White River Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the White River in Arkansas
Covering over 700 miles the White River flows from the northwest corner of the state through three major reservoirs creating some of the best trout fishing in not only the region, but the entire United States. Each of these tailwater sections of the White River below Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, and Bull Shoals are stocked heavily with trout throughout the year. Wild brown trout are also present in each section of river and are known to grow to trophy sizes. These trophy sized browns attract fly anglers from around the world to try their hand at a new personal best. These trout face different conditions throughout the year. From the high cold water in later winter and spring to the lowest flows in the later summer and fall, different food sources present themselves to the trout throughout the year.
Fly Fishing the White River Below Beaver Lake
The section of the White River below Beaver lake, just west of Eureka Springs is much smaller than the other tailwaters. Trout are still stocked throughout the year, but not quite on the same level as the Bull Shoals tailwater. You can still find the occasional trophy sized brown trout along this section of river with fall being the best time to hit the water in search for these behemoths that transition up and down the river. The first half mile or so below the dam can be waded with ease much of the year. The river begins to deepen as you reach the ends of the campgrounds accessible from the dam. Another small wadable stretch can be found around the Parker Bottoms Campground when water levels are down. Striped
bass will run upriver during the late Spring and early Summer while walleye will make the same migration in late Winter and into Spring offering anglers a different challenge on the Upper Section of the White River.
Best Flies for the Upper White River
If you can only have one fly on your visit to the White River below Beaver Lake, it has to be a zebra midge. Midges are a staple here with fewer insect varieties present in the river. Some mayflies and caddis may show up from time to time but are tremendously outnumbered by midges. Mayfly nymph patterns such as a hares ear or pheasant tail variations are great as anchor fly patterns. Mop flies, squirmy worms, eggs, and other junk flies also have a place in the box as fresh stockers will find them nearly irresistible. On slow days swinging buggers and soft hackles can produce fish when little else will.
Fly Fishing Taneycomo and the White River Below Table Rock Lake
Below Table Rock Lake, the White River begins flowing much wider than below Beaver Lake. While the water just beneath the dam of Table Rock resembles a normal tailwater trout fishery, it slowly widens and transitions into the shallow riverine impoundment that is Lake Taneycomo. Flowing through the town of Branson Missouri, this section of the White sees heavy pressure from locals and visitors to the small tourist town. This additional angling pressure does not hinder many visitors fly fishing success though. This section is stocked with tremendous numbers of rainbow and brook trout throughout the year.
Wild brown trout are able to grow to larger sizes and received much less pressure in the depths of Taneycomo before moving to shallower water toward the dam to spawn in the fall. While wade fishing is tough on Taneycomo, anglers can find wadable water just below the dam. Fresh stockers are a simple challenge for fly fisherman but seasoned trout can be incredibly stubborn and difficult. Generation and unstable water conditions during the wetter months of the year can be a headache for anglers trying to pattern trout. Drifting the river is the best option for anglers when varying conditions change water levels and reposition the trout.
Best Flies for fishing Taneycomo
Fly selection on Taneycomo and the White River below Table Rock are simple. The same junk flies used below Beaver lake will continue to produce as well as the zebra midges. Be sure to have plenty of midge variations on hand in sizes smaller than 20. Cycle these midge patterns and adjust your depths until you are able to find where the trout are eating and what size and pattern they prefer. Streamers will be productive when fished from drift boats. Covering large expanses of water is key to running into fish, especially those in the trophy size range. Smaller streamers such as woolly buggers and sculpin imitations will receive more attention from the trout but do not shy away from the larger articulated patterns such as the Drunk and Disorderly, Circus Peanut, Double Deceiver, and Hollow Point.
Fly Fishing the White River below Bull Shoals
From the Dam at Bull Shoals the White River flows through the small town of Cotter just west of Mountain Home, Arkansas. This is the most popular section of the White River and attracts anglers from all over the U.S. as well as the world. Known for its prowess as the most heavily stocked river in the country and boasting a large population of wild brown trout that can reach world class sizes, it is no wonder fly anglers seek out this destination to target a new personal best and trout of a lifetime. Trophy browns and hundreds of thousands of stocked rainbows are not the only draw to this section of the White River. Brook trout, cutthroat trout, and tiger trout are also stocked by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Along with giving anglers the opportunity at landing a slam, the White River also gives anglers
an opportunity to better pattern the many hatches and food sources available to trout in the river. These food items change seasonally and each present a new set of challenges to fly anglers.
Winter Trout Fishing the White River
Winter sees the least amount of insect hatches on the White River, but can also be the best time to visit. Midges will be just about the only bugs coming off the water in the winter months. Though small, they can be quite plentiful on the river and appealing to the trout. During the coldest weeks of winter, when temperatures consistently hang in the 20s, shad kills can begin on Bull Shoals and flush dead and dying shad into the river. This is the time to break out the larger streamer patterns as brown trout and larger individuals of the other species will gorge themselves on their stunned prey. Often generation can push this new source of protein into the river causing a feeding frenzy downstream. Brown trout from the lower section of river will begin to push their way up toward the dam in anticipation once the shad kills become consistent. The introduction of stocked rainbows in the winter months also can provide a source of additional protein to these trophy sized trout during the coldest months of the year. Scuds and sowbugs will also be a viable food source for trout hanging around any of the submerged vegetation on the river. Keep these flies close to the bottom in order to see the most success. Blue Wing Olives show some presence in the late winter and into early spring.
Spring Trout Fishing on the White River
The first warming trends of March will see an increase of bug activity on the river. The midge and BWO hatches will increase slightly then give way to some of the larger bugs on the river. Grannom Caddis and March browns are the most prominent and can be patterned consistently each year. The march browns can be more prolific on certain years and become a staple for fly anglers when they are abundant. The caddis hatches are the most consistent hatch on this section of the White River. When the caddis hatches hit their peak even the trophy brown trout can't help but get in on the action. Caddis pupa patterns and mop jigs work well while trout are less active, but once the caddis begin to emerge don't hesitate to tie on caddis emerger and dry fly patterns. Sulphurs and Cahills can be found later into the spring but hatches are more sporadic. High waters from the end of winter and throughout spring place big brown trout closer to the banks along the flooded cover and vegetation. This can be the best time of year to throw streamer patterns into the heavy cover to pull out the big browns looking for a big easy meal.
Summer Trout Fishing on the White River
Summer brings lower water with periodic generation to the White River. Fly anglers must navigate the pulses of high water to make the most of their time on the water. Trout activity will change with these pulses as trout will move to the shallows during high water then slide back into holes and the main channel during low water. The lowlight hours are often the most productive in the summer. Midges will hatch regularly in the evenings and following water releases. Larger mayflies will hatch throughout the night creating unique night fishing opportunities to anglers willing to brave the dark. Mouse patterns after dark have also grown in popularity during the summer months. Angler throwing these bulky flies will target the same trophy brown trout as the streamer fisherman. While strikes aren't uncommon, hooking up can be quite the challenge. Towards the end of summer and into the fall, terrestrial patterns can do exceedingly well along the overgrown shorelines and islands. Big hoppers, foam beetles and ants can all be productive.
Fall Trout Fishing on the White River
Fall begins with the aforementioned terrestrial bite. Some caddis will hatch sporadically throughout October and November. Once November arrives, the brown trout spawn begins and many anglers position themselves below the shoals looking for brown trout that have begun staging for their spawn. Scuds, mop jigs, and egg patterns are go-to flies at this time as the trout prepare for the tough weeks ahead. This bite will continue following the spawn towards the end of November. The Blue Wing Olives and Midges will once again begin hatching as winter approaches and the cycle begins once again.
Best Flies for the White River below Bull Shoals
The best nymph patterns for the White imitate what food items we mentioned above. Zebra midge size 18-24, caddis pupa size 14-18, hares ear/pheasant tails 12-16, mop jigs, eggs, san juan worms, sow bugs in 16-18 and scuds in size 12-14.
The best dry fly patterns for the White River are Adams variations in size 18-22 for BWOs, matt's midge/griffith's gnats size 20 or smaller for midges, elk hair caddis in size 14-18, adams variations for March browns in 14-16,14-18 for sulphurs, chubby chernobyl variations larger than size 12 for hopper and stonefly imitations.
For streamers, a variation of sizes, shapes, colors and weights are highly recommended. Size and weight will keep you in front of the right trout or pull them further from cover to inspect your fly. Their activity level on any given day will dictate where they are holding and the streamer types necessary to stay in from of their face to increase your odds of hooking up.
White River Fishing Access near Cotter
Access to wading anglers can be found on several locations on the river. The most popular areas are Bull Shoals White River Campground, Big Spring Park in Cotter, and the White Hole Public Access Area. Other smaller areas can be found along the boat ramps at Wild Cat Public Access, Rim Shoals, and the Jim Griffin Boat Ramp closer to the dam.
White River Fishing Regulations
Anglers over the age of 16 must have a valid fishing license.
Regulations Below Bull Shoals:
5 trout limit per day under 14"
or 4 rainbow trout per day with one rainbow trout or brook trout over 14", one brown trout over 24", or one cutthroat trout over 24".
Only rods can be used and one rod can be in use at a time
Trout and their parts cannot be used as bait
Treble hooks can not be used with baits
First mile of the river below Bull Shoals is catch and release only
Taneycomo Fishing Regulations:
4 trout limit
Artificial lures and flies only
Only one Brown trout may be kept and must be at least 20"
Rainbow trout are protected with a 12-20" slot limit.
No fishing is allowed within 760' of the Table Rock Dam
Fishing Regulations below Beaver Lake
No fishing within 100 yards of the dam on Beaver Lake.
Only one pole may be used at a time.
Multiple hooks allowed on artificials, not with bait.
5 trout limit
Trout from 13-16 inches must be released immediately
Only one trout over 16" can be kept.
From 1/2 mile below the dam to Parker Bend is artificial barbless lures only.
For more information about America's best trout streams and others near the White River such as the Little Red River or Little Missouri River, check out our article about Arkansas Fly Fishing, Missouri Fly Fishing, and Oklahoma Fly Fishing.