The Great North Wind extended its icy reign south across the Ozarks early this week, giving us our first taste of approaching winter. The cold front drove the temperature down into the teens for a night and left behind a thin crust of ice and snow. Happily though, the weather forecast shows temperatures on the rise as the week progresses, with sunshine and afternoon highs in the mid fifties all weekend – beautiful weather for mid November – and some quality fish are biting too. In preparation for more frosty mornings to come however, it’s time to think about the status of your cold weather wardrobe, because this is the time of year when the quality of your clothing can determine your enjoyment of the day. You don’t want to be that guy shivering in blue jeans and cotton socks because the pretty blue sky made you forget that it’s November.
Whether you’re in a boat or strapping on the waders, layering of clothing is the key to staying comfortable through the daily transition from cold morning into warm(ish) afternoon. The layer against your skin should be moisture wicking like Simms Lightweight Core top and bottom or Simms Ultra-Wool Core top and bottom. Then you’ll want a nice fuzzy mid layer to add insulation like Simms Fleece Midlayer top and bottom. An insulated jacket is necessary when temps are under 40 degrees; Simms Fall Run series is time tested and then there’s the new Midstream insulated series of jackets and vests. Finally, your preparedness is complete with a quality shell to keep out wind and rain like Simms Waypoints jacket and pants or ever better a storm suit like Simms Challenger bibs and jacket. If you’re wade fishing, Simms waders and wading jackets take the place of the weather shell. With a 3 to 4 layer system of quality clothing like the one just described (notice no cotton), you should be prepared for a wide range of changing conditions from freezing up to about 60 degrees wet or dry. Don’t overlook the feet though, they are usually the first part of the body to start suffering in the cold. Wear wool socks (not cotton) and insulated shoes.
On to the fishing. Water conditions have changed drastically in the past week, from relatively high stable flows to a flip flopping situation of high and relatively low flow. The precipitation we received last week was significant enough to create some flooding downstream, so the current pattern of up and down flow on the White is likely a balancing of interests between US Army Corps of Engineers storing water in the lake to manage downstream water levels (which corresponds to the periods of low water during late night and afternoon) and Southwestern Power Administration generating electricity during periods of peak power demand (which corresponds to the periods of high flow during morning and evening hours). All that garble aside, it should be noted that the projections have been a bit off lately, and water levels are changing throughout the day.
The periods of low flow allow for short wade fishing sessions in shallow productive riffles that have been under many feet of water for months. Whether you’re wading or boating, the trout are easier to access on lower water because the depth and speed of the water is much less of an obstacle, and for that reason the fishing has been quite good on low water. Trout seem more than willing to bite egg and worm patterns in combination with classic White River midges like DW Whitetail and Super midge series, or small caddis nymphs like Sunday Specials, or small mayfly nymphs like Iron Lotus, Pheasant Tail, and Hare’s Ear. The lake turnover effect combined with runoff and the constant up and down motion of the river has the water color a bit stained, so it seems important to keep a brightly colored egg or worm on the line as an attractor to help the midge or subtle nymph get noticed. Catching fish during the periods of high water can be accomplished with the same strategy only with more depth and weight on the line to get to the bottom.
The scenario on the Norfork tailwater is much the same. Water levels are flip flopping often, allowing short opportunities for wade fishing, and fishing is fair to good with egg and worm patterns, Hunchback Scuds in orange or pink, DW’s Super Midge in pearl or silver, and good old Sunday Specials.