Top Ozark Tailwaters

North Fork River
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North Fork River Practicalities

Species: Like the White River, rainbows are what you'll be catching most of the time but you can also tie into some big browns as well as stocked brook and cutthroat trout.

Gear: Fly fishers should bring an 8- to 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight outfit. A 6-weight won't be too heavy for some of these monsters and the high, fast water. Both 4X or 5X leaders will work in most conditions, and only in low water will you have to switch to 6X or 7X. For night fishing, 3X leaders are best. Guides recommend weight-forward floating lines with a five-foot sink tip. Spincasters find that an ultralight spinning rod with 48 pound test line will work for the average rainbow trout you're likely to catch, but if you are looking to land lunkers, move up to a bassin' outfit set up with 1020 pound test line. You'll want to bring along neoprene waders for the colder months, and breathables for the warmer ones. Felt soles are needed to keep from slipping on the slick rocks. Polarized sunglasses are a must.

Flies & lures: Your fly box should contain Sowbugs, Scuds, Sculpin, Woolly Buggers, San Juan worms, and Crayfish to imitate the forage fish and crustaceans. Unlike western rivers, insect hatches are secondary food sources for these trout. Standard mayfly and caddis patterns will cover all the insect imitations you will need. Bring dry, emerger and nymph patterns. Beadhead Sowbugs are deadly. Other popular patterns include Prince Nymph and March Brown Nymph, Red Brassie, and Red Ass. On each of these tailwaters, when the water is down, midge fishing is highly successful. The number-one fly that will put you into fish is the Red Fox Squirrel nymph. Dropper rigs are deadly, usually set up with a Sowbug on the bottom; try them in orange, gray and tan. Lures run the gamut, depending on who you talk to, and include gold and bright green Little Cleos, Bomber Long A's, Rattlin' Rogues, small black or white jigs, Rapalas and crawdad lures.

Fly shops, lodges & guides: Lindsey's Rainbow Resort, Heber Springs, (501) 362-3139; McClellan Trout Dock, Norfork, (501) 499-5589; Norfork Trout Dock, Norfork, (501) 499-5500; John B. Gulley, II, Norfolk, (501) 499-7517.

Directions: From Little Rock, travel west on I-40 to US 65. Travel north on US 65 to Clinton where you will turn northeast on Highway 16. Continue north to Mountain View, then continue on Highway 5 into Mountain Home. From Mountain Home (which is a great home base), travel south on Highway 5 to Norfork, turn left (north) at Salesville on Highway 177. The river runs from the hatchery downstream to Norfork.

Lodging: There are no big cities to call home for an extended stay in the Ozarks, but here are some of the more established and reliable digs, all either on the river or within a short drive to any of the rivers. Cotter and Mountain Home are the best bets for White and North Fork, Heber Springs for Little Red. Anglers can fly into Little Rock and rent a car for a short drive of less than two hours.

Government agencies: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Little Rock, (501) 223-6300; Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock, (800) 644-4833. To order licenses by phone, call (800) 364-GAME. For current water conditions: Little Red River, (501) 362-5150; White River, (501) 431-5311.


The North Fork River, (sometimes called the Norfork River) below Norfork Dam, once held the world's brown trout record of nearly 39-pounds.

The North Fork River is a nutrient-rich tailrace, perfect for wade-fishing and stalking trout. The North Fork is less than five miles long but is amazingly rich with rainbow trout to 15-pounds and brown trout on par with the White.

In the warmer months, the North Fork is a haven for trout that run up from the increasingly warmer waters of the White River. Like the White River, the North Fork has riverside resorts along its course that provide lodging, boat rentals, guides and meals.

But the riffles and pools combined with the various trout havens like ledges, cracks, and drop-offs create a fly fisher's dream. Emergers, nymphs, wets and streamers are consistent producers, but the North Fork has some good dry-fly action. Midge fishing is good year-round. Spin casters find that everything from small jigs to largemouth bass stickbaits can be productive.

This short river is best fished from a drift boat when the water is up, best wade-fished when the generators aren't running and the water is low and clear. Usually, Norfork Dam only runs two generators but even with just those two, when the siren sounds, get to high ground.

If you've brought children under age 16, make sure to visit Dry Run Creek, a special regulations creek adjacent to North Fork, loaded with rainbow and browns, some of them huge. Anglers can only use single-hook, barbless artificial lures and flies on this fun fishery. Only handicapped anglers or children under 16 may fish Dry Run Creek.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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