White River Trophy Bows _ Davy Wotton

Duane Hada’s Trophy ‘bow from the weekend: How do we get more of these? _ Duane Hada pic.


I hoped Monday’s piece showing off Duane Hada’s trophy 22” rainbow might spark some thoughts on how to improve the numbers of trophy rainbows alongside the monster browns in the White River.

But I wasn’t expecting such a well thought out, detailed response, as I received from Davy Wotton last night, in which he outlines the key factors limiting rainbow trout growth and how they might be tackled. Share this around and feel free to add your own thoughts.

So here’s Davy’s piece

A recent post raised the question,, that we should see further regulations to protect trophy Rainbow trout.

In answer to that my first question would be, what is considered a trophy Bow for the White river system ?

Historically the rivers did produce many bows in excess of 5 to 10lbs and a good number over that, that begs the question as to why. The answer is very simple, long term survival, which is not the case today for many reasons such as.

Bear also in mind back then there were no trophy zones.

1. In days past fishing pressure was not what it is now. The local population was not what is now, increasing fishing pressure.

2. Access.. Once again way more boat ramps compared to the past .

3. Today compared to the past, more or less personal boat craft can access easily any part of the river. In the past there was not the number of trout docks now present, which also allow for increased rent and 

    guide activity.

4. Stocking, compared to what is stocked now not even close, which also begs the question that potentially there was more food sources available for a less number of fish with less fishing pressure.

5. Management policy at this time offers little advantage for Rainbow trout to survive other than designated trophy zones, assuming that there is no illegal fishing activity, which we know there is.

6. Mortality..By percentage of angling activity mortality for rainbow trout is high. Stock fish have little chance for long term survival at best, harvested or otherwise such as predation from other species.

7. Water.. Low water levels are generally not conducive to long term rainbow trout survival. We know that during high-water years rainbow trout growth is enhanced mainly due to higher percentages of long-term

   survival. Downside is once lower levels are the lower norm those fish are caught, the gains are lost.

8. Min flow has many advantages,  also negatives. Min flow now allows more or less boat access for the entire river. In the days of zero generations boat navigation was somewhat limited, that to some extent

   allowing fish to survive in low fishing pressure zones, such as Bull Shoals dam, Rim Shoals and the Norfork river in the designated catch and release zones.

9. Brown trout.. We know that the 24in size limited has potentially increased the number of larger browns, could same apply for Rainbow trout. Under current regulations l doubt it for many reasons outside of designated trophy zones.

Survival is the key, no argument about that. There are only 3 effective measures that can be introduced.

1. Catch and release with restricted methods of fishing such as we have in trophy zones.

2. Slot limits in restricted zones, with restricted methods of fishing, no bait and barbless hooks.

3. Use only of barbless hooks in restricted zones. Interesting is the some States do not enforce this regulation, it considered not practical to enforce. In the case of fly fisherman a high percentage do use barbless hooks .( Studies show that there is no significant increase in mortality by fly fishing activity.)

That said all the above requires angler compliance and law enforcement.

Further under current stocking policy for Rainbow trout we might see a situation that fish numbers will exceed available food sources in new designated no kill or slot limit zones.

As of now other than Bull Shoals Dam trophy zone, Norfork river and Dry Run creek,  the odds of catching Rainbow trout in excess of 16ins are very low indeed, unless they were fish stocked above that weight, which at times they are when the hatcheries need to reduce the numbers of larger fish.

By today’s standards a 20 ins Brown is not that special for the White River system, by far a 20 ins Rainbow is a much more worth while trophy in my opinion as are 20 ins Cutthroat trout, both of which are few and far between.

Odds are if you catch 20 browns 1 will be 20 in, you might catch a 1000 bows to catch one above 20 inches.

Do l have a answer? I doubt we will see further catch and release zones for the White river,  would slot limits work, possibly, but where would that be possible ?  My only thought here is the section below Rim Shoals to the confluence of Crooked creek or the lower section of Shoestring shoals.

Either way it is not a easy situation to address.

High water generations are a short term answer, long term that’s not going to happen.

Davy Wotton


  • This is by no means a statement to counter any that have been made on the subject of big trout in the White River. However, all fly fishers are not in search of trophy fish. Most of the ones I talk to and fish with are in search of a tight line. All of those I regularly fish with are catch and release fishermen. If you put a size limit on Rainbows as there are on browns I fear you will hurt only one class of people on the river and that is the bait fishing guides. Now I have at times had my negative things to say about some of their methods and conduct on the river but bottom line is they have as much right to be there as we fly fishers. From my vantage point if we take the measures necessary to have more big fish in the river than we currently have what will be the grip when we want even bigger fish. There is great sport in catching the bigger ones now, if we make it common to catch a 20 inch rainbow then we will start trying to figure out how we can get more 25 inch fish in the river. My vote is to continue what we are doing. Emphasis conservation and enjoy to great natural resource we have. The more we change it the less natural it becomes. More control sounds too much like the federal government to me. Let’s put our efforts into keeping what we have, enjoying what we have and stop worrying about changing what we have.

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