Perhaps the most often asked question of fishing guides everywhere is, “When is the best time of year to fish here?” For some fisheries, the answer to that question is clear and simple. In the case of migratory fish for example, say salmon/steelhead, the best time of year to fish for them would clearly be when they make spawning runs, swimming up rivers and streams out of their vast ocean/lake habitats. Migratory fish are simply not around all the time, so there is inevitably a time to try for them and a time to not bother trying. Even for non-migratory fish, like trout living in a freestone mountain river, there may be times of year when quality of habitat does not allow for good fishing (the dead of winter for example, when low water temperature slows the fish’s metabolism and causes them to feed less). The inverse of that example is also relevant, when quality of habitat temporarily creates wonderful fishing whether it’s due to water temperature or hatching insects or some other factor. The level of success that can be expected fluctuates for most fisheries based on time of year, and so for most fisheries the question “When is the best time of year to fish here?” has a logical answer/s.
Tailwaters such as the White River system that drain out of deep reservoirs are a fabulous fishing anomaly created, quite accidentally, by humans. Most dams are constructed for purposes of maintaining water supplies, mitigating flood damage, and producing electricity. The wondrous side effect of a large dam on a fishery is that the tailwater maintains a relatively constant flow and temperature compared to a freestone river that is subject to uncontrolled flooding, drought, and snowmelt. Tailwater fisheries therefore provide a reasonably good chance of success across the entire calendar year, and are almost never unfishable. So in the context of tailwaters, the popular question, “When is the best time of year to fish here?” may not have a clear answer.
This blog spends a lot of words describing how much conditions change on the White River, contrary to the relatively stable nature of tailwaters just described in the previous paragraph. For a tailwater, the White does change often – that’s because the dams on the White River play a large role in mitigating flood damage in the greater Mississippi River watershed. So the White River dams are really part of a massively complex engineering solution to problems that may be hundreds of miles away, whereas many tailwater fisheries are situated below dams that play much smaller, less complicated roles in the surrounding region, or dams that have outlived their relevance, in either case the tailwaters below such dams are not subject to the complex ever-changing needs of a flood control system. So again the White River does change a lot compared to some tailwater fisheries, however, in a larger historical context, the White River is actually much more stable post dam construction than pre dam. Both temperature and flow are stable enough that the White River tailwater trout fishery indeed falls into the category of excellent year round fishing.
Around the White River trout fishing community you will hear many different answers to the question, “When is the best time of year to fish here?” That’s because the best fishing on the White is not a specific season or month; rather, the highs and lows of angling success on the White vary week-to-week and often day-to-day. A visitor to the area may characterize an entire season’s fishing based on a weekend experience, but the local angler knows that great fishing is possible every week of the year. The results of the past week of fishing would stack up well in a week by week ranking of results over the whole year, and yet November doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Those who came and fished this November will likely remember uncrowded waters, comfortable weather, and willing trout – a combination that gives November a platform in the great debate, “When is the best time of year to fish here?”
Read on for current conditions and fly choices.
Looks like a little rain forecast for Thursday-Friday but then clearing skies and comfortable temperatures over the weekend. Flows were hovering around 10,000cfs but have increased as of today up to 12,000-13,000cfs turbine release plus an additional 2,000cfs coming over the spillways. High water nymphing tactics remain strong fishing San Juan worms, eggs, Jigged Hare’s Ear nymphs, Devil Jigs, Dally’s Tailwater Jigs, and Rubberlegs around flooded grass beds and undercut banks. With all the volume of water coming from both the bottom and top of the dam it would not be surprising to witness dead or dying shad in the upper reaches of the tailwater. Be prepared with Wiggle Minnows, Sparkle Minnows, AR Beadheads, Puff Daddies, and white Wooly Buggers.
Turbine release is off but spillway release is at 1,740cfs or approximately equivalent to one unit. San Juan worms, eggs, Cheetos, pink or orange scuds and other brightly colored flies drifted over the bottom with split shot are effective. A shad bite is also a possibility with spillways open, so try Wiggle Minnows, Sparkle Minnows, AR Beadheads, Puff Daddies, and white Wooly Buggers.