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White River Fishing

White River Fishing

Arkansas and Missouri

In the old days, the White River roamed freely through the hills, bluffs, and valleys of the Ozark Mountains. It was a quiet, natural stream, where smallmouth bass, bluegill, catfish, and countless other species of fish lurked in every riffle and pool. It was the river where float fishing was refined, and anglers tossed plugs on bait casting rods for feisty bass. The White River is very different today. Towards the end of World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers built three hydroelectric dams on the White River: Beaver Dam, Table Rock Dam, and Bull Shoals Dam. The immediate effects were two-fold. First, three massive Reservoirs were created, and second, the smallmouth bass populations below these dams disappeared. This was a particular loss below Bull Shoals Dam, where 50 miles of previously excellent smallmouth bass habitat was washed away with the cold waters created by these bottom drop dams. Those who managed the fisheries on the White River began frantically looking for a substitute for this prolific bass fishery. Finally, they realized that the new habitat was perfectly suited for trout.

So the new era for the White River began. The reservoirs, which were named Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, and Bull Shoals Lake, turned out to produce excellent fishing for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, and panfish. The tailwaters of these lakes became some of the most productive trout fisheries in the world.


The Beaver Lake tailwater is the least known of the three. It only flows for five miles before becoming part of Table Rock Lake, but the fishing is quite good for rainbow and brown trout, as well as some cutthroat and brookies. Large brown trout aren't quite as common as the other White River tailwaters, but there are trout in the five and even ten pound range to be caught. San Juan Worms, egg patterns, and various nymphs work well for the fly fisherman. Spin fisherman do well on Mepp's Spinners, Rooster Tails, Panther Martins, nightcrawlers, and powerbait.

The White River doesn't emerge from the many reservoirs that impound it until it reaches Bull Shoals Dam. The Bull Shoals Tailwater is considered the crown jewel of the White River system by most, as it supports rainbow trout populations near 5000 per mile of stream, which is world class by even the strictest standards. No fishing is allowed in the first 100 yards below the dam. Below the no fishing area is a short catch and release area that stretches to the White River-Bull Shoals State Park. This Catch and Release Area is known to produce lots of trout, and brown trout in the twenty to twenty-five pound range are a possibility, although they are rare. Besides rainbow and brown trout, fishing is excellent in this upper section of the tailwater for brook and cutthroat trout. These species demand extremely cold water, therefore they generally stay within five miles of Bull Shoals Dam. As in all Catch and Release Areas on the White River, only artificial lures with single, barbless hooks may be used.

The Bull Shoals Catch and Release area ends at the upper end of the White River State Park. This is a popular access point for bait fisherman, but it works well for fly and spin fisherman as well. Other access points on the upper section of the tailwater are at White Hole, Wildcat Shoals, Rim Shoals (Catch and Release only), Cotter, Ranchette, and Buffalo City. Both bank fishing and float fishing is productive in this part of the river. This entire thirty mile stretch produces well for rainbow and brown trout twelve months a year. Thirty fish days are the norm.

Below the mouth of the Buffalo River at Buffalo City, the White River begins to warm. Smallmouth bass populations increase greatly, and trout numbers decrease somewhat, although there are still plenty to be caught. If it was not for the North Fork River, smallmouth bass would soon completely take over. Before the water warms up enough for trout numbers to drop significantly, however, the North Fork River flows in. The North Fork River flows from the bottom of Norfork Lake just five miles before its mouth, and it cools the White River enough to add another fifty miles to it's year-round trout water. This makes the total trout water below Bull Shoals Lake approximately 92 miles, which is one of the longest stretches of continuous trout water east of the Rocky Mountains. Access points on this lower section of the White River trout water include Norfork, Sylamore, Calico Rock, and Guion.

The White River is certainly a river manipulated by human hands, but the fishing it produces is still world class. Here you'll find the best rainbow and brown trout fishing in the Midwest, as well as some of the clearest, coldest, and cleanest water to be found anywhere. It's a place that you have to see to believe.

Bull Shoals Dam
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