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  1. This one-mile stretch located directly below the dam is known for its big fish, shallow water and challenging fishing. The trout in this zone have seen every fly in the book, and most of the water resembles a big spring creek with slow and skinny water. There is one pretty large shoal area, but this is where most of the crowds congregate because the majority of fly anglers prefer to fish "familiar" types of water like riffles and pockets. The shoal can fish pretty well, but the slower stretches hold less-pressured fish that are often quite visible. A good strategy is to walk to empty areas and before fishing, study the water to get an idea of how the fish are behaving and look for likely holding spots. The slow water below Bull Shoals Dam fishes best when there is some wind chop on the water, as this makes the fish far less spooky than they are when conditions are slick. Weighted flies like scuds, Zebra Midges and sow bugs work very well during low water, and keep in mind that your indicator often only needs to be set a foot to a foot and a half above the fly. 6x tippet will really increase your odds of success. During periods of light generation (one and two units), there are some good places to wade on the golf course side - start by parking in the lot that is as far upstream as you can drive, and there is good water to fish from that bank all the way down to just below the boat ramp when the water is not running hard. Bull Shoals State Park: If the water is low and you are not having much luck with those tough fish in the catch and release area, drive downstream to Bull Shoals State Park and look to start near the "Big Spring" access area. Most of the water in the Park is slow and deep, but there are always loads of eager fish due to the area's high stocking rate. Still, don't get lulled into thinking that there are only stockers in Bull Shoals State Park - there are plenty of nice rainbows and huge browns to be found in the both deep holes and shallow-water runs. Dew Eddy Shoal is located downstream of Big Spring, and this is a gorgeous piece of water for both nymphing and dry fly fishing, but keep in mind that Dew Eddy fishes best from the opposite side of the river than the access point. If you do cross the river, always be aware of rising water because the horn is rarely audible this far from the dam. Bull Shoals State Park is the last good fly fishing access for several miles, so a boat is needed to fish the river from the Park down to the Narrows. The Narrows: This new access is located off Denton Ferry Road a mile or two upstream of the Wildcat Shoals Access. The best spots are found on both sides of the island, with the deepest water (and most fish) located on the far side. Every year, fly fishermen get in trouble in the Narrows area because the water can come up very quickly here, which often makes getting back to the access point difficult (or impossible). Always be aware of your surroundings and avoid the temptation to walk way down stream - the lower tip of the island is as far as we recommend going, and if you do get into a situation where it looks like you will not be able to safely cross the river on the near side of the island, remain on dry land. A boat will come by and help eventually, or if worse comes to worse, call one of the nearby resorts to request a lift. Program the numbers for White Hole Acres, Stetsons and other docks into your cell phone if you plan on fishing the Narrows. Nymphs and dry flies work well in this area, and if you are fishing below the surface, be sure to use enough weight to get your fly near the bottom. For the most part, bigger nymphs in sizes #14 to #8 work well almost anywhere on the White during low water - the Bull Shoals Dam catch and release area is one of the only sections where really small flies are necessary. Wildcat Shoals: This popular stretch of riffles is loaded with fish, and there are scores of really nice browns in the section where the riffles slow down and the water gets deeper. Try exploring with a hopper/dropper rig, as this set up will tell you where the fish are and what types of flies they are looking for. As with everywhere on the White, constantly be aware of rising water levels. For the most part, there is no reason to wade more than half way across the river in the Wildcat area, and if you can get to the bank on the side of the access during rising water, it should not be a problem to get back to your vehicle. Roundhouse Shoals Cotter and Roundhouse Shoals: There is some decent access right in downtown Cotter, with the best water located around and upstream of the bridges. Dry flies like caddis and sulphurs work well in the backwater area upstream of the parking lot, but most of the fish are small there. The "big" side offers up some nice structure, but the water is flat and moving, so it can be somewhat technical. If the fishing in Cotter is not what you are looking for, drive downstream a mile to Roundhouse Shoals; there is a large dirt parking area and access to some great fly water is relatively easy. The flat water above the riffles fishes well when there is some wind chop, and there is some fun water for fishing dries and small nymphs on the back side of the main island where the shoal is. Stripping flies like large soft hackles and Wooly Buggers works well in the main shoals, but this can be a challenging spot for dead-drifting techniques. As you move downstream from the access point, the water slows down and gets deeper, making this is the area to fish hard if you are after one of the many big rainbows and browns that call the Roundhouse area their home. Rim Shoals: This catch and release zone is very popular amongst fly fishermen, but access to the best water can be tricky without a boat. One productive strategy is to walk upstream to Jenkins's Creek Shoal along the railroad tracks, but be aware that there is some very deep water along the moss beds at the lower part of this riffle. Below Jenkins's Creek, the river is wide and deep, so safely and effectively wading this section is generally not worth the effort. The main shoal is accessible via a parking area downstream of Rim Shoals Resort, but this is often a very crowded spot. It pays to cross the river and walk downstream if you are looking for some space and bigger fish. Rising water can make crossing back to the access point difficult, but Rim Shoals Resort offers shuttles to and from the island which allows anglers to fish with some peace of mind. This is another trout dock number that is worth programming into your cell phone. **There are other accesses downstream from Rim Shoals all the way to the Norfork's confluence with the White, but walking in is pretty difficult. The spots mentioned above offer up more good fly water than one could fish in a lifetime, and never be afraid to try several different techniques and flies until it becomes clear as to what the fish are looking for - the White is known for its fickle fishing at times, so what worked well one day may not elicit any interest the next day.
  2. From a dry fly perspective, it is hard to beat April, May and June on the White River and Norfork Tailwater. If the water is low, anglers can expect big bugs, miles of open water and countless rises. Trout of all sizes will greedily slurp a dry fly if there is a hatch coming off, and emerger and nymph fishing can result in non-stop action during the hours before a large insect emergence. That said, unfortunately each year has twelve months, and many dry fly enthusiasts figure that the fun is over once the big water of midsummer hits, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Even though midges are diminutive in size, they can provide all day top-water action, even in the dead of winter when nymph fishing is slow. The first trick to successfully fishing midges is to pick the right kind of water to focus on. Although most fly fishermen prefer to fish riffles because the speedy and turbulent flow of such water hides mistakes and the fish don't have a lot of time to inspect a pattern, those characteristics are a hindrance when using midges. Trout have amazing eyesight, but they still have trouble seeing such small offerings in heavy and fast water. What anglers should look for in riffle areas are the seams where fast water meets slow water and fish there. Sometimes, the fly may not move at all, but if it is allowed to sit for a long enough time, often a cruising fish will pick it up. Another good type of water for fishing midge dry flies are the glides or runs where a riffle turns flat and slows down because it is much easier for the fish to spot a tiny fly in these types of areas, and there is still enough current to employ dead drifting techniques, so anglers are not forced to wait for an actively-feeding cruiser to swim by. The best overall water for fishing midges are shallow and flat runs where there are quite a few fish stacked up. In these areas, the trout do not have to swim but a few inches to reach the surface, and they can be teased into rising through a specialized presentation (more on that below) if dead drifting isn't cutting it. (Jeff H. from TN was intent on throwing streamers although we had zero generation and bright sunny skies. Clear fly lines and the right fly selection made all the difference on this April day. Read more about low water streamer fishing in the fishing report below.) Fly selection is also quite important when fishing midges on the surface. When using patterns in sizes #18 to #24, there isn't too much that can be done (like tying a white wing on the fly) that will make the midge more visible. These insects are somewhat plain, at least compared to certain mayflies and other bugs, so there is no reason to go overboard trying to tie a fancy pattern. Usually, black, red, gray, white or olive thread on a hook with a tail in the rear and three to four wraps of hackle behind the eye of the hook will suffice. A wing is optional, but the biggest key is to use enough hackle to allow the fly to float high on the water. This will make it somewhat easier to see, and it will look more realistic to a trout than a pattern that is halfway submerged and lying on its side. It takes years of practice to fish blind with small dry flies; this is when a fly fisherman will watch the water where they think their fly should be and set the hook if a fish rises in that area. "Going Blind" may be the only option when fishing with patterns smaller than size #24, but you may be surprised at just how visible 'bigger' midges can be if you position yourself properly. If possible, it is a real help to find a spot where the sun is behind you - even if you lose sight of your fly, slightly lifting your rod can help because it will cause the pattern to skate towards you and reveal itself. Then, lower your rod to proceed with your drift. The angle of the sun is a moot point if it's cloudy out, and overcast conditions are very tough when fishing miniscule midges. Fishing blind in these situations may be the only option. Another way to make it much easier to see your fly is to fish cluster patterns like a Griffith's Gnat's. Such flies imitate bunches of midges that are stuck together, and they work great if the trout are aggressively feeding, but unfortunately, cluster patterns can be a hard sell when going after selective trout that are slurping midges one at a time. (Caddis hatch with water running. Hatch will take off from 50-24,000cfs... you just have to know where to look.) At dusk, when the water is low, it's often possible to see thousands of midges swarming in random patterns on the surface of the water, especially in slow pools. For the most part, midges act this way much of the time, so it's possible to use this trait to increase your odds of success. If fishing in shallow runs and the glides below riffles, it never hurts to wiggle your rod once in a while. When done correctly, this will cause the fly to skate across the water just like the real thing, and this presentation can entice lethargic fish to rise on even the toughest of days. It's best to try dead drifting first, but if that technique isn't working, it's time to skate your midge. There are countless ways to rig your leader for fishing midges and dry flies of any sort. If you think conditions are going to be windy and that you may have trouble turning over a small fly, try using a 7.5-foot leader down to 5x with about two or three feet of tippet attached. This is also a good setup if you think you may be switching back and forth between dries and nymphs, or if you suspect that the fish are not going to be overly spooky. Unfortunately, trout feeding on midges and other small dries are usually extremely wary, so a good overall dry fly leader system is to go with a 9-foot leader that tapers down to 5x or 6x and then add about three feet of tippet. It will take a little while to learn how to straighten out a long leader, especially if a breeze kicks up, but this is often the only way that you will realize consistent success. When fishing with little dries, it is imperative that the tippet you use is small in diameter, as well. For flies in sizes #18 to #22, 6x tippet will work from a presentation standpoint, but there are times when finicky fish will only takes patterns fished on 7x tippet. One of the main reasons that fly fishing is enjoyable is because of the challenges, and once you get used to fishing with light tippet, it becomes second nature. With any fly smaller than size #24, 7x tippet is required in order for the fly to present properly. Finally, it's a good idea to use a silicone-based floatant on the first six feet of your fly line, on your entire leader and on your tippet. Also, be sure to constantly apply floatant to your fly (and then make several false-casts to dry it out), especially if you are going to be using a skating technique. Once your pattern starts to ride low, it's time to either change it or dress it up. Hopefully, this article will increase your enjoyment of fishing small dry flies, and if you follow the tricks outlined, you can catch trout on dries 365-days a year on the Norfork and White. Using tiny surface offerings is not for everyone, but the challenge and reward aspect of this type of fishing can make any frustration you may have experienced during the learning process turn into elation with just one take. There is nothing quite like the feeling of hooking, landing and releasing a 20-inch trout on a size #22 dry fly, so fishing small midges is definitely worth the effort during the fall and winter if you are the type that aspires to be a complete angler who is ready for any situation. (Walter from TN fished with BR resident guide Larry Babin in early April to hear that Hardy reel sing.)
  3. First off, it is important to understand that certain insects have 'regional' names that depict what they actually are. Sulphurs are a perfect example of this phenomenon in dialect. In the Ozarks, a small to medium-sized yellow mayfly is usually referred to as a "sulphur", but in other parts of the country, this exact same insect is called a Pale Morning Dun (PMD). Regardless of what they are called, this bug has a reputation for bringing very large fish to the surface, and they can be found in almost any coldwater fishery. On the other hand, a crane fly is always a crane fly, but they do vary in size quite drastically, depending on the particular river. Sulphurs This hatch usually starts to show up on the White River in the middle to the latter part of April, but the timing of their emergence depends on air temperatures as well as the weather conditions. If the spring has been warm and sunny, look for sulphurs to start coming off earlier than they would than if temperatures have been cold with cloudy skies. Also, a brisk wind can literally blow the duns off the surface, which will abruptly put an end to the dry fly action. Sulphurs typically range from a size #14 down to a size #20, but on the White, the bigger varieties seem to work the best. Their bodies are normally yellow (but not always), and their wing colors range from clear to off-white. Sometimes, the underside of their body can be off-white, as well. On the Norfork, sulphurs usually start hatching in the beginning of May if the water is low. Because the dynamics vary so much when comparing the 'Fork to the White, you will rarely see any sulphurs on the Norfork if there is any water running at all, except in a few slack water areas behind islands, and the fish don't pay much attention to them over there unless the river is dead low. Because the White is a much wider river that runs relatively slow in the pool sections when there are two to five generators in operation, it is common to see sulphurs blanketing the water in certain spots, even during relatively high flows. Unlike on the Norfork, quite a few fish will come to the surface to grab a sulphur on the White when the water is running, and it is very possible to have a good day fishing the surface during a myriad of different conditions on that river. Still, when most anglers think of fishing with dries, they envision working a soft riffle or run on foot, and the most productive sulphur fishing on either river is going to happen when the water is falling or dead low. There are many productive spots on both the White and Norfork to get in on a sulphur hatch, and typically, the best zones are going to be away from the dams. Although there are exceptions, you will start to see more and more sulphurs on the White from Gaston's Resort down to the Narrows, and once you get to Wildcat Shoals, the dry fly fishing is typically prime all the way to Buffalo City. Although there have been instances where a heavy hatch of sulphurs started coming off in the Dock Hole on the Norfork, the real action normally takes place from McClellan's Shoal all the way down to its confluence with the White. The sulphur hatch is just like any other mayfly hatch; which means fishermen need to expect the unexpected. There will be times where our trout will hit any fly that even closely resembles this insect with reckless abandonment, and there will also be periods when the fish will become somewhat selective. As previously mentioned, sudden brisk winds can blow almost all the bugs off the water, which will often cause the trout to move to the bottom to feed on nymphs. Another predicament occurs when the sulphurs only remain on the water for a split-second before flying away, and there will even be times when they will not even be on the water at all, but they can still be seen flying around. There are reasons for all this behavior, but for the sake of simplicity, the best situation from a fishing perspective is when sulphurs are coming off and end up staying on the water for a long time. If this happens, there will likely be fish rising all over the place. The White River and Norfork Tailwater are not well known for 'masking' hatches, but it is important to pay close attention to how the fish are feeding, especially before a hatch is likely to take place. If the rises are such that you don't see any part of their mouth breach the surface (but you can see their body and fins), the trout are probably keyed-in on emerging nymphs. For this reason, look for mayfly nymphs near the surface in slow water, and if there are quite a few moving around, a dry/dropper rig is likely going to be the most effective setup. Although the bodies of the adults are yellow, the nymphs are brown, so keep this in mind during the fly selection process. A standard pheasant tail works well as a sulphur emerger in sizes #16 and #18, but don't be afraid to try a variety of different patterns. As far as imitating the sulphur duns, any number of yellow or pale yellow mayfly dry flies will do the trick; White River Basin trout do not rely on adult insects for sustenance, so they rarely get overly selective during a good hatch. The key is to make sure that your fly is floating high on the surface, and you should be in business. It is not uncommon for sulphurs and caddis to hatch simultaneously, but these trout are extremely opportunistic, so they often feed on any adult insect that happens to be floating by - in a way, you can "pick your poison" on these rivers. Many of the locals and guides have a special place in their heart for a sulphur emergence. This hatch is known for fooling some of the wiliest fish on both rivers, and sulphur imitations are relatively easy to see compared to the midges and Blue Winged Olives that are effective most of the year. It is difficult to plan a trip to the White or the Norfork just to fish dry flies, but if you do find yourself wading either river from late April through July, make sure that you come prepared. When the fish are 'on', it's possible to get a rise on literally every cast, and there are times when a sulphur dun pattern will catch more fish than any other fly in your box. Exceptional dry fly opportunities do not occur all that often in the Ozarks, but when they do, the surface fishing is as good as it gets. Crane flies Crane Fly Larva Unlike sulphur mayflies that go through an entire aquatic lifecycle, crane fly pupa and larva actually emerge from wet banks before taking flight. For these reasons, fishing with crane fly nymphs and emergers doesn't often produce very well, as the fish rarely get a glimpse at these morsels. Our adult crane flies are about the same size as sulphurs, but they do have long long legs; in a way, they resemble a large, yellow mosquito. Crane flies are extremely inept at flying, and this is their biggest downfall. It does not take much of a breeze to cause these insects to start cart wheeling on the water's surface, and at that point, they are an easy meal for the fish. There are very few crane flies on the White, but they are common in the catch and release area of the Norfork. It is easy to recognize when the trout are keyed-in on this bug because the rise forms will be aggressive and 'splashy'; similar to when there are egg-laying caddis bouncing on the surface. On some waterways where the fish see a lot of crane flies, it may be necessary to tie a leggy pattern to fool the most discriminating of fish, but on the Norfork, almost any sulphur imitation will do the trick. The Norfork crane flies are quite small compared to the bigger specimens that are found on other river systems. Since the Ozark version is diminutive and is almost the exact same color as the sulphurs, anglers have the opportunity to basically fish two hatches at once. If the fish are slurping sulphurs, a dead drift presentation is the way to go, but when the breeze kicks up and crane flies start getting 'trapped' on the water, the only change needed is to apply some movement to the fly (skating). On many days, a simple sulphur pattern is all that is needed to effectively fish two hatches. Thoughts on 2011 At the time of this writing, it is not clear whether or not there will be an abundance of dry fly opportunities this year, but regardless, if you are going to fish the White or Norfork from April through July, it is critical to have a good selection of sulphur (PMD) patterns. Hatches on these rivers are usually simultaneous, with caddis, midges and sulphurs all coming off at the same time, so any pattern that can effectively imitate more than one insect will make the dry fly fishing experience easier and more enjoyable. There is no reason to carry 1000's of flies with you when fishing the Ozarks - it is smarter to concentrate on stuffing your boxes with a bunch of the standards that will always work. The White and Norfork are not technical fisheries and the trout are feeding machines. Having the proper presentation that best imitates what the fish are feeding on is paramount than the actual fly used. This concept holds true for both nymph and dry fly fishing.
  4. There is a lot of debate in the fly fishing world regarding what the "best" or "most fun" ways to fly fish are. Some people, who think of themselves as 'purists', will only fish with dry flies and never use nymphs, even if there is no hatch coming off. Then there are others who don't like to mess with dry flies, even during an active emergence because they feel that since most of a river or lake's trout feed subsurface the majority of the time, using nymph techniques will give them the best chance at catching the greatest number of fish. Finally, there is the group of anglers who fly fish to feel like they are a part of the water and natural environment surrounding them, so they will utilize whatever pattern or technique necessary in order "figure them out". This may mean using a dry fly during a hatch or a nymph when trout are not rising (or there are no bugs on the water). Whichever type of fly fisherman you happen to be, there is always something new to learn in the sport. Those who just use dries when it is obvious that the majority of the fish are taking nymphs are in a sense addicted to seeing a trout rise to their fly on the surface. They do not care if they catch no fish or a hundred fish; usually these fishermen have spent a lot of time on the water, and they just like being out there -catching fish or getting skunked matters little. The second group, who only drift nymphs are often smitten with the fact that if the fish are biting, 90% of the time they are going to see respectable periods of action throughout a typical day on most stretches of good fly water, but they may just end up missing out on an incredible bite because of their resistance to using other techniques. There are some great nymph fishermen out there, and they catch loads of fish, but at some point in time, the sport will mean more to them than just hooking up more than everyone else - the solid majority of those who just use nymphs do not get to spend a lot of time on the water, so when they get their chance, they want to give themselves the best odds at being successful. I had the pleasure of fishing with my new buddy Buck from MS on Dry Run Creek for two days. Buck is one of the finest fly casters I've ever had on DRC. Buck landed plenty of trophy fish on this day. At Blue Ribbon Fly Shop, our philosophy regarding the White River and Norfork Tailwater is that "they are what they are." This refers to the fact that water conditions are always fluctuating, so our goal is to steer either our customers or our guide clients in a direction that will lead to them having the most fun possible while out on the rivers. More often than not, this means fishing below the surface with a nymph, especially if the water is running high and even when flows are at low levels. This is because these fisheries are absolutely loaded with subsurface foods like scuds and sow bugs, so it is going to take something special to get the fish out of their primary feeding lanes to feed on something floating along. Luckily, during spring or early summer, when the lakes are at or below power pool levels, there are plenty opportunities to get out a light rod and fish with dry flies, and when the right conditions come together, some really huge fish will throw caution to the wind and rise to the surface to engulf an insect floating down the river. At times, using a dry fly will catch far more fish than a nymph, so if fish are rising, and you are not catching very many of them on a nymph, it is time to reevaluate the situation. As winter turns to spring and temperatures begin to warm in the Ozarks, the first medium to large insects will start to hatch. Although midges are typically on the water 365 days a year, there are really only five months when the dry fly fishing could be outstanding: April, May, June, September and October. Yes, that is five months, but keep in mind that the first three listed are the best, and conditions must be perfect in order for good hatches to come off, so there may only be a handful of days all spring where using dries will be effective (or you may get a low-water spring where there is 'magic' happening every day). July and August are usually too hot and the water is too high for there to be many chances to wade and fish with dries, but long, accurate casters may be able to find some slow-water pods of risers along the banks and in backwater areas. At this point in the day Buck is fine tuning his sight casting ability. The first big hatch of the year is typically a small to medium-sized caddis, and they will usually start showing up on the White River around the beginning to middle of March. Their sizes range from "cinnamon" to gray to tan, and they run from size #12 down to size #18. The really big caddis resemble a moth, and the best places to get in on the action will be from Wildcat Shoals down to Buffalo City. Both dam areas can be good towards evening, but because most bugs come off as the water warms, getting into areas where the water is not at its coldest will increase the amount of good dry fly time. Also, keep in mind that afternoons on sunny days are the best time for any insect emergence, so it is important to keep up with current water flows before hitting either river so that you are at the right place at the right time. On the Norfork, the caddis run the same size as they do on the White River, but they don't really get going until a few weeks after they are first spotted on White. This short tailwater is a dry fly fisherman's dream, and it is also the more likely of the two rivers to be low on a typical day when the lakes are both equally low. Rarely will you see any of the bigger insects within a mile of Norfork dam, but from the Long Hole down to its confluence with the White, there are many wonderful spots. The catch and release area has the highest percentage of prime dry fly lies, and there are plenty of sight-fishing opportunities. Actually stalking and then catching a fish you were going after on a dry is one of a fly angler's crowning moments, so be sure to look for fish in the shallow areas before barging into a sweet spot, no matter what type of hatch you are fishing. Buck's cousin Will wasted no time landing some quality fish during his first visit to DRC. As mentioned previously, trout on the White River and the Norfork grow fat on subsurface food sources, so they can become very picky when it comes to what type of nymphs they are going to feed on. But when it comes to dry flies, Ozark fish are not overly selective. As long as you have a pattern with the right profile that is close to the proper size and color, it's likely you will get some looks; these trout are not like many of the ones out West that will refuse a fly that is tied with the wrong color of wing. Elk Hair Caddis patterns are a good place to start and you don't really have to get fancy with your fly selection during the caddis hatch. As long as your fly floats high on the surface, you have a chance. For those that are into entomology, the caddis are an interesting creature with some very unique habits and attributes, but for the sake of catching trout on the White and the Norfork, you just have to know if the caddis hatching are egg-layers or emergers. The caddis that are laying eggs will bounce up and down on the water's surface, and when this is the type of caddis that are on the water, expect to see the fish making 'splashy' types of rises or flat out exploding on the surface. It does not take a trout very long to figure out that they have just a split-second to make a meal out of an egg-laying caddis. To imitate this form of the insect, use a skating-type of technique where you wiggle or raise the rod to impart movement on the fly. When the caddis are emerging, they often get 'stuck' on the surface before flying off, so if this is the type of caddis that are coming off, a common dead-drift technique will work just fine. Typically, you will encounter more egg-layers than emergers on these rivers, and it is common for both types of caddis to hatch simultaneously. Buck's big bow. Since mornings are often slow during the spring if the water is off, it can pay off to use a caddis emerger pattern in the hours before the hatch starts. Spring is the one time of year where swinging a soft hackle fly works exceedingly well on the Norfork (whereas, swinging and stripping flies catches fish all year long on the White), and there are many other types of caddis emergers that will fool those finicky morning fish. According to substantiated reports, the White River is already loaded with caddis larva and even some pupa, so spring's first big hatch is getting close to happening. In the fall, a blizzard micro caddis hatch occurs on the White, but for the most part, any sort of big caddis hatch is going to occur from April through September. Nothing in the fly fishing world is set in stone, so if you are seeing large caddis bouncing around in March or October, by all means, fish a caddis. Fly fishing is a sport of averages, giving yourself the best odds and being at the right place at the right time, so please don't ever let an article dictate what you are going to do on the water in lieu of personal observation. 2011 has all the makings of being an excellent year for caddis fishing, but it's still too early to tell for sure if low water will be predominant. Always feel free to call the friendly staff at Blue Ribbon Fly Shop for an updated hatch report, and stop on in anytime to see which patterns are producing the most fish. Blue Ribbon strives to not just be another fly shop...we aim to be the White River and Norfork's foremost fly fishing resource. Hire a Blue Ribbon Guide for your next White River, Norfork River, Dry Run Creek, or Crooked Creek adventure. Book your trip by calling 870.425.0447 or send us a message to blueribbonflyfish@hotmail.com
  5. Almost everyone who comes to the White River has dreams the night before their first day on the water of hooking into one of the river's legendary brown trout. Despite the sometimes tough circumstances that confront this fishery, the White still produces incredible numbers of brown trout in the seven to twenty-pound range - and bigger ones than twenty-pounds are caught every year. Although it is fun to contemplate the experience of fishing for these hogs in the Ozarks, without careful planning and diligent research, the odds of being successful in this pursuit are virtually zero. The trout that do manage to get big here are extremely well-adapted creatures that have learned to avoid anything related to humans whenever possible. This means that it pays to know the habits of these fish and it is a good idea to understand how each flow dynamic affects the behavior of the big browns - there is an 'art' to being at the right place at the right time on the White. The challenge and fun of fly fishing makes hunting big fish the perfect endeavor for the serious sportsman. There may be easier ways to target large trout, but a fly rod is a very versatile weapon in the right hands. Big fish often eat big meals, so heavy rods (six to eight-weight) are suggested when casting large flies with the hopes of hooking into a submarine. If you are truly serious about getting a shot at a nice brown, the tips outlined below are a good place to start. Never be afraid to ask lots of questions of local guides and fly shops, and come to these rivers expecting the unexpected. Chasing trophy trout is quite different than just trying to catch lots of fish with the hope of hooking into a nice one; be sure that you are fully aware of the sacrifices that go into hunting the mammoth browns of the White River. The feel of each season Because the White River fluctuates drastically almost every day, the actual season that you choose to fish is more a matter of personal preference than it is about actually trying to predict the best fishing. Huge browns are hooked every month of the year, and most are fooled during really high water. Since many fly anglers prefer to wade fish over drifting out of a boat, it is important to ask yourself just how badly you want that big fish. It would be great if the really huge browns gorged themselves consistently during the day when the water is low, but that simply is not the case. Serious trophy hunters will adapt their techniques in order to put themselves in the optimum position for success, even if it means not fishing the way they prefer. Photo courtesy of resident guide Larry Babin. Unfortunately, many of the large brown trout caught by fly anglers during low water come off of spawning redds (beds), but this is not to say that there are only unethical places to catch big fish when the rivers are down. Certain seasons are characterized by specific water conditions, but everything about these rivers is subject to change on a moment's notice. The best chance for finding extended low water is during the fall and winter, so these seasons are very popular amongst fly fishermen. This is spawning time, so if you do fish during the colder months, please try and avoid stepping through or fishing to actively spawning browns. Instead, thoroughly work the deepest water that you can find below the shoal areas. Fall and winter can be great months for solitude and big fish, but be prepared to do a lot of walking. Spring is usually a high-water time, but every once in awhile, conditions will remain dry and the water will be low during this season - in general, expect heavy releases. For targeting big browns, there is definitely an opportunity when the rivers are running very high during the late winter or early spring. This is because high water at this time of year usually means that shad are coming through (or have come through) the dam; the shad kill is a dream situation for those who live for fish measured in feet, not inches. Once the shad kill dies down into April, high water can still be ideal for trophy hunting. If the water happens to be low during your spring hunt, do not fret - many huge fish fall for dry flies during a good hatch, and the amazing water clarity of later spring makes it easier to sight-fish than at any other time of year. There definitely are many "silver linings" to finding low-water in April, May and June. A normal summer flow regime will provide both a mix of high and low water, and this can be ideal for those who want to try several different techniques when going after big browns. The water will be low on the White most mornings, but things will get rocking and rolling by mid-afternoon. Late July through August is perhaps the best time of year for action on big browns during high water because they have become comfortable feeding due to the consistent conditions. Summer is the season when the greatest numbers of big trout are landed on the White. Be sure to fish the "magic hour" before the evening fog rolls in during late August - there have been many pigs hooked in this situation on shad patterns. Rising water can also be good with hoppers and other terrestrial patterns. When it comes to choosing the time of year to fish the Ozarks for trophy browns, consider the pros and cons of each season, and then pick based on the weather and techniques you prefer. As long as you are able to keep your fly near the fish you want to catch, it is only a matter of time until a shot will be granted by the "Fly Fishing Gods". What to expect when trophy hunting on the White and Norfork The pursuit of big fish takes a lot of patience, no matter what fishery you are on. It sounds so cliché, but it's true; trout that grow large have learned to recognize the difference between fake and real food. For the most part, there is only a small window of opportunity to hook into each big brown on the White, so it basically becomes a game of percentages like muskie fishing. The chances of success increase with each successive cast, but this type of fishing is not for those in search of action; there are no compromises when it comes to trophy trout fishing. This is because to specifically target the biggest browns in the river, very large flies must usually be used; it's either catch a big fish or catch nothing. Using nymphs is only productive for serious trophy fishing in specific and uncommon situations. If relied upon, this technique will waste a lot of time with small fish. This is fine, but for those who committed to feeling that bite of a lifetime, anything smaller than a pig is can be a frustrating letdown. Photo courtesy of resident guide Forrest Smith. Giving yourself the greatest odds of White River Basin brown trout success not only involves understanding big fish flies and techniques; anglers must also know where the largest fish are likely to be during all water conditions. There is a science to consistently staying on top of trophy browns which involves intimately understanding the habits of these fish, but when just starting out, there are a few basics that will increase your chances of finding what you are looking for. When the water is low, spend the majority of your time fishing the deepest water that you can find. Focus on areas with plenty of large structure in the form of trees, boulders and root wads. The slow, deep tailouts below big shoals are also good spots to hit, especially during low-light conditions. When the water is high, the river's big browns will often move into shallower areas to feed, while spending inactive periods in the deepest and slowest water available. The shallow fish are much easier to get a fly in front of, so a good strategy is to work slower banks heavy in structure - rarely does fishing blind down the middle of the river produce. Be prepared to lose some flies casting towards structure on high water because it is imperative to get deep and tight, but pulling a hog out during heavy flows is a thrill worth far greater sacrifices than just losing a few patterns. Browns are predominantly nocturnal feeders, so early in the morning and right before dark will typically be the best times of day for finding active fish. Most fly anglers prefer to fish during the day, but when it comes to fooling a huge trout, we must often stray away from our comfort zone. During the afternoon, browns will often rest, only feeding sporadically. Cloudy weather and wind chop on low water will often get big fish feeding aggressively. Pros and cons of using a guide Most fly fishermen are guilty of putting the cart before the horse, but this tendency will absolutely cause despair on the White. The chances of going to any river and experiencing immediate results on the bigger resident trout is not likely to happen, and on the Ozark tailwaters, the overwhelming majority of neophyte trophy hunters end up very frustrated. This is primarily because of unpredictable water flows coupled with the unique behavioral traits of these trout. Without specialized and intimate knowledge, the White River can be one of the tougher places to fish in the country. Once a decent understanding of this fishery is realized though, there may be no better river to hook into oversized brown trout on a steady basis in the country. Hiring an experienced local guide will exponentially increase your chances of being in optimal position for realizing success. The White is an expansive waterway, so it takes being on the river virtually every day to know where the pods of big browns are located at any given time. A guide will also help with fly selection, and by informing them of any trophy aspirations well before the trip, they can immediately begin formulating a plan to cater to your desires. The biggest upside to hiring a guide on an Ozark tailwater is that they will be able to keep you catching fish all day long on high and low water. Letting a guide take care of the inevitable worries of fishing and operating a boat on this river will help keep you safe, while allowing for the most relaxing day possible. Some people would rather keep their fishing and accomplishments to themselves, and this is understandable, but without help, there is always the chance that river dynamics will make productive fishing difficult. If you are committed to trophy hunting by yourself, try to come during the fall or winter when water levels are most likely to be low. Another strategy for reclusive anglers is to hire a guide for their first day to learn the basics of fishing the river, and then fish by themselves on subsequent outings. It is very important to plan a White River trip that takes into account all of the variables at play; no one wants to waste one moment of fishing time because of something that could have been anticipated well in advance. Flies and techniques White River trophy brown trout can be caught on a variety of flies and techniques, but there are ways to specifically target the biggest fish in the river. The most important aspect of fishing to big trout involves locating and effectively covering the areas where these fish live. From there, it is critical to pay close attention to your approach. Water levels and weather conditions will dictate the "how" and "where" of fishing the White for large quarry and it is up to the angler to devise a strategy that will give them the best chance of hooking into the fish of a lifetime. To be fully prepared for any situation, most area guides recommend having a heavy streamer rod and a nymph fishing outfit ready to go at all times. Photo courtesy of resident guide Forrest Smith. If you find yourself in an spot with a high concentration of browns and the water is low, proceed with caution; one false move could scatter the entire group during these conditions. Haphazardly chucking a streamer at these fish creates a "do or die" situation. Huge browns will eat tiny meals, so if you have some time, try putting a variety of nymphs in the vicinity of cruising or stationary fish. Midges work amazingly well on big trout, so this is a good fly to start with. Scuds, sow bugs, San Juan worms (in moving water primarily) and beefy bead head hare's mask patterns are all other good fly choices; egg patterns can be used at the angler's discretion, but throwing such flies at spawning fish is considered unethical and should be avoided. One potential pitfall to nymph fishing for big browns on low water is that there is the real possibility that a small rainbow may grab the fly immediately; this can have the same effect as plopping a big streamer in the water. Still, it's worth starting out with a subtle approach, if time permits. High water periods are the ideal time to focus on catching big browns, primarily because the fish are far less spooky when the river is up. On light to moderate flow conditions, big browns can still be found feeding below drop-offs and in deep pools, but when the river really gets moving, it's time to work bank structure with heavy rigs. Big streamers are in order, and the best patterns imitate shad, sculpin, minnows and crayfish. Sizes #4 to #8 are the most popular, but huge trout have been caught on much larger offerings. Sink-tip lines will really help get the fly down in a hurry, and it is a good idea to have one person dedicated to operating the boat at all times for the sake of safety. Big water offers an excellent opportunity to target and fool the river's apex predators, but these conditions are dangerous. Be sure to adequately prepare before attempting to fly fish high water conditions by yourself. Night fishing is also a possibility on the White, and getting out after dark definitely takes advantage of the nocturnal nature of big browns. Low water is common at these times, so wading is the most utilized method of fishing late into the evening and early morning. Be sure to scout the area you plan on fishing thoroughly during daylight hours if possible, and the safest spots to get acclimated to night fishing are near the dam. This is because the horn warning of rising water is easily heard up here. It is not common for the flow to increase in the middle of the night, but it does happen, so you need to be aware of this possibility. Conclusion Almost everyone wants to catch a huge fish, but in reality, very few fly anglers have the patience to do everything that it takes to stack the odds in their favor. Even the most patient fisherman will get frustrated after hours (or days) of arduously casting with hardly a nibble. Fortunately, the White River is a fishery where a trophy brown can be hooked anytime that your fly is in the water, so switching to action-fishing techniques once in awhile does not mean that you have admitted defeat. Still, if your objective is catching a big fish, do not get overly distracted by the little ones for too long. There are few river systems in the world that produce as many brown trout over ten-pounds as the White does, and with some education and preparation, anglers have a real shot of hooking into a behemoth. It takes dedication, extreme patience and varying degrees of luck to turn any fly fishing dream into reality, but the rewards of success make all preceding efforts seem insignificant. The thrill of landing a massive White River Brown is a "life-altering" experience, so very serious angler should have a dedicated brown trout trophy hunt in the Ozarks high up on their fishing "bucket list". Visit our website for additional information relating to the nuances of our home waters. Many thanks to those of you that have already booked a guide trip in May and for those who have yet to do so, send us an inquiry about available dates soon. blueribbonflyfish@hotmail.com
  6. Savvy guides and veteran White River Basin fly fishermen have known a little 'secret' for years: every late summer and early fall season offers up some of the best terrestrial fishing to be found anywhere in the country. Part of the reason that this bite doesn't receive more notoriety is the fact that it normally just gets going in the Ozarks at a time when most other rivers are well past having significant hopper activity. The White River and Norfork Tailwater often run heavy water to meet power needs all summer long during the afternoons, and these conditions are not normally conducive for finding fish that are keyed-in on surface food sources. Once flows start to decrease with the cooler weather of September and early October, many of the river's bigger fish start to aggressively feed on big, floating flies, even though it may have been several months since they have actually seen the real thing. This year has been different, and hopper fishing has been exceptional since mid-July. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason with respect to tailwater trout behavior, and perhaps there are more terrestrial insects making their way into the rivers than normal. The Farmer's Almanac states that MO and is poised to be wet while AR is supposed to be dry which leads to your typical Arkansas summer. In addition, the forecast of NOAA and other organizations have predicted hopper infestations pretty much everywhere west of the Mississippi. Approaching the White and Norfork can be a challenge upon itself, and there are two distinct ways to fish hoppers on these waterways. When flows on the White are running at the one to three-unit level, a boat allows anglers to cover the most amount of water possible. Drifting is a plus if finding really big browns is the goal, but anglers must be prepared to make long casts in order to get far enough away from the obtrusiveness of a vessel when attempting to fool spooky fish. Working the riffles and shoals can produce explosive results, and to target the larger trout, diligently work structure and tailouts that are adjacent to deep water. Most of the hopper fishing done by the Blue Ribbon Fly Shop guide staff this summer has been from out of a boat, but as low water starts to get more common and extended, wading will offer up an effective strategy for sneaking up on fish that are looking upward to feed. Many fishermen who are wading the White and Norfork for the first time typically focus their efforts on the most "fishy-looking" areas like riffles, runs and deep pools. These zones are good places to start, but it's important to also work over the abundant slow-water areas, especially if there is some wind chop disrupting the surface. Look for submerged moss beds or trees/rootwads to help narrow down where the best pools are. The trout on the Norfork are not usually as eager to smash a hopper as the fish on the White are, so one of the most efficient ways to present big dry flies on the 'Fork is to focus on very shallow riffles where you can actually see fish cruising around. Keep in mind that the trout within a couple miles of Norfork Dam prefer to feed on nymphs, no matter what type of bugs are available, so it pays to primarily fish on top from McClellen's downstream to the Handicap/Ackerman access, as this section is loaded with the types of water that are ideal for coaxing a surface strike. Fly selection for fishing the "hopper hatch" is somewhat simple; the best patterns are going to be big, bulky and easy to see. Dave's Hoppers are a good place to start, while ants, stimulators and other standard terrestrial flies are also good choices. The fish can get somewhat picky, so be sure to try something different if what you are using is not producing. Huge patterns in the size #2 to the size #4 range are perfect for targeting really big fish, and smaller offerings (sizes #6 to #12) are just right for fooling trout of all sizes. With respect to gear, a five or six-weight will work fine, and floating lines in drab colors (greens, grays, etc.) help with making a stealth approach when the fish get wary. Whether wading or fishing out of a boat, long rods are the way to go on the White and Norfork because the layout is so open and such rods make it easier to pick up bulky flies. Eight and a half to ten-footers are just right for hopper fishing in the Ozarks. Photo courtesy of resident Blue Ribbon Guide, Forrest Smith. As mentioned above, the hopper fishing in 2010 has started up earlier than normal due to a variety of factors, so the action in September and October should be spectacular. The White and Norfork have the reputation for just being nymph rivers, but in reality, all types of dry flies can work exceptionally well when the water is low or running lightly. Please do not hesitate to give Blue Ribbon Fly Shop a call if you have any questions about the current and future hopper prognosis - and we would love to hear how you are doing when visiting the area, so never hesitate to drop by and say 'hi'. It is very possible to catch some really nice fish -including trophies that are over 20-inches - when our trout are in the mood for a big meal, and when the hopper bite comes together, there may be no more of an exciting way to fish any of the Ozark Tailwater coldwater fisheries. Blue Ribbon stocks hoppers from Idlewilde, Montana Fly, Umpqua, and locally tied patterns produced exclusively for BR bins. www.blueribbonflyfish.com
  7. Our good friend, fellow guide, and ambassador to our rivers, Don Adams, has sadly lost his battle with leukemia this morning. Don will always remain in our hearts and will be sorely missed. God bless you Don... we love you! Don Adams
  8. 2006 Custom made Shawnee River Boat for sale includes custom EZ loader trailer, rod tray, tons of storage hatches, walk through design, 2010 Honda 15 4-stroke (meticulously maintained with few hours), extra props, tiller extension, captain's chair on pedestal, manual jack plate which allows a quick lift of the motor in low water, skeg guard, all new Tempress seats including an extra spider leg seat, anchor, plenty of extras... $8,000 O.B.O. Call 870.321.2792 for more details.
  9. Fished the Norfork Tuesday. The push back from the White is up to Long Hole but everthing above offered crystal clear water clarity although that may change in hurry. We landed white bass a saw two 4' gars. No walleye or striper to the net although there are reports. Gave the white bass to campers. LB www.blueribbonflyfish.com
  10. We offer a Norfork shuttle for $25. www.blueribbonflyfish.com
  11. One of a kind Osprey 16' drift boat in excellent condition. Only been in the water a half dozen times and has few imperfections. New Tempress seats, great trailer w/roller, and tons of storage. Asking $5,000. Call Larry @ 870.321.2792.
  12. Here is a copy our new and updated tear away, free map. Part of it got cutt off and I cant' figure out how to include the entire thing. Perhaps a bit hard to see detail but if you send me a message @ blueribbonflyfish@hotmail.com I will mail you one no charge! Tight lines, Larry Babin www.blueribbonflyfish.com
  13. Happened to be at the boat ramp when Hotdawg pulled along side with this nice BSD brown. Took the pic with my camera but thought I'd share. LB
  14. Updated report for early November Excellent fishing is still a possibility every day on both the White River and Norfork Tailwater October was a stellar month on both rivers because of the breathtaking fall colors that dotted the landscape coupled with refreshingly cool temperatures – and the fishing wasn’t too shabby either. There is nothing quite like the experience of wading or drifting in such a dramatic setting and background, and the chance of hooking into a big brown or rainbow is practically a bonus when compared to the comfortable fishing weather and appealing aesthetics. This can make November an underrated month, which is primarily a result of the perception that October is considered the all-around perfect time to be on these rivers. In all actuality, November usually offers up even better trophy fishing than its predecessor due to the fact that there are so many large trout on the move that intentionally gain weight in preparation for the spawn (the White River) or as a part of the recovery process subsequent to leaving their traditional spawning grounds after “doing the deed” (the Norfork). Plus, there are not nearly as many anglers on the water, and this makes November an absolutely perfect all-around month for fly fishing the Ozarks. Flows on both rivers have been somewhat erratic of late due to the fact that cooler weather creates an increased demand for electricity, and Corp of Engineers relatively new commitment to keeping the dissolved oxygen in the rivers above non-lethal levels also makes for inconsistent dynamics. This can make wading a bit tricky, but there are still plenty of shallow water spots available virtually every day; especially if you have a vessel that can provide safe access to one of the many islands on either river. Although a boat can help get anglers into many wonderful spots for drift fishing, as well, getting out into the water and treading lightly through the shallows is a superior way to locate and catch trout that are a bit wary from all the pressure they put up with during October. And if you don’t have access to a watercraft, stalking the banks during light to moderate flows is a great way to find slow eddies and seams that hold good numbers of feeding fish. Rainfall has been nonexistent over the last month, so look for flows to moderate throughout November, if the region stays dry – especially on the White where low dissolved oxygen levels are not the huge concern that they are on the Norfork. As we progress into late fall and early winter, releases will be confined to dawn and dusk due to the fact that this is when power demand is greatest, but like always, no one ever knows exactly what to expect on these rivers, so it is always a good idea to be prepared for anything and everything. The usual fall hatches of micro caddis and blue winged olives are starting to consistently emerge, with the heaviest activity usually occurring within a couple hours before nightfall. Fishing with tiny dry flies is a unique challenge, but it is well worth the effort when anglers join the elite “20/20” club – membership means landing a twenty-inch trout on a size #20 fly (or smaller). Because fish must feed heavily on small insects in order to be efficient, fishermen are often surprised at how many shots at big fish they get during these seemingly insignificant hatches. Nymphs imitating micro caddis and blue winged olives are also effective, especially during the hours right before the hatch kicks into full swing. Midges – both dry and subsurface – are also good choices right now, and it never ceases to amaze our guides and shop customers when it comes to how many huge trout are caught on these tiny flies; especially during the fall. So if you do decide to give November fishing a try on the White and Norfork, don’t forget your two, three or four-weight rods, as these lighter setups make it much easier to subtly present minuscule offerings. Nymph fishing has also been quite productive recently, with scuds, sow bugs and midges producing the majority of the action when the water is running lightly or is dead low. Weighted flies are working best in the slow stretches of water, and dropper rigs or unweighted patterns fished below a split-shot allow for a very natural-looking presentation in the riffles and runs. Drab colors are always good choices, but it never hurts to switch to brighter flies if the fishing gets slow; orange (dead) scuds and red midges will often produce fish when nothing else seems to be working. Egg patterns in a variety of shades are also pulling many quality trout; light & dark roe, salmon egg, shrimp pink, and Peachy King are the current favorite colors of our guides and visiting fishermen. Remember, it is absolutely critical to keep these flies ‘rolling’ along the bottom for the best results. Those folks who like to exclusively target big trout have been doing very well streamer fishing. Don’t expect a bite on every cast when chucking large flies in the deeper pools and along drop offs, but if you are patient and diligently work every bit of water within reach, it is reasonable to catch multiple browns over 18 inches throughout the course of the day. Night fishing with streamer patterns is also very exciting, especially considering that any given bite could end up being the “fish of a lifetime”. Many anglers new to fishing the Ozark tailwaters tend to underestimate the months of November, December and January, but there are also people that make the Mountain Home, Arkansas area their winter home just because the colder months are such a good time of year for catching big browns. The rewards of fishing during the late fall and into winter are well worth dealing with the sometimes frosty weather, and on many days, it’s possible to have a whole stretch of river all to yourself. Barring any heavy rain events over the next three months, there will be plenty of low-water opportunities – especially from mid morning until dusk. Once the reservoirs ‘turn over’ a few weeks before Christmas, we will start seeing even longer periods of dead-low water, but until then, continue to expect the unexpected. Late fall and winter are when serious anglers come out of the woodwork and for good reason: the lack of fishing pressure and the abundance of post-spawn browns makes this the perfect time of year for hooking into a behemoth. The White and the Norfork may be the finest year-round trout fisheries in the world, so if you are interested in learning more about the unique cool weather trophy trout opportunities in the Ozarks, be sure to keep up with our bi-monthly newsletters and reports. Also, never hesitate to give us a call or send us an email if you have any questions regarding the fishing to expect during any time of year.
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