Copyright 2016 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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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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|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (email@example.com)
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
|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 river is flowing at
a normal level for this time of the
year and trout are being caught in
all sections. There are lots of
rainbows being caught in the
upper river and browns in the
middle and lower sections of the
river. The brown trout are entering
the pre-spawn stage, aggressive
and territorial in many cases. The
Brown sculpin streamer are
catching them in good numbers.
Keep up with the latest reports by
clicking the above link to our White
River fishing report.
White River Tailwater (Bull Shoals)
Fishing Report Headline Archive:
Click Here For the Current White River Fishing Report
10/13/15 As it usually is at this time of the season, the discharges are fairly strong. There has
been a lot of rain lately but the flows should subside some in the near future. Brown trout are
starting to spawn. There are still a few hatches taking place and terrestrials are still working.
10/20/15 As usual at this time of the year, the White is flowing high and strong. They are
continuing to run a lot of water through the dam. We don't expect much change in this during
the coming week. Brown trout are mostly in the pre-spawn stage but some may be actually
spawning. The White River is a bottom discharge tailwater and its water coming from Bull
Shoals Dam stays near a constant temperature throughout the year. The discharge rates are
critical on the White River. They determine just about everything you do regarding the best
methods and strategies.
10/27/15 It is getting a little colder and that only helps the "catching" at this time of the year.
Flows continue to be high making it impossible to wade. They are currently lower than they
have been but still high. There is more rain in the forecast and we don't expect the high water
discharges to change much at all. Brown trout are in the love making mode and aggressive
and territorial. Our Brown Sculpin streamer fly work great to fool them.
11/03/15 Our Brown Sculpin and White Belly Sculpin streamer flies has produced some more
big brown trout for our customers recently. As I am writing this, the stream level is as low as it
has been in a long time. There is a little rain in the forecast and the weather is staying warm.
Blue-winged olives in a small size 20, are the only thing hatching other than midges. Midges
are still one of the best options.
11/10/15 Good weather continues and those like to catch big brown trout still have plenty of
opportunity. Many of the trout are in the post-spawn stage and hungry. Sculpin Streamers like
our Brown Sculpin and White Belly Sculpin are hard to beat. The river has a lot of these fish.
Wading will be very limited to none at all but you should do well with a drift boat. Hatches will
be limited mostly to midges and possibly some BWOs.
11/17/15 Normally the levels are high this time of year but we are also experiencing some
heavy rain in the Mid-west and it will take a few more days to get the water through the White
River system. You can expect high discharges for a few more days. Streamers will be about
the only option and that's not a bad one. Brown trout are in the post-spawn mode and
hungry. About the only hatches you can expect will be Blue-winged olives and midges.
11/24/15 The stream levels are back down to normal with normal discharges. There is more
rain coming and we expect more high discharges. You just have to keep a check on the
schedule to know the situation at this time of the year. Midges, cream and red, works best for
our customers. The Brown Sculpin has also been a hot fly for the big post-spawn browns.
12/01/15 The river is running high and fast this morning. There isn't any rain forecast for the
next seven days, so maybe that will give them a chance to get the lake levels down and better
discharges. There has been little chance for anyone to fly fishing lately. What has been done
had to be done in fast water with drift boats for sure. Midges will be the most important flies.
The weather will be reasonably warm this coming week and that will help anglers stay
12/08/15 The White river tailwater is running very high right now. They are lowering the lake
back to winter levels. It will likely be high for a while, so it is imperative that you check the
release schedule prior to planning a fishing trip. Notice that we added Winter stoneflies to the
list of flies. Midges will still be most important but the little winter stones will start hatching this
month as well. Be sure to check the discharge schedule.
12/15/15 Stream levels are very high right now,at 32,000 cfs, or in fact, completely blown out.
It will probably be a while before they settle things down. You will just have to keep a check on
them, but it looks like it may be a while. The good news is, there is almost no chance of rain
for the next week.
12/22/15 The discharges are down from last week but still high. We don't guide and don't
need to use any stretch of the conditions, so our advise is wait until conditions improve. Yes,
you can fish and you can probably catch some trout. There is rain in the forecast almost
every day for the next week and discharges are going to continue to be high. Streamers will
be the best fly option if you do decide to fight the elements.
12/27/15 We opened up the USGS stream flow report this morning to see the highest flows
we have seen in a long time - 154,000 cfs at 34.74 feet. That says it all. The river is flooded,
not just blown out. It will be at least several days before you will be able to fish the White.
01/05/16 The river is back down to flows and a level that is just above normal for this time of
the year. The weather forecast has more rain predicted beginning Wednesday and lasting at
least five days, so you can expect more high water levels soon. You will just have to keep a
check on the release schedule by the power company.
01/12/16 There is more rain coming on Thursday and Friday and changing to snow on
Saturday. The releases are high right now and will probably remain high for a while but the
only way to know for sure is to check the schedule. Notice we added Black Flies to the list.
They will start hatching and biting.
01/19/16 Black flies are hatching good. Fish the larva and pupa and adults only when you
see trout feeding on the surface. The discharges are very high and likely to remain that way
for a few days. All you can do is keep a close check on the schedule. Midges is the prime
insect to imitate during January.
01/26/16 The good news is, the weather is going to be nice and warm with no rain or snow for
the next week. The bad news is, the discharge levels are very high, too high to fish from a
boat or by wading. Once the stream levels come down, midges, winter stoneflies and Black
flies are the insects you need to be imitating.
02/02/16 The discharges and stream levels continue to be very high, too high to wade and
too high to fish from a drift boat very well. You will just have to keep a check on the power
company discharge schedule. There is a little rain in the forecast but much less than there
02/09/16 The discharges are back up high again but should begin to settle down again. The
levels fell during last week and should do that again. The good news is there is no rain or
snow in the forecast for this coming week. Fishing would be very good if the discharges were
lower. You will just have to watch the schedule.
02/16/16 The bad news is the stream levels and discharges are still very high and you can't
fish. The good news is, it is turning warmer and there is no rain or snow in the forecast for the
coming week. It won't be long before trout will be jumping at the end of many angler's lines.
02/23/16 There is a chance of rain and snow through Wednesday, then clearing. The
weather is going to be a little warmer but the water temperature isn't affected until about two
miles downstream from the dam. It is getting a little warmer. The discharges and stream levels
are high, but not near as high as they have been.
03/01/16 The big tailwater continues to run high. There has been a lot of rain recently and
more coming for the next couple of days. It is much warmer and the water temperature will
soon start coming up in the middle and lower sections of the river. You will just have to watch
the levels and fish when they drop.
03/07/16 I dislike writing lousy fishing reports as much as you probably dislike reading them
but that's the story again this coming week. There are flash flood warnings and rain forecast
every day for the next week. Discharges are still high and I'm certain they will continue.
03/15/16 The bad news is, the river is very high and stained. The good news is, the rain has
ended for a while and maybe they can get the lake level down enough to resume good
discharge rates and stream levels. For now, there is no opportunity to fly fish. You will just
have to watch the schedule.
03/22/16 The high discharges and stream levels have made it impossible for anyone to have
much opportunity fly fishing the White during the past few weeks. Hopefully, the stream levels
will drop and the action can begin in the near future.
03/29/16 The stream level is down near normal for the first time in a long time. The water is
clear and you can expect the "catching" to pick up. Little Black Caddis will soon be hatching.
Right now, cream and red midge larva and pupa is you best choice for numbers. The Brown
sculpin is the best choice for a larger brown trout.
04/05/16 The weather is getting warmer with some rain in the forecast. The discharges are
low for the first time in a long time. The levels are find for drift boats at this time, but still high
for wading anglers. Little Black Caddis have begin to hatch. Midges and little BWOs are
04/12/16 The river is still in fairly good shape for the middle of April. There is little chance of
rain for this coming week and hopefully, the discharges and stream levels will stay low.
Midges, little Blue-winged olives and little Black caddis are the main insects to imitate. Don't
forget about scuds. They always work.
04/19/16 There have been a few times anglers have been able to catch a few trout on the
White. They are running less and less and the water has a lot of color to it at times. Midges,
especially light Greens and Reds, or blood midges, are working the best. Sowbugs have done
okay at times. There are some little Black Caddis hatching on the middle and lower sections.
04/26/16 I know everyone is waiting until they can hear the stream levels are low and stable
and a lot of larger insects are hatching. There are some little Black Caddis, and plenty of
Blue-winged olives, especially on cloudy, overcast days. There is still a lot of rain in the
forecast, so you can only check the discharge schedule to keep track of it.
05/03/16 Sulphurs and American March Browns are beginning to hatch. That should really
help the "catching" and these mayflies will cause the trout to feed on the surface. Don't
expect them to emerge any and everywhere. The water is just now getting warm enough due
to the lower discharges.
05/10/16 They opened the door to the dam and are letting a lot of water out. Fishing is out of
the question right now, even for drift boats unless you want to waste some time and money.
Check the discharge schedule. There is more rain coming just about every day but it doesn't
appear to be terribly heavy.
05/17/16 Keeping up with the White River levels is like riding a roller coaster. Levels are
measured in feet instead of inches like most tailwaters. Now they are in good shape but it will
change. Getting the discharge schedule is imperative as everyone familiar with the river
05/24/16 The big river is rolling high and fast again and from the looks of the weather
forecast, it is likely to stay that way for some time. That written, you never know without
checking the schedule. Drift boats still fish the high flows, but the catch rate fall off and we
don't recommend it if you have any other option.
06/31/16 No, I'm not just copying the previous week's report. The discharges and resulting
high stream levels are just that - high. This is rather normal for May and it will change. When
it does the White River will be producing plenty of trout along with some big one. You will just
have to keep watching the levels.
06/07/16 The levels and discharges are currently in good shape for drift boats and anglers
are catching a lot of trout. Fish streamers like our Brown sculpin when the level is up and
Sulphur nymphs when the flows are down. Of course fish the duns when they are emerging
and if you fish until dark, the spinner fall.
06/14/16 The White remains in good shape another week. There is very little rain in the
forecast and the discharges have been in relatively good shape offering anglers some good
fly fishing opportunities. Our customers are catching trout in all sections of the river on
several different hatches that are taking place.
06/21/16 The discharges should soon start getting better for wading anglers. There were
some opportunities this past week. The levels will always vary at this time of the year, so you
have to get the discharge schedule when you have the best fly fishing opportunities. Sulphurs
are starting to hatch. That will bring about some dry fly opportunity soon.
06/28/16 The discharges are currently such that the levels are in pretty good shape. There is
a lot of rain in the forecast starting Wednesday, so the discharges may be increased before
this next week ends. There are lots of Cinnamon Caddis hatching and some Sulphurs in the
lower section of the river. We received two good reports from customers fishing this past
07/05/16 The river is in as good of shape as it ever gets at this time of the year. The
discharges are running much lower and anglers can even wade in some places. There are a
lot of insects hatching but they vary from the dam to the lower end of the river. Don't expect
them all to be hatching in one place at one time. Now is a good time to fish the river.
07/19/16 Sorry, we missed the past week's reports. The previous week has had few
opportunities due to high discharges but they should settle down to the normal summertime
patterns. We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing this past week. Sulphurs, Spotted
Sedges and Green sedge caddis continue to hatch. The late afternoon is the best time to fish.
07/26/16 The White is offering some opportunities for anglers to fish. Discharges and stream
levels vary greatly but are generally high most of the time. Hatches are continuing to be good
but depend on the section of water you fish. We didn't receive any reports from anglers last
week. The weather is still going to be hot, but not as hot as last week.
08/02/16 The White has been offering wading anglers a few opportunities lately, but the past
two days it has been back up most of the time. The weather is going to continue to be very
hot and likely afternoon generation most likely common. Mornings are generally the best time
08/09/16 If the trend continues, they will be running water in the afternoons and not in the
mornings. As always, you must check to know for sure. There is a chance of rain in the
forecast everyday for the coming week, and that could be a factor. The cloud cover will help.
There are plenty of caddisflies hatching and Scuds and sowbugs are working good.
08/17/16 The weather is turning a little cooler and that will help anglers fishing and the middle
and lower sections of the river which get warm in the afternoons. There is a decent chance of
rain everyday and rain is likely most days. You can expect very heavy generation at Bull
Shoals in the afternoon and early evenings. Minimum flow has been running through the
night and for most of the morning.
08/24/16 We received some very good reports from custoemrs this past week. The were
using Sculpin streamers in the early morning and scuds and sowbugs in the middle of the
day. The levels have provided some good wading opportunities and levels for drift boats.
They are always subject to change, so make certain you check them and make no
08/31/16 Midges have worked great this past week, both creams and reds, or blood midges.
The stream levels and discharges have allowed anglers several good opportunities to wade.
Drift boat anglers and waders caught fish this past week. Fish sculpin streamers in the early
morings. Fish the caddisfly egg laying activity in the late afternoons.
09/06/16 We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing this past week, we assume
because yesterday was Labor day and anglers are just now getting home. Streamers, like the
Brown and White Belly sculpin, were turning out some larger trout if fishing early mornings
before the sun got on the water. Midges and late afternoon caddisflies worked best the
remained of the day.
09/13/16 The White is in good shape stream level wise much of the time. It has provided
some opportunity for both wading and boat anglers recently. There is rain in the forecast
every day for the next week and the discharge schedule is likely to change. There are still lots
of caddisflies hatching and Blue-winged olives hatches should be getting better and better.
09/20/16 If the generation trend continues,and we think it will, they will be running water in the
afternoons this coming week providing some wading opportunities in the mornings. Our
customers have been catching some trout in the mornings on the Brown and White Belly
sculpin. When the sun gets up good, go to scuds or midges. The water has been strong and
09/27/16 The White River is in great shape for a change. The discharges and stream levels
are down and stable. The weather is turning much cooler and that's helping the middle and
lower sections of the river. There are several hatches taking place including some larger
baetis Blue-winged olives, Little sister caddis and others. It won't be long before the brown
trout go into the love mode.
10/03/16 The discharges and stream levels have been high most of the past week and most
likely will continue to be for much of the coming week. There hasn't been any opportunity to
wade. Drift boats are fishing but it is mostly double nymph rigs weighted heavily and
streamers. Hopefully the lake levels will be getting back down to the right level soon. Brown
trout are nearing the pre-spawn mode.
10/11/16 About the best thing I can write this morning is the conditions for fly fishing the White
River will get better soon. You can expect more higher discharges but there will be off times
as well. Just make sure you check the schedule. They did catch some nice brown trout this
past week on streamers. The brown trout are building redds in preparation for the spawn.