To the average visiting angler, the White River tailwaters may currently appear large, intimidating, and inaccessible at nearly 20,000cfs. But the native angler takes it all in stride, knowing the rise and fall of the water is part of what makes these waters so unique in terms of habitat and big fish potential. Rather than retire to the couch and television, now is the time to gear up for winter streamer fishing and start honing your boat maneuvering and big fly tactics.
Extended periods of high water provide our trout more cover, more food, and less fishing pressure, allowing them to grow faster. Think of heavy generation for our rivers like rain for crops. An abundant fresh water resource like we have here is a treasure that anglers in dry climates can only dream of. Perhaps we should count excess water as one of our many blessings.
Read on for fly selection and setup.
Bull Shoals Lake is 4.5ft into flood pool, so heavy generation can be expected round the clock, limiting wade fishing opportunities, but fishing from jon boats and drift boats is still great. Deep nymphing tactics will produce the most consistent bite – egg or worm attractors with heavy split shot 8ft under an indicator, followed by your favorite nymph or large midge imitation. Copper Johns, Micro Mayfly Nymphs, Lightning Bugs, Wotton Sowbugs, Super Midges, and Whitetail Midges are all solid choices. Streamer fishing on heavy sink tip lines is a great way to target bigger browns that may be feeding in the heavy flows. A variety of baitfish patterns are worth trying: Home Invaders, Double Bunnies, Conrad Sculpins, weighted and unweighted Double Deceivers, Viking Midges are all good choices, especially in bright colors like yellow or white to trigger the more aggressive fish.
The Norfork is very similar to the White currently in terms of water conditions and successful tactics. Heavy flows will likely continue until the lake level returns to power pool. The river can easily be floated twice in drift boats or personal watercraft for a full day of fishing. Fish attractors, mayfly nymphs, scuds, and midges deep and heavy for more bites. Fish streamers deep and heavy for a chance at a bigger fish.