Highlights Of A Trip Down The North Fork
by Steve Wright, taken from his book Ozark Trout Tales
("Left" and "right" directions assume the angler is facing downstream.")
With only 4.8 miles to cover, it doesn't take long to reach the White River from Norfork Dam when the power generators are running. However the Norfork Tailwater is known as much for its wade fishing opportunities at low water as it is for float-fishing from a boat. Both methods are accommodated with plenty of river access.Quarry Park below Norfork Dam provides both a concrete boat launching ramp and public access for bank fishing and wading.
Dry Run Creek enters the Norfork Tailwater in Quarry Park and the mouth of the creek is a popular bank fishing area.The effluent from Norfork National Fish Hatchery flows into Dry Run Creek at rates up to 22,000 gallons per minute. This highly-oxygenated, nutrient-rich water attracts trout from the tailwater. Anyone may fish at the creek mouth, where no special restrictions apply. But fishing in Dry Run Creek is all catch-and-release and limited to two groups of people: 1) those under 16 years of age, and 2) properly licensed disabled. Tackle is restricted to single, barbless hooks and artificial lures.Quarry Park extends about three-quarters of a mile down the north bank, and there are several paths from the park to the river. A shoal starts at the boat ramp. A small island, which shows only as a patch of grass at high water, is in the middle of the river near the park boundary. Rainbow Trout Resort and Gene's Trout Resort are visible on the right, about one mile from the dam, and there some private docks along this section of the river, too.
A shoal marks a left bend in the river, which then makes a slight jog left, then right, and back into a straight stretch called Long Hole. At the bottom of Long Hole, a small stream of water cuts into the right bank, then back out a few yards downstream. Effluent from the Norfork National Fish Hatchery flows into Dry Run Creek which offers catch-and-release fishing for kids and disabled adults. There's a shoal between the entrance and exit of this water.An island that extends past McClellan's Trout Dock starts here. The main channel is down the left side, where the dock is located. At the top of the island the river bottom is marked with a series of rock ledges. The lower part of the right side of the island is blocked with fallen trees.
Huey Manley's 38-pound, 9-ounce world record brown trout was caught from McClellan's Dock in 1988. On the night side near the end of the island at McClellan's, a large slough extends back upstream. Past the island, a straight pool marked by a gravel bar on the left and thick cover on the right stretches down to the mouth of, which enters on the left, at approximately the halfway point of the Norfork Tailwater. For a daily fee paid at McClellan's, anglers can park vehicles in the pasture just above Otter Creek and gain walk-in access to this part of the river.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission established a year-round catch-and-release zone on January 1, 1995, that begins at Otter Creek and extends one mile downstream to 100 yards above the River Ridge Access.The next half-mile, from Otter Creek to the beginning of Mill Dam Eddy7 includes some of the most distinctive rock features in the Norfork Tailwater.Right at the mouth of Otter Creek, stands a large sycamore tree. Some anglers call this Sycamore Pool. A short shoal leads to another pool, which the late Chuck Davidson, one of the fly fishing pioneers on the Norfork Tailwater, named Ace in the Hole, because he could always catch some trout here. Just before the river begins turning back to the right, a ledge extends all the way across the river. A drop-off behind it forms a waterfall at low water levels and a whitewater shoal at high water levels. At intermediate water levels, this is a particularly dangerous place for inexperienced boaters.There is a pool below, then an island. The main river channel goes to the right of island, however, you can boat down either side at high water levels, when water flows over the island and splits it in two. During periods of no power generation, the left side goes dry, except for a pool below a V-split ledge and drop-off. Called the Blue Hole or Trap Hole, this pool literally is a trap at dead low water levels and usually holds large numbers of fish.
However, these landlocked fish aren't easily caught. Davidson called this Education Hole."He said if you could catch fish here you could catch them anywhere," recalled John Gulley. "These fish will give you an education. They can be pretty smart."A straight pool stretches 3/l0ths of a mile from the end of the island at Blue Hole to a pair of islands below. This is called Mill Dam Eddy. The island at the bottom of Mill Dam Eddy is commonly referred to as Cook's Island, in reference to Charlie Cook, who lives nearby. The catch-and-release zone ends below this island.
River Ridge Access, which features a handicap fishing pier, plus walk-in access, marks the end of the straight stretch of river that began at Mill Dam Eddy. Goat Ridge Bluff lines the right side of the river and Highway 5 runs along the top of it, where there is a scenic overlook of the Norfork Tailwater. At low water, there is a gravel bar in front of River Ridge Access.The river starts to trend back to the left. At low water, there is a series of riffles and pockets here. An island is visible downstream. The main river channel goes to the left of it. At high water, a second island forms along the left bank.
Baxter County Road 63 roughly parallels the Norfork Tailwater from one end to the other. It runs closest to the river in this last half-mile, from the second island down, along the left side.The Schroder Haus sits atop the bank on the right. The Highway 5 and railroad bridges mark some of the deepest holes in the Norfork Tailwater. David Wooten's 34-pound, 8-ounce brown trout was caught near the railroad bridge in 1988. Rose's Trout Dock is on the left, just past the bridges. The White River is clearly visible from here. The AGFC's Norfork Public Access provides bank fishing on the left. The last stretch of Norfork Tailwater on the right bank is marked by fallen trees that often attract trout.