White River - Trout Fishing Profile

Fishery in Arkansas
  |  Gorp.com
Excerpted from Trout Fishing Sourcebook by Mark D. Williams

Location: Northern Arkansas.
Section: 95 miles of river below the Bull Shoals Dam to Guion; and the 5-mile Beaver Dam tailwater.
Maps: Bull Shoals, Cotter, Mountain Home West, Buffalo City, Norfork, Norfork Dam South, Calico Rock, Boswell.
Type of stream: Tailwater fishery.
Best season to fish: Year-round, but many believe the spawning season in fall is best. Fishing is consistent all year on the White.

Species to be found: The fishery is noted for its trophy brown trout, but the staple fish is the rainbow, stocked by the millions, and the fish most likely to be caught. In addition to the brown and rainbow trout, there are a few cutthroats and brookies stocked in the White. The White River's name has been made by the huge brown trout found in its cold water—browns up to nearly 40 pounds. Experts guess that it is just a matter of time before a 50 pounder is caught. Brown trout over 20 pounds are caught many times each year, and the angler who doesn't catch a 25 pounder needs to stay on the river just a little longer. Rainbow trout have been caught as big as 19 pounds on the White River, so the opportunity exists for a multicolored lunker. Most of the brown trout are wild, and some of the rainbows are wild. Most of the rainbow trout are stocked, and brown trout in much smaller numbers are annually stocked. Don't be too surprised to catch smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, or sunfish either, as they are plentiful in the river.

Average sizes: Rainbows typically run from 9 to 16 inches. Fishermen catch so many 15-inch rainbows they tend to fish out the river of these stockers until the next stocking date. Browns run from 10 to 18 inches, and many will be larger than that.

Regulations: From Bull Shoals Dam to Bull Shoals State Park, fishing is catch-and-release only for brown trout year around, and anglers are restricted to barbless, artificial lures and flies (no bigger than a size 8). It is closed to all fishing from Nov -Jan 31 of each year to protect the Brown trout spawning area. Also, the state park area of the river is also catch and release during the Nov-Jan period. The other fishable parts of the White River are subject to a two-creel limit on brown trout, and a total creel limit of trout of six. All brown trout kept must measure longer than 16 inches.

Places to fish along the river: Riffles (known as shoals) are very productive spots to fish the White. The shoals are named; some of the more famous ones are Roundhouse, Rim, Wildcat, Upper, Middle, Lower, Buffalo, and White Shoals. Many think that Rim Shoals is the best water on the White River, and the traffic in the area tends to back this theory. Fish around islands, submerged rocks, in the runs, in long pools and backwater eddies. When the water rises, the riffles become just more flat water, more of a glide. Fish the edges, the current breaks. Look for underwater structure. Look around the gravel bars before splashing around in the water, because you'd be surprised how many trout feed in the shallow waters. Fish are everywhere in this productive tailwater fishery.

Recommended Equipment

For spincasters, an ultralight medium spinning rod with 4 to 8 pound test line will do just fine, but if you are trophy hunting, a heavier weight outfit might better suit you. Flyfishers will want a 9-foot, 4 or 5 weight outfit, and a 6 weight won't be too heavy for some of these monsters and fast water. Leaders don't always have to be of the 7X variety, a 4X or 5X will suffice.

Top fly patterns: The best hatches occur in the spring (in April, May and June), and the best dry fly fishing is at this time. Hatches last until the end of summer, but most are small mayflies and caddisflies, as small as sizes 18 to 22. Most of the time, fish underwater with nymphs, wet flies and streamers. The best patterns are (and this is a diverse group of dressings) Sculpin, Muddler Minnow, Crayfish, Woolly Worm, Woolly Buggers, Zonker, Midge, Scud, Red Squirrel, Hare's Ear, San Juan worm, Shad, sow bugs, March Brown nymph, Caddis pupa, shrimp, Glo Bug, Prince nymph, Serendipity, Hoppers, Elk Hair Caddis, Sulphur, and Light Cahill. Spinning lures include spoons, in-line spinners, and crankbaits. Combo rigs include microjigs tipped with waxworms. Shad imitations are important because the trout are used to feeding on shad sucked through the dam turbines.

Recommended Techniques

Nymph fishing is by far the most effective technique for flyfishing for trout, usually with a dropper rig. Glo-Bugs are often used as attractors on these droppers. Dead-drift nymphs when floatfishing across promising lies. Shrimp and sow bugs at the end of the dropper are the sensible way to imitate the trout's food source, since imitating snails, another of their meals, is hard to do.

Best access points: Along this 100-mile course there are access points galore, too many to even begin to name.

Quality of Angling

Few writers write about the beauty of the White River. Maybe they are too consumed by the numerous trout docks, resorts, and other establishments along the river. Maybe the powerboats cruising up and down the river disturb their aesthetic. But the White River, when shrouded by a gentle fog in the early morning, has an otherworldly quality. Great bluffs squeeze against the wide, gentle river. Thickly forested hillsides slope down to the banks. The White River has a lot of water, but it often seems crowded. Maybe it is, but there is more than enough room for all anglers. Float a little to the next shoal, to the next run. If you are a flyfisher, you are in the minority, although the preponderance of baitfishermen is dwindling little by little. Spincasting is still very popular.

The late fall to early spring are the least crowded months, and the weather is usually moderate. The temperature of the river stays between the mid-40s and mid-60s all year, quite a feat for such a long, wide, big river. The White River puts pounds on fish quickly; by some estimates, trout grow as much as one-half to three-fourths of an inch a month. The unfortunate dilemma this fertile tailwater faces is that most of the trout stocked in her waters never get the chance to grow that half-inch; instead, they head for one of thousands of coolers, doomed to the frying pan. Improved restrictions would greatly improve the numbers of larger fish caught and generally help the White River as a fishery.

Wadeability/floatability: When wading, watch the water levels, because the river is big, powerful, and deceptive. Move to safe ground when the water level rises. There is far too much good water to take any unnecessary chances. In low-water conditions, the river is easily waded, but the bottom is often uneven and the rocks slippery, so keep an eye out. Floating the river is the only way to work the hatches, work the trout. Most use johnboats of various designs, but all kinds of boats can be seen. There can be a lot of boat traffic on the river. Be aware at all times, whether boating or wading, of other craft. To check on the latest flow release conditions, call Bull Shoals Dam, (870) 431-5311.

Fly Shops, Guides, and Outfitters of Interest

There are quite a number of trout docks and resorts along the White. Gaston's is perhaps the best known. Prices can be very reasonable at most of the establishments, and they vary in quality from five-star to the shack out back. Guides are reasonably priced compared to other similar quality trout fisheries, but if you wish to catch and release your trout, check up front with the guide because many tend to fish to put meat on the table. More and more, though, guides and docks are implementing catch-and-release practices, understanding that their future relies on the continued blue-ribbon quality of the White. Gaston's White River Resort, Lakeview, AR, (870) 431-5202. There are quite a number of qualified guides on this long river and if you have any questions or need more choices, call or write the Professional Guides Association, P.O. Box 664, Flippin, AR 72634 or the White and North Fork River Outfitters Association, P.O. Box 100, Cotter, AR 72626.


There are many places to bunk along or near the White River. Norfolk and Mountain Home are good places to rest your head and grab a bite to eat. Bull Shoals State Park is one of many places with campgrounds. Contact:
Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, (870) 269-8068
Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce, (870) 425-5111
Blue Ribbon Lodge, (870) 425-0447, Mountain Home, AR


Home Waters: Mid-South Flyfishers, by Mid-South Flyfishers
The Ozarks Outdoors, by Milton D. Rafferty
Ozark Trout Tales, by Steve Wright, 1995
Wright's book is the definitive source of information about the White River system.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press and Mark D. Williams. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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