Ozarks Tailwater Trout Fishing
missouri and arkansas
There are five tailwater fisheries in the Ozarks. All are world-class fisheries. All of these tailwaters originate from bottom-drop dams on large reservoirs. All of these fisheries are either on the White River, or a direct tributary. The water below these dams flow cold, clear, and well oxygenated twelve months a year. They provide the perfect habitat to grow some of the largest trout in the world. Up until the summer of 2009, one Ozark tailwater (the Little Red River) held the all-tackle world record for brown trout. This record has since been broken in a Lake Michigan tributary, but the fact remains that there are trout of world-record size in these rivers. (This information is now outdated with regard to the WR brown...there have been several that have exceeded the Lake Michigan record...one in NZ and one back on Lake Taneycomo)
All of the tailwaters are stocked intensively. Each receives hundreds of thousands of trout. To give a particularly extraordinary example, the five mile long Norfork River receives over 1 million trout annually (about 200,000 fish per mile). This is probably the highest stocking rate of any stream in the world. Most of the stocked trout are rainbows, but brown, brook, and cutthroat trout are stocked in most tailwaters as well. Generally, rainbows are managed for put and take fishing, while the other species are managed for their trophy potential. This provides an excellent two tier fishery in all of these streams.
Tailwaters provide many complications to the fisherman. The foremost concern will be quickly rising water levels. This is an issue on all tailrace rivers. These releases are often unannounced, and they occur very quickly. The moment you see the water rising, you need to get out of the river immediately. You'll be swimming in ice-cold water if you aren't quick enough. Especially when weather is cold, it won't take long to get hypothermia if this happens to you. This also makes boating the tailwaters extremely dangerous, especially if you plan to anchor. If you anchor in low water, and the river comes up while you are unaware, it may swamp your boat. For this reason, when boating the tailwaters, it is a foremost concern to have a sharp knife handy, in case your anchor becomes stuck on the bottom. Besides unexpected dam releases, heavy fishing pressure is incredibly high on all the tailwaters. This can make the fish very selective, especially in the catch and release areas where pressure is highest.
The rewards of fishing these tailwaters are great however. Trout densities are extremely high, averaging about 5000 per mile on most of these rivers. Also, brown trout often grow very large, with plenty of fish in the 5 to 10 pound range. Many run even larger. These tailwaters are truly special rivers.
People come from all over the continent just to fish them.