The North Fork is truly a river of dreams. It may well be the best trout stream in the Midwest, and is in the running for being the best in the lower 48. The section I will describe in this article is the freestone section, from Rainbow Springs, down to Dawt Mill dam. This section, in total, is around twelve miles of some of the best trout water in America. Fishing the North Fork above Norfork Lake provides the classic freestone trout fishing experience, Western-style.
Blue Ribbon Section
Trout populations are truly prolific in the North Fork of the White. The Blue Ribbon section holds about 500 rainbow trout per mile, as well as a fair, but much smaller number, of brown trout. This section, currently (December 2008), is restricted to artificial lures and flies, and all trout must be eighteen inches. Flies include the whole array of nymphs, as well as glow bugs during spawning, and some dries during hatches. Spin anglers will do plenty well on size 0 Mepps spinners, and 1/24 ounce rooster tails for the 100% wild rainbows. Tiny Rapalas will work quite well, of course. This section is seven miles long.
Red Ribbon Section
The other trout fishing section in the North Fork is the Red Ribbon Area. As this was posted, a fifteen inch minimum is in place, and all flies, lures, and even bait are allowed. You'll find good access in this section, and about 1000 trout per mile. This is a solid number and puts the river on par with many Western streams as well as the famous section of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam. They grow huge in the oxygen and food rich waters, and it is possible, though unlikely, that it could be home to a world record. There are also several hundred rainbow trout per mile, and like the Blue Ribbon section, all are wild. Fly selection will be the same, although you may want to add bringing some sculpin imitating streamers along, which is the brown trout's staple food in this section. Lures would be the same as the Blue Ribbon section. The ability to fish with live bait is unique, and provides a great opportunity. Don't bother with dough bait here, instead drift nightcrawlers, crayfish, and sculpin along the bottom. Make sure to set the hook quickly, so that trout you want to release, or are mandated to release, have a good chance to survive.
There are two ways to fish this part of the North Fork. You can wade from the several public access points, or you can float. Wading trips are usually started from the several access points. Starting upstream, and heading downstream, they include Kelly Ford, Blair Bridge, and Patrick Bridge. The stream is considered navigable, and you are okay as long as you stay below the high water mark. The more popular way to fish the North Fork is to float it in a canoe or drift boat. There are only a few obstacles, and they can often be run, or otherwise portaged. The current moves fast enough that most fishing will be done by stopping the boat and wading. Both the Blue and Red Ribbon portions usually carry enough water to float, even in high summer.
All in all, the North Fork of the White is a great destination river. It fishes well twelve months a year, and is particularly noted for fishing well in both the heat of summer and the dead of winter. There are several great trout streams nearby. The Norfork River, (really the same river, below Norfork Dam), also provides world class year-round trout fishing. In this tailwater section, you will find Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat and Brookies. Other streams within an hour include the White River for trophy trout, and Bryant Creek (for smallmouth bass), Bull Shoals Lake, and Norfork Lake for trophy largemouth and smallmouth bass. For these reasons, the North Fork River is a great place to visit.