Arkansas Ozarks Fishing-White River-Bull Shoals-Norfork Lake-Buffalo-North Fork

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Arkansas Ozarks Trout
by Mark Oliver, Fisheries Biologist, District 2 AG&F

The White River and the North Fork River offer what is arguably the best trout fishing in the world. These rivers have certainly produced the world record fish to back this claim. In addition these rivers hold several line-class world records. Since trout are not native to the Arkansas Ozarks, the fact that they have done so well here is surprising.Water temperatures that exceed 70 F for any length of time will begin to stress and eventually kill trout. What makes it possible for trout to exist in our state are the cold tailwaters below the large, deep reservoirs of Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork. The White River, and the North Fork of the White River were dammed in the 1940’s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and hydropower generation. The water used to generate power comes from deep in the lakes and is always cold. This makes for excellent trout fishing all year. The release of the cold water into the rivers below the dams eventually eliminated most of our warmwater species such as Smallmouth, Crappie, Bluegill, and Catfish by interfering with their highly temperature-dependant reproductive cycles. In an effort to mitigate the lost fisheries resources, rainbow trout were stocked experimentally in the late 1940’s. They thrived, growing over an inch a month initially, in the cool, productive waters and the long southern growing season. The success of these early stockings eventually led to the construction of the Norfork National Trout Hatchery just below Norfork dam.


This Hatchery is now one of the largest federal trout facilities in the country and is operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (870-499-5255, tours available). Norfork Hatchery produces approximately 500,000 pounds of 9 to 12 inch trout per year, primarily for stocking the North Fork and the White Rivers. It also produces 250,000 to 300,000 5 inch fingerlings a year for the Spring River State Fish Hatchery at Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, which further rears the fish to an average size of 12 to 15 inches for stocking the State’s trout waters. The Norfork Hatchery has an enclosed tank and raceway system for young fish, and 96 large outside raceways for final growth of stockers. Norfork Hatchery raises Rainbow, Brown, and Cutthroat trout. The Spring River Hatchery, operated by Arkansas Game & Fish, is situated on an island below a dam on the Spring River. It was donated by the Kroger Company to Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in 1985 and employs a unique system of 36 in-ground silos (16.5 feet across and 13 feet deep) for raising trout. Water from Spring River Lake is piped to the bottom of the silos and pours out the top of them to continuously exchange water and flush the fish culture by-products. The hatchery is authorized to use up to 50,000 gallons per minute for the purpose of raising trout. Annually it produces 500,000 trout (mostly rainbows and cutthroats) that weigh around 385,000 pounds. Upriver of the hatchery about 2.5 miles is the origin of Spring River, Mammoth Spring. One of the largest in the U.S., Mammoth pumps out 9 million gallons of ground water per hour. Because the temperature of the spring water is always between 58 and 62 F, it is suitable year round for trout. The Spring River is also stocked with trout. According to Melissa Jones, Spring River Hatchery Manager, the Hatchery is open Monday through Friday, 7am to 3:30pm and tours are available for groups of 10 or more. Smaller groups or individuals may take self-guided tours during business hours.

The trout produced by these hatcheries are stocked directly into the troutwaters or into a special stocking raft that further distributes them, away from areas of high fishing pressure and into areas of good habitat. Well over a million trout are stocked annually into our Arkansas Ozarks waters.

Rainbow Trout

Brown Trout

Brook Trout

Cutthroat Trout