Happy New Year y’all! 2020 marks the 69th year of existence for the White River tailwater fishery, as Bull Shoals Dam was completed in July 1951, and the first trout stocking took place soon after. Much has changed over nearly seven decades in terms of both habitat and fishing, some for worse, some for better.
Minimum flow significantly changed the character of the river in 2013 for example, raising the surface elevation of the river by a few inches, much to the chagrin of local and visiting wade fishermen. It would be difficult to argue however, that this change was anything but a net positive for the river, increasing both available habitat and food for the trout population.
Another observable change over the decades is that the trophy rainbow trout population that once dominated the White River has mostly disappeared, even though Norfork Federal Fish Hatchery still releases a million or so rainbows annually into the White and productive rainbow trout fishing can be had almost every day of the year. It’s speculative as to why rainbows over 18 inches are so rare these days, but one thing is for certain – brown trout have taken the rainbow’s place as the trophy fish in the river.
Thanks to excellent habitat and the one fish 24″ harvest rule, the White boasts one of the best populations of trophy brown trout on the planet, and local anglers agree the brown trout fishing is better now than it ever was in the past. Barring any major changes in habitat or regulation, excellent trout fishing will continue to be a recreational and economic highlight of northern Arkansas well into the future.
Now some updates on current conditions. Spillgate release on the White has ended ahead of schedule, and over the past week we’ve seen a bit of up and down turbine release ranging from 4,000cfs to 20,000cfs. Today’s flows are relatively stable between 10,000 and 12,000cfs, but with the lake elevation hovering less than a foot over power pool, it’s likely that the release schedule for the first week of January will involve more up and down rather than a stable volume. Tomorrow’s projection would seem to confirm the likelihood of an up and down schedule moving forward, showing heavy release starting at dawn, then a significant reduction in flow beginning around noon, and a return to heavy release around dusk. Fishing large streamers (Dally’s Twerking Minnow, Schmidt’s Double Deceiver, Strolis’ Headbanger Sculpin) for trophy brown trout is of course a popular pursuit this time of year – some days are successful, some days are not. For those wanting more consistent action, dead drifting worm patterns, egg patterns, and shad patterns (AR Beadhead, Sparkle Minnow,) is pretty effective.
Norfork has been up and down as well, bouncing back and forth between minimum flow and two units. Today and tomorrow’s projections however show stable two units from 9am until after dark. Those early to rise could potentially get a couple hours of wading in from dawn to the start of high water release. High water is effectively fished with deep dredged eggs, worms, and shad patterns, or weighted streamers like Headbanger Sculpin, Circus Peanut.