Growing up in the Ozarks, the budding of the trees and the first green leaves along the rivers and creeks has always marked the end of winter for me. It’s always late March or early April, and this year it appears to be late March – many trees and shrubs along the White River’s banks are already leafy green. It’s a time of excitement for the local guides as the fishing options broaden with the rising water temps. Instead of going home to the hearth and the vise after a cold day’s fishing, I’ll be scampering down to the smallmouth creek after work, or hauling the jon boat to the lake to try for white bass, hybrids, crappie, and any other warm water fish willing to take my flies. The possibility of timing a great caddis hatch on the White throws another flavor on the menu. Don’t get stuck on one species, location, or fly – branch out and enjoy the wondrous variety of spring fishing.
Big water continues on the White, extending opportunities at big browns on big streamers, especially on overcast days. Continue to try Double Deceivers, Drunk and Disorderlies, Viking Midges, Sluggos, and Twerking Minnows rigged on type 6 sink tip lines. Look for flows to start lessening soon though, and when they do, get your caddis boxes ready. Caddis have already been seen buzzing around at Buffalo City, at Rim Shoals, and as far upstream as Cotter. A bit of lower water will help concentrate the trout into feeding lanes and get them looking up – the first few times that low to moderate flows coincide with a warm sunny day, you may experience the best fishing of the year. Keep flies handy to cover the water column top to bottom. You will need weighted pupae patterns like Fat Caddis, mid column patterns like Dally’s Tailwater Soft Hackle in caddis green, and dry flies like EZ caddis and the ever popular Elk Hair caddis.
Wade fishermen can find much needed shallows here in the afternoons, and sometimes as early as 10am. Midges #16-#20 and scuds #14-#18 are the staple, but these can be paired with an attractor such as a San Juan worm or egg pattern, or with a heavy nymph such as a Sunday Special to get down in the faster runs. Look for early caddis on the Norfork as well – there are some quality fish in the catch and release area that will take dries in the spring.
Crooked Creek and Buffalo River and running clear and cold, perfect for an early spring canoe or kayak float. Smallmouth are pre-spawn fat and strong, and though not nearly at peak aggression, they will take Clouser minnows and small streamers especially on warm afternoons. The lake fishing is heating up for largemouth, and the temperate bass are nosing up the lake arms into the tributaries. Clousers in a variety of colors and sizes will work for lake fishing as well. Use sink tip lines in the lake arms and floating lines in creek shallows.