Arkansas Ozarks Fishing-Bull Shoals-Norfork Lake-White River-Buffalo-North Fork
The White River begins in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas and flows north and east into Missouri then back into Arkansas. The river travels a total of 720 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River. The upper end of the White has been impounded in several places to form three major reservoirs (Beaver, Table Rock, and Bull Shoals) and a river-run lake (Taneycomo). The White River basin drain contains about 27,765 square miles. In our portion, the river flows through forests, pasture land, small communities, and huge limestone bluffs. The water is crystal clear and full of a variety of fish species. The bottom of the White is composed of gravel, bedrock, and sand.
The White River below Bull Shoals Dam contains one of the most famous trout fisheries in the world. Along with its tributaries, it is considered the best fishery for trophy brown trout in the world. Fifteen- to 20-pound brown trout are fairly common. The current world record for fly fishing with 4-pound test line came from the White as does (tie) the all tackle catch-and-release and five line class catch-and-release records. The average size of rainbow trout has been going up in recent years. Many of the stockers are 12 inch average fish produced by our Mammoth Spring Hatchery and the Pot Shoals net pen facility rather than just the 9 inch average fish previously stocked. Still until 1995, virtually all rainbows were caught within a few days of stocking and trophy fish were virtually unknown since the days when hatchery brood stock were occasionally replaced and released (now eggs are purchased from elsewhere).
Then, the AG&FC established two catch and release areas where no harvest is allowed. Located in the first 1/2 mile below Bull Shoals Dam and on a 1-mile section at Rim Shoals, rainbows there now survive to trophy size which they attain quickly due to their rapid growth. A fine example is the 13 pound rainbow shown here. This fish was taken in the catch and release area just below Bull Shoals Dam. Some trophy rainbow are now taken outside these areas when they leave for a spawning migration or just wander. An occasional ten-pounder gets caught and lately there have been many of 5- to 7-pound fish taken. The current state record 19 pounds, 1 ounce was caught on the White. Cuffhroat trout are also plentiful. The White produced the current state record cutthroat as well (9 pounds 9 ounces) The designated troutwaters extend from Bull Shoals Dam to the town of Guion, a distance of about 80 miles. Below Gulon (including two reaches between three locks and dams), the White contains excellent cool and warm water fish populations. Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are the most important sport fisheries. Channel caffish are stocked annually into that portion of the river. American eels can be caught there at night during low flow and this section is especially popular with sucker giggers (which is legal in season). There are three AG&FC access areas in the lower reaches of the tailwaters.
Fishing services and resorts dot the White River and provide access and fishing expertise to hundreds of thousands of anglers every year. Those who don't use guides should be aware that because of hydropower generation and flood control measures, the flows in White River can fluctuate widely (from about 100 cfs to 22,000 cfs) and very quickly. The Corps of Engineers maintains a recorded message service (870-431-5311) that provides current and recent generation information to help anglers plan trips on the river. Wade anglers, especially, should be aware that the river can rise quickly and should always use a visual indicator to keep track of the water level.
The AG&FC maintains a number of boating and walk-in access areas along the river at regular intervals so that floats of a variety of lengths are available. Most of the land on the river is privately owned, so get permission before you trespass. The river bottom itself, up to the ordinary high water mark, belongs to the State of Arkansas. That includes most of the gravel bars which are ideal for a picnic lunch or to camp.
Below Guton, the river begins to warm up. It actually becomes marginal habitat for both coldwater fish (trout) and warmwater fish (bass and catfish).