Intro to the White River

Reports From The Field - Flys

April 5, 2018


Intro to the
White River

A Beginner Fly Fisherman’s
Introduction to the White River

Now and again I like to write about several of my home waters: Arkansas’ White River and the Norfork Tailwater. These are quirky trout fisheries located below two huge U.S. Army Corp of Engineers dams. Water releases are erratic and inconsistent – these rivers can be low and wadeable one minute, and high and fast the next. This makes the White and Norfork very dangerous places to fish. Still, the White River and Norfork Tailwater are two of the best rivers in the country for learning the art of fly fishing.

Intro to the White River
White River

When starting out in fly fishing, it is imperative to go to places where the chance of catching a fish is pretty good. There are few places with more easy fish to catch than the White and Norfork. This is not to say that you will always catch a lot of fish, because often there are dynamics at play on these rivers that can make it hard or impossible for wading anglers to have much success. These are places where a guide is pretty much required, at least for the first trip or two. If the dams are not generating electricity, the flow is a mere 40-cubic feet per second (cfs). At these times, the river is a dream to wade, and the fish are pretty much everywhere that looks “fishy”. Those new to the rivers can fair well when the river is low, and all skill-levels of anglers enjoy the wide-open layout for fly casting.

The problems arise when the dams start releasing water. There is no set release schedule, so it is important to always be paying attention to the water levels. Many fly fishermen think that high water means the end of their fishing day, but in reality, these conditions offer up some serious trophy fishing and the action is often good.

A boat is required to be productive, and most guides use motorized “Jon” boats to move up and down the river when the water gets rolling. A properly controlled boat is a deadly fish-catching tool, and a good guide should be able to take advantage of this piece of equipment. High water fly fishing is often very easy for the angler, and such fishing offers a less-intimidating way for a beginner to get a feel for the sport.

Wading is obviously preferred by most White River and Norfork fly fishermen, but there are good opportunities to catch trout on all water levels.

I’m not trying to push hiring a guide, and for those with the time, learning a river on your own will provide the greatest rewards. But on the White and Norfork, there is a motorized boat aspect to fishing that that takes awhile fully grasp. Regardless, if you want to maximize your time on a fishing trip to the White or Norfork, a good guide is indispensable. It’s no fun to go to a place and not fish because conditions are not what is expected – especially when good fishing is possible and probable with a little assistance.

The White and Norfork are centrally-located with respect to the rest of the country. Flying or driving to the Mountain Home, Arkansas area is a breeze, and there are plenty of wonderful lodging entities on both rivers. These are year-round trout fisheries known for high numbers of chunky rainbows and huge brown trout. The best months for big fish are February through – wait – big fish are caught all year long on these rivers, but the winter and spring are usually the absolute best times to come. If you are interested in talking in more detail about this area, drop me a line.

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