The White River of Arkansas is arguably one of the best trout streams in the
world. From it's beginning at the base of Bull Shoals dam to the end of coldwater
fishing at Guion, it covers more than 100 miles. These miles contain some enormous
trout, but the real draw here is the numbers. There are simply unbelievable numbers
of trout in this river.
The food base is present to feed the huge numbers of fish. Hatches of caddis, sulphurs,
and stones are pretty common, but the main forage items are scuds and sowbugs. As the
trout gain size, they tend to rely more upon the huge populations of sculpins and crawfish.
Most of the larger trout are caught on larger flies, contrary to what a fisherman may hear
in the local flyshops. Most of my better fish have come on #2 and #4 buggers and Strymphs.
The White is actually two rivers. When the gates at Bull Shoals are closed, it is a peaceful
slow stream. When the turbines are running, the river puts on a different face and becomes
a very dangerous piece of water. Several people drown here each year, so please use caution.
Water can rise quickly, and you may not be able to get to dry land if you are taken unaware.
This is not a whitewater stream, but the flow is fast and heavy when generation is underway.
If you own a 20-foot jonboat, you have the ideal craft for fishing this river. Any boat used
here must have a shallow draft and be able to run upstream in low water conditions. Fifteen
horse motors seem to be the choice of most of the guides on the river, and I'll bow to their
choice. They have much more experience than I. The fifteen horse will push your boat
upstream without being heavy enough to cause excess draft.
Bring a variety of equipment when you come. If the river is low and winds are moderate, a 3
or 4 wt. will give you all the fun you can stand. When the river is up or when fishing buggers
and streamers in the deeper holes, I recommend a 6 or 7 wt. This is a fairly wide river, and when
the wind kicks up the heavier rods are very welcome.
Flies? Most of the local shops will tell you that all you need are a few sowbugs or scuds.
I've done well with pheasant tail nymphs, prince nymphs, woolly buggers, elk hair caddis,
strymphs, and a few more. Sowbugs and scuds should be in sizes 16 & 18, EHC's from 14-18,
and strymphs, streamers, and buggers from #12 all the way up to 2 or 4. A sink-tip line is also
a big asset on days when the water is running strong and when fishing the deeper holes.
Strike indicators are a big help when fishing the tiny scuds and sowbugs. Strikes on the
streamers and buggers are usually hard enough that the fish sets the hook by itself.
No help needed there.
On Tuesday, May 22, I rented a room at Cane Island, about a mile or so below Bull Shoals dam.
Cane Island boasts a flyshop and a bed-and-breakfast right on the river. Rates are $50 per night
and breakfast is served. Not much more than a motel room and much more comfortable.
Tuesday evening, a friend and I put her boat in at the public ramp in Bull Shoals State Park,
which is less than a mile below the dam. There was one gate open at the dam when we arrived,
so we ran upstream to the trophy area immediately below the dam. We had no sooner arrived
than generation stopped and the water immediately began to fall. We dropped back downstream
to the park proper and fished until dark. No one was keeping count of fish caught, but we each
wore out a couple of flies. Sowbugs in this case.
Wednesday morning we slept in a bit and didn't get on the water until about 9:30 or so. The
trout were very willing, and we each caught fish until our arms hurt. The wind was a bit strong
on Wednesday, but we just stepped up to the 6 wts. and kept on catching fish. Woolly buggers
proved to be the best fly as the day moved on into afternoon. Buggers remained the fly of choice
until we stopped fishing at about 6 P.M.
I used this trip as a test run for some new leaders that I've been making. The local Wal-Mart is
selling fluorocarbon line in various strengths for about $5 per 100 meters, so I bought some and
made furled leaders of it. It performed very well indeed in this application, making an excellent
woolly bugger leader. It should also perform well in many nymphing applications. I'll definitely
be using these leaders more in the future.
It's always difficult to come back to reality after a trip to this marvelous river. True, it's a
tailwater and the trout are stocked, but when you can go out and catch so many fish and
have so much fun, who cares? Fishing is all about fun, and this river delivers. Just remember
that it can change personalities quickly and keep safety foremost.
Accommodations are numerous in the area and a complete list would fill several pages. Probably
the most famous resort on the river is Gaston's. It is located about two miles below Bull Shoals
dam. Several places along the same stretch of road include Rivercliffe, Newton's, and Cane Island.
For a home base, consider staying in Mountain Home. Staying here will put a fisherman about
20 minutes or so from both the North Fork and the White Rivers, and within driving distance
from Crooked Creek and the Buffalo River. The North Fork is another tailwater that rivals or
surpasses the White in numbers of fish. Crooked Creek and Buffalo are premier smallmouth
streams, and deserve their own place in fishing legends. Crooked Creek especially is world
famous for smallmouths.
Summer is the premier season here, but if trout fishing is your main desire, consider coming
during the winter months. January and February are the best months for catching large trout.
Cold weather often causes a shad die-off in Bull Shoals lake, and the big browns line up below
the dam for a snack of tenderized shad. After passing through the turbines, the shad are easy
prey for the trout. Browns reproduce naturally here, and the spawning season is during
this time. Rules are posted prominently both below the dam and in Bull Shoals State Park.
Please observe the C&R regulations. ~ Ron Griffith