Copyright 2018 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The White River In
Fly Fishing the White River in Arkansas below Bull
Shoals Dam ranks at the top of the list with the nation's
best streams. It's one of the best trout streams in the
nation. When one mentions fly fishing the White River,
one place always first comes to the knowledgeable fly
angler's mind - the White River below Bull Shoals Dam.
The White River is a big river. Its headwaters are in
Missouri. It enters Arkansas and the re-enters Missouri
only to re-enter Arkansas. It flows a total of 720 miles.
The dam converted a warm water bass fishery into one
of the top cold water trout streams in the country.
The White River below Bull Shoals Dam is much larger
than the many miles of the river above the lake. More
importantly, it's much colder. The dam discharges water
from the depths of Bull Shoals Lake creating the perfect
habitat for trout. It's a very popular stream with
numerous resorts, campgrounds and several fly fishing
guides and outfitters that cater to the visiting anglers.
The White River's wild brown trout are supplemented by
the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. They stock
large numbers of trout. Although most of the newly
stocked trout are probably caught fairly quickly, some of
them live to grow to very large sizes. Trout exist
downstream for the Bulls Shoals Dam for over forty
miles. The lower section of the river also contains a
good population of smallmouth bass.
The water of the North Fork River, another fine tailwater
trout fishery itself, enters the White River at the town of
Norfork, adding even more cold water to the flow. The
White River is a very wide river, over a hundred yards
wide in places. It has some very large and deep pools as
well as plenty of fast water riffles. The locals call the
riffles "shoals". They are created by shoals that cross
the river. Most of the bottom consist of limestone, but
there's a mixture of gravel and soft bottom and an
occasional weed bed. It's a perfect habitat for the food
the brown trout prefer. Crustaceans, minnows, baitfish,
sculpin, crayfish, midges galore and many other types of
food is plentiful.
Access to the White River is very plentiful. If we listed all
the boat launches on the White River, it would consist of
a huge list. There are numerous access points including
those at the Arkansas State Park. Many launches were
built by the resorts along the White River.
Many think the White can only be fished from a drift
boat. Certainly it offers some of the best float trips of
any trout stream in the country but it can also be fished
from the bank and by wading. The river is very subject
to sudden fluctuations in water levels. The stream can
become very high and swift when all the turbines are
running, however, most of the time, the discharges are
well suited for fly fishing.
One of the best features of the river is that it can be
during the Winter when most other trout streams are
closed to fishing or too cold to fish.
Five to ten pound brown trout are commonly caught
from the White River. Many are caught that weight over
ten pounds and a few even go up to twenty. Holdover
rainbow trout can also grow very large. Rainbows over
twenty inches are not rare.
There's also a population of cutthroats and brook trout
in the White River. They are not near as plentiful as the
browns and rainbows but they are occasionally caught.
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Photo Courtesy of David Knapp Photography
Recommended Tackle & Gear
5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 or 12ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 71/2
ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Superb Five or Ultimate Six
For 5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
The season is open year-round on the White
River tailwater and you can catch trout just
about every day of the year.
Winter is the toughest time to fish the river but it
is possible to have some very good days.
Midges prevail during the winter months.
Spring time can be great provided the water
releases are supportive. There are some
aquatic insect hatches that can provide good
dry fly fishing opportunities.
Fly Fishing Guide to the White River
Fly fishing the White River can be challenging
at times with most everything depending on the
discharges from the dam. The river undergoes
big changes in water levels. This affects the
fishing drastically. You must fish according to
the releases. There are eight generators at Bull
Shoals Dam which can release a lot of water.
Caution must be used when you are wading.
You can normally wade the river with two or less
The White River tailwater below Bull Shoals
Dam provides a wide variety of different types
of water. There are stretches of pocket water,
long deep runs, shallow riffles, long pools, flat
water, rough water and just about everything in
between. Trout measuring between sixteen and
twenty inches are very common. Brown trout
are usually discussed in terms of pounds rather
than inches. There are four catch and release
areas on the river. They probably have the
majority of the larger trout although they are
found throughout the length of the river.
The water levels control everything. The
strategy you use depends almost entirely on
the amount of water being released through the
dam. Normally, the first six months of the year,
the water runs high. This is when most anglers
go to streamers. Sink tip and sinking lines are
sometimes used to help get the streamers
down. In early May and June the water is
sometimes at a moderate level. This is a good
time to fish the river using nymphs.
During late June, July and August, the
direct overhead sun makes catching the
nocturnal brown trout more difficult. You
best opportunities come just past
daybreak and late in the afternoon and on
into the evenings. During the summer and
on into the fall you will usually find the
water levels are lower than normal. Low
water makes for the best dry fly fishing
opportunities. Although there are few
hatches of aquatic insects, you can catch
plenty of trout on terrestrial imitations such
as hoppers, ants and beetles. You will
usually find the lowest water from
September through December.
From late October on into January, the
browns are spawning. They are much
easier to catch then but the trout should
not be bothered when they are on their
redds. This is very unsportsmanlike and
can hurt the success of the spawn. There
are plenty of other trout that can be
caught during the spawn period without
having to revert to trying to catch them
when they are on their redds.
White River Hatches and Trout Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based on
our stream samples of larvae and nymphs, not
guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing.
Unlike the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the White
River and in all stages of life that is applicable
to fishing. If you want to fish better, more
realistic trout flies, have a much higher degree
of success, give us a call. We not only will help
you with selections, you will learn why, after
trying Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of
our customers will use nothing else.
There are a few aquatic insect hatches on the
White River. Midges hatch year-round and in
terms of numbers, are far more plentiful than
any other insect. You should make certain you
have imitations of their larvae, pupae and the
adults. Midge fishing isn't all that locally popular
at the time but it is certainly one of the most
effective ways of catching trout on the White
River, including the large brown trout. The light
line methods haven't caught on as fast on the
White as some other places in the country.
Scuds and sowbugs are two of the most
important food sources found on the White
River. They are fairly plentiful and quite
effective when imitated properly. By the way, we
think our "Perfect Fly" imitations of the scud
and sowbugs are the best you can purchase.
They have proven to be effective on this river.
The other crustacean that is plentiful is the
crawfish, or crayfish, whichever name you
prefer. The smaller ones are eaten by all of the
trout and even the larger ones are eaten by the
Threadfin Shad are also eaten by the larger
trout and are important during the spring
months of February and March. During the hot
summer, there is a shad kill on the Bull Shoales
Lake that allows some to get through the
turbines and into the river. Sculpin are also
present everywhere and imitations of them are
usually very effective.
Little Brown Stoneflies hatch in February
and March. Imitations of their nymphs can
be effective during this time. Giant Black
Stoneflies hatch in certain areas of the
river in March.
Hatches of March Brown and Sulphur
mayflies take place in April and May. These
are isolated to certain areas of the river.
The March Browns in the riffles and the
Sulphurs are found on the sections with
moderate flows.There are a few Light Cahill
hatches that take place on the riffles the
last part of May and during the month of
Blue-winged Olive hatches occur in
January and February and again in
November and December. There is even a
White Fly (Ephoron) hatch that occurs in
the slower sections of the river in August
The largest caddisfly hatches thats place in
March through May. These are mostly
species of the Spotted Sedges. There are
also some Cinnamon Sedges that hatch
during the same time frame. There are
other species of caddisflies in the river but
none that hatch in large numbers.
The cranefly is another insect that is
plentiful on the White River. Imitations of
their larvae and the adult caneflies will take
their share of trout. They are around all the
time except during the cold weather.
Imitations of terrestrial insects, ants,
hoppers and beetles, can be effective
during the summer from June through
We recommend our "Perfect Flies"
because they have been proven effective
here and they are the most realistic and
effective trout flies you can purchase.
Some of them cost a little more but they are
worth every cent of it. Please give them a
The summer is the most popular time for fly
fishing the White River. The water stays
cool even on the hottest days.
Autumn provides the best opportunity to
catch a trophy size brown trout. There are
off limit areas and times during he spawning
season for the brown trout.
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Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (email@example.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
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|More Arkansas Trout Streams:
Click the links for fly fishing information
including descriptions of the streams,
access, location, species of fish, a fly
fishing guide, a fly fishing report, hatches
and recommended trout flies, fly fishing
gear and equipment, USGS stream data,
local weather and much, much more
Headlines: The discharges and
resulting stream levels are down
and should continue to get better
the next few days. The water is
getting warmer in the middle and
lower sections of the river and new
hatches will be starting to take
place soon. Keep up with the latest
reports by clicking the above link
to our White River fishing report.
White River Tailwater (Bull Shoals)
|Type of Stream
Brown Trout (wild)
Rainbow Trout (stocked with
Brook Trout (stocked and wild)
(Stocked with holdovers)
Large width but many miles of trout
State of Arkansas
National Weather Service Link
Fly Fishing Gear, Tackle, and