Normally I like to slather our blog page with pictures of brown trout, especially bigguns. Let’s face it, big browns are what make Arkansas trout fishing famous, they bring anglers from around the country and the world to our humble state to wet a line. Our tailwaters have developed a reputation for producing big browns, and that reputation overshadows the rest of the fishing around here and blinds people to the existence of tons of other really cool fish in the area. So today, no big brown mug shots for y’all. I want to give a couple of other beautiful gamefish a moment in the spotlight.
Smallmouth Bass are of course one of our native gamefish, and the White River boasted an incredible smallmouth fishery popular with tourist anglers long before hydroelectric dams came to the area. Construction of the dams limited prime smallmouth habitat to the tributaries of the White, such as Kings River, Crooked Creek, Buffalo National River, and Sylamore Creek, among others. Dally’s offers guided trips on Crooked and the Buffalo, and the guides relish the opportunities to target our warmwater natives. The tricky part is getting here when conditions are right. Normally our best season for smallmouth is spring and early summer, before the creeks slow to a trickle. But with this year’s heavy rainfall, the free flowing creeks and rivers in the steep Ozark highlands flood very easily, and we are just now starting to see stable conditions after weeks of high water. It is likely that the best smallmouth fishing this year will be July-September, rather than the usual April-June. Barry and Susan Smith were lucky enough to get a rare drift boat experience on Crooked Creek with Ben Levin this week – not per usual for July!
Another fish that often goes unnoticed around here is the cutthroat trout, not the little Bonnevilles planted by Trout Unlimited which are trying (hopefully) to gain foothold in the river, but the stocked Snake River Finespot cutthroats. Chances are you’ve probably caught one already and didn’t think much of it. Freshly stocked, they are small and silvery like the rainbows, without bold colors, fins, or markings – easily forgettable in other words. But when allowed to grow and mature, they transform into arguably the prettiest trout in our waters. Telltale markings include a yellowish tan body with many very fine spots (hence the name), bright orange or red fins and tail, and of course two orange or red slashes under the lower jaw. The Norfork typically holds some very nice cutthroats from Quarry Park all the way through the catch and release zone. The White River also holds some very nice cutthroats wherever they can survive long enough to mature – catch and release zones, and areas downriver that see less fishing pressure in general.
Flows are highly variable, and best fished from a boat, but wade fishermen can still find success around the edges and along the softer, inside bends of the river. Drifting heavy nymphs and midges deep has been by far the most productive. Use long leaders weighted with split shot, tungsten Pheasant Tails, Mayfly Nymphs, Hare’s Ear Nymphs, Sulfur Nymphs, followed by a midge of some sort. A #14 Wotton Super or Whitetail midge in black has been deadly for me, and in lower flows a Redneck midge is killer too. Of course worm and egg flies always serve as an effective attractor in high water. Hopper fishing is not what I would consider consistent yet, but a Western Lady, Fat Albert, or Chubby Chernobyl tossed against the bank in summertime high flows has potential to get munched by something big. If you are adept with a sinking line and large streamers, that is probably the surest method of hooking a truly big brown right now. Try weighted sculpin patterns in deep fast water, unweighted baitfish patterns like Schmidt’s Double Deceiver in shallower runs and gravel bars.
Wade fishermen can find low water here at least part of the day on most days, and do well with light tackle. Rootbeer midges, Camel midges, black Zebra midges, Hunchback scuds, and Kaufman scuds are all great in the slow flat water. A few sulfurs and crane flies are hanging around as well, so Pheasant Tail nymphs, Sulfur nymphs, Sulfur Parachutes are worth carrying. Fishing the faster runs and riffles hopper dropper style can be fun and effective, if you’re wading low water, downsize your hopper to a size 10 or 12, as opposed to the 6-8 that we throw on high water. Fishing from a boat on one unit on the Norfork, or even a full two, is really good too if fished deep and heavy.