Many big browns have been fooled during these periods of heavy generation! There are several factors that govern the generation rate of electricity at the facility. For instance, peak power demand and available water supply. During winter and summer months, when most folks are using either heating or air conditioning, periods of heavy generation should be expected, providing there is adequate water supply in Bull Shoals Lake. In the spring and fall, when demand is at lower levels, we witness moderate or no generation. I must admit this seems complicated, but rest assured trophy brown trout are caught in every level of generation throughout all four seasons.
Thanks to the efforts of Arkansas’ Game and Fish and the Norfork National Fish Hatchery, upwards of 2 million trout are released into our tail waters annually, providing plenty of opportunities for fly anglers of all levels. Although Rainbows are the most common trout, the Brooks, Browns and Cutthroats can be found throughout our tail water habitat, with the Brooks preferring the dam areas. The sneaky world class Brown trout that Arkansas is famous for are a “homegrown” testament to the fertile habitat that can be found on the White and Norfork rivers, as well as to the resilience of the species with perhaps 70% of the population being of wild stock.
It’s no secret that White River trout feed heavily on midges year round. The tell tale subsurface sipping can be witnessed in every level of generation. Mid February marks the beginning of caddis activity (greenbutts and grannoms) with adults showing up around St. Patrick’s Day. This is by far our longest and most prolific hatch of the year lasting mid to late May.
As far as Mayflies are concerned, the Sulphur Hatch provides anglers with topwater action from early May to early June, especially during the “golden hour”. Heavy populations of sowbugs and scuds (freshwater shrimp) also inhabit the White. Their imitations, along with Midge Patterns, are the most popular and effective when nymphing in mid range generation. Sculpin, minnows and the small trout round out the forage base. Their imitations are best utilized during periods of mid to high level generation, along with attractor patterns such as San Juan worms and egg patterns. During summer and early fall, terrestrial patterns can be extremely effective along stream banks and back eddys. Chernobyl Ants and Hoppers can provide plenty of entertainment for fly anglers when a break from nymphing is needed.
The Twin Lakes region of north central Arkansas offers a multitude of opportunities for the outdoorsman. If a break in the action is required to rest your sore arms, there are plenty of activities available to keep you occupied. Bull Shoals and Norfork Lake offer water skiing, scuba diving in crystal clear waters, and the chance to pursue warm water species such as striper, walleye and bass. The Buffalo National River is only a short drive away. With its unimpeded flow and impressive geographical features it provides those who canoe or kayak a wilderness experience they will never forget. The annual Sowbug Roundup takes place in Mt. Home during mid April, attracting fly tiers from around the globe. This event offers enthusiasts a chance to share talents, enjoy festivities and experience the local fisheries. It is always advisable to call ahead to check generation and booking trends when planning a fishing trip to the White River, to ensure your hard earned money is well spent.
We are located at the White River access in the heart of historic Cotter, Arkansas, nestled in the midst of over 60 miles of world famous trout habitats. Friendly customer service and relative knowledge regarding our waters are the two things you will always find when you visit the Natural State Fly Shop, guided fly fishing on Arkansas' White and Norfork Rivers.