The term “100 year flood” is an expression often used to describe a river’s worst flooding event that a person might witness in their lifetime. I’ve heard this term used in our community three times now in less than a decade. It’s flood events like this one that remind us that our beautiful White River, which appears so tame and inviting under normal conditions, is also one of the mighty Mississippi’s major arteries. Tens of thousands of square miles of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri are drained by the White River system, and the predominantly steep rocky terrain of this region does little to slow or retain runoff.
Understanding that parts of the White River system are controlled, other parts run wild and free, and the relationship between these parts can help in predicting favorable fishing conditions. Dams and reservoirs help slow the movement of water through the system while the undammed tributaries like Buffalo River and Crooked Creek rage and swell to epic proportions. Crooked Creek topped 42,000cfs earlier this week while the Buffalo River reached 108,000cfs. These two alone are enough to cause major flooding downriver, and while they and other tributaries are allowed to drain, Bull Shoals Dam will release relatively little water. That means that over the next several days, there will be windows of low water fishing opportunities, and fishing upriver as opposed to downriver will limit the effects of ditches and creeks that stain the river with sediment. Of course as soon as flood waters downriver recede, the dams will up their turbine release, and if the lakes reach the top of flood pool too quickly, we may also see releases over the flood gates, so take advantage of these lower flows below Bull Shoals Dam while they last.
For all you wintertime streamer fishermen wondering how this will affect the brown trout fishing over the next few months, it simply means we will have plenty of lake water stored up to support the kind of heavy flows we need to get those bigguns up and feeding. Stock up on your heavy artillery: type 6 sink tip lines, 8wt rods, and 6-10” flies. Big rivers grow big fish.
Turbine release is currently fluctuating between one and three units, or from 1,000cfs to around 6,000cfs. These kind of flows are very manageable and easy to fish from a boat, and wade fishing opportunities are available to the cautious angler who plans entry and exit routes. The most steady action will be accomplished with strike indicators and weighted flies #14-16. Pheasant tails, Hare’s Ears, Copper Johns, Devil Jigs, Wotton Sowbugs, Super Midges, and Whitetail Midges are all staple choices. Periods of heavy runoff like this are also a great time to fish larger worm patterns in natural colors, or if the water is stained, try pink and bright red to get noticed. Flashy streamers are also a good choice in dingy water – think cone head bugger style flies like Sparkle Minnows and Autumn Splendors.
The Norfork may prove a little tough to pattern at the moment because of ever changing conditions. The lower section of the river from Ackerman down is likely backed up from Buffalo and Crooked Creek water swelling up the Norfork/White confluence. However, that will recede soon, and just like on the White, the upper section of the river is likely the clearest and most stable. The water release pattern is fluctuating from off to two units approximately every 4-6hrs, which may be unsettling for the fish, but drifting worms, eggs, midges, scuds will likely still catch some. Flashy streamers or yellow streamers may be the easiest way to prospect for fish through these volatile conditions, until things calm down a bit.