Bull Shoals Dam is on a steady release program of approximately 20,000 cubic feet per second. This is an intentional effort to make room in the lake for the next round of spring rains, so that the lake can continue to fulfill its designed purpose of flood control. The lake’s storage capacity alleviates stresses of high water on valuable agricultural lands downstream in the delta, allowing Arkansas a more dependable agricultural economy.
The trout in Bull Shoals tailwater grow fat and happy under all that flow. The first real “hatch” of the year is not an insect, it’s a steady supply of dead thread fin shad coming from the lake into the river through the turbines. Trout gorge on the dead baitfish until they are stuffed to the gills. The easy protein restores energy and body mass lost during the winter spawn – one of many factors that allows the White River system to grow so many impressively sized trout.
Fishing the shad kill at 20,000cfs presents its challenges. The trout must find water that is slow enough to rest in, which will either be directly on the bottom of the river or in the eddies and pockets of slower water along the banks. Getting to the bottom in all that depth and current requires long leaders and ample weight, which translates into awkward “lob” casts and back-arching hook sets. Longer 9.5, 10 and 11 foot fly rods can provide a significant advantage under these conditions. Drifting shad flies around bank structure requires disciplined casting and line management skills. At 20,000cfs the river’s surface is 8ft higher than minimum flow, which leaves little space under the overhanging limbs and trees along the bank. The angler must throw tight loops to fit the cast under the trees, and maintain spacial awareness to know which casts are smart and which casts are too risky. Once the cast is made, the angler needs a full repertoire of line management skills (upstream and downstream mending, feeding slack, lifting fly line over conflicting current seams) to keep the fly in the strike zone while avoiding potential snags. Anyone who things fishing with a strike indicator is mindless obviously hasn’t tried this game. And whether fishing the bottom or the bank, the rewards are certainly worth the challenges. Lots of anglers are scoring personal best brown trout right now.
Read on for specifics on flows and flies.
Heavily weighted flies are needed to get down. AR Beadheads and Meat Whistles are favorites, but Sparkle Minnows, white Wooly Buggers, and Clouser Minnows work as well. Add AAA split shot if necessary to ensure bottom contact. Large and extra large indicators are necessary to stay afloat with all that weight. Fishing weighted streamers (Sex Dungeons, Circus Peanuts, BFH Twerking Minnows, Ice Picks) on sink tip lines is effective for hunting browns as well, but it is probably smart to focus downriver where fish are less keyed in on easy shad pickings.
Spillways are still open in addition to two generators, bringing the total cfs to around 10,000. Exercise boating caution in the exceptionally swift current. Fish super deep and heavy with shad patterns, egg patterns, and San Juan worms in red or pink. Weighted streamers also like Ice Picks, Sex Dungeons, Circus Peanuts, Cone Head Wooly Buggers.