It appears that the skies are going to dry up for a while, and as the threat of flood recedes across the delta to the east, we are now seeing a return to heavy water release from Bull Shoals Dam, which is pretty normal for late summer. With the long term objective being to draw the lake level down from “flood pool” to “power pool,” and with nearly 15ft of lake elevation left to go, we are likely to see a high average rate of flow from the dam for several more weeks. All that high water will help protect, feed, and grow the thousands of trout stocked over the summer, which will be to everyone’s benefit over the long run, and in the meantime we’ll enjoy several more weeks of good high water brown trout fishing.
The weather forecast is showing clear blue skies and hot afternoons every day for the next week, and when the afternoon heat gets going is also when the hydroelectric demand increases. With plenty of water stored in the reservoir to feed the energy demand, and a stable weather pattern in front of us, we’ll likely see a fairly stable pattern of water release developing similar to what we’ve seen the last couple days: moderate flows overnight, increasing slightly at dawn, and increasing dramatically in the afternoon.
This is a very typical pattern of release for late summer, and although it involves a drastic change of conditions in the form of rapidly rising water, it provides a variety of different angling opportunities to a variety of skill levels. The morning session will offer moderate speed and depth at 9,000-10,000cfs, allowing plenty of easy water on slow seams, moss beds, and rocky edges of pools where willing trout wait for a well drifted mayfly nymph, midge larvae, or terrestrial bug. The afternoon session could be spent the same way as the morning if you move downriver staying in front of the rising water.
At some point, the strategy of staying in the lower water will result in a lengthy shuttle or boat ride – neither of which is awful if the fishing turns out good. Sometimes, however, it’s well worth staying put and fishing the 17,000-20,000cfs in the afternoon, perhaps in an effort to target bigger fish or to hone your high water skills. Success in the afternoon high water starts with having a plan for dealing with the extra speed and volume of water, such as adjusting sink rate and depth of presentation, and focusing on slower moving banks where the speed of the presentation is more manageable.
Read on for fly choices.
The morning session prior to the heat and high water is certainly the easier session, whether you’re nymphing or dry fly fishing. Fish of all sizes shapes and colors are being caught on mayfly nymphs – some flashy like Dally’s Tailwater Jig, Rainbow Warrior, and Davy Wotton’s Super Midge, and some muted like Pheasant Tail, Hare’s Ear, and Micro Mayfly Nymphs. Often these #14-16 nymphs catch best when fished behind a larger and heavier nymph such as a Flexi Stone or even dry-dropper style under a Chubby Duo or Wiley’s Ant. For specifically targeting a nice brown on a dry fly, fish #8 Fat Alberts and Western Ladies as a single fly, close to the banks. When the water comes up, find somewhere clean without too much debris, and get in tight on the edges of structure, drop offs, and shade! with #6 Fat Alberts and Western Ladies, or subsurface with Flexi Stones. Alternatively, target flooded grass beds and islands with deep dredged San Juan Worms in red, pink, and natural, as well as Canon’s Worm.
Expect about a unit and a half (4,000+cfs) during daylight hours. Dredge deep with eggs, San Juan Worms, and “Cheetos.” Trail these with a #14 DW Whitetail midge or a #14 Hunchback Scud and you’re in business. Expect heavy hard fighting fish so maybe pick up some 2x and 3x fluorocarbon tippet.
Crooked Creek and Buffalo River:
Fun wade fishing can be had at any public access casting at bass and colorful scrappy sunfish with small Boogle Bugs and small Double Barrel Poppers. Stand in the water, get wet, catch plucky little fish on a popper, laugh, repeat. Maybe carry a few crawdad patterns in case you get to sight fish a big bass or carp.