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Shad! Coming Through The Dam At Bull Shoals

Phil Lilley

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<img style="margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px;" title="John Berry" src="http://www.ozarkanglers.com/white-river/files/2011/12/John-Berry.jpg" alt="" width="250" height="250" />
Last week I had a two day guide trip with a businessman from Wisconsin. My usual habit, when guiding the same client for two days, is to fish on the White one day and then fish the Norfork the next. Of course, if the client wants to fish one river both days, we do it that way.
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Brett and his wife, Cindy, were staying at River Ridge Inn. I picked him up at 7:30 AM the first day. It was very cold and windy (complete with lake wind advisories) and Cindy passed on the opportunity to fish with us. We decided to fish the Catch and Release section because it had recently reopened after having been closed for three months to accommodate the brown trout spawn and it had been fishing very well. They were running three generators and the flow was a bit over 6.500 cubic feet per second (cfs) which is the rough equivalent of two full generators.

I launched my White River Jon boat and motored up toward the dam. We were fishing large egg patterns below pink San Juan worms with a large AAA split shot (.8 grams) and a medium sized Thingamabobber as a strike indicator. We were doing well and hooking up a good fish on just about every drift. About ten o’clock we heard the horn sound at the dam. I knew from past experience that this signals some change in water flow through the dam. Sure enough, we saw another generator come on line and the flow increased to about 11,000 cfs or the rough equivalent of three and one half generators.

This is more water flow than we have experienced in some time. The increased flow did not hurt the fishing. About this time, I looked up toward the dam and noticed the gulls actively feeding on something coming through the generators. This is the classic indicator for shad coming through the dam. The increased flow had triggered it and about a hundred gulls diving into the power house out flow to key in on shad coming through confirmed it.

I told Brett that we were in for a very special opportunity, fishing shad! I clipped off the San Juan worm and egg pattern. I reached into my boat fly box and pulled out one of the white marabou jigs with a bit of flash that I always carry in case I run into this situation. I quickly tied it on, bent down the barb and motored up toward the dam.

Brett hooked a fat eighteen inch rainbow on the first cast. We fought, landed and released it quickly. A couple of casts later he picked up another. For the next hour and a half the action was absolutely nonstop. We were catching two or three fat sassy trout on every drift. They were all in the fifteen to eighteen inch slot. We didn’t hit a really big fish but we were happy. Brett was absolutely stoked. He had never experienced trout fishing like this and was amazed by the size, girth, deep color and fighting abilities of the trout he caught. We boated a couple of dozen fine trout in that time period.

About eleven thirty, it ended as quickly as it began. The flows decreased back to around 6,500 cfs. Our first clue was that the gulls quit feeding. We stuck with the shad pattern but the action had slowed. Now we were only picking up an occasional trout. A few minutes later we noted that the flows had greatly diminished. They were now about 1,500 cfs or the rough equivalent of less than one half of a full generator. The predicted flows for the day had indicated that that generation would be cut back around eleven o’clock. I knew that I would not have enough water to drift the area and headed for the ramp where I quickly put my boat on the trailer and got it out of the river, while I could. We had received an extra hour of higher water and higher flows than predicted. On the White, water flows are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.

We headed down to Rim Shoals to find some deeper water. We ate our lunch on a picnic table by the river. I launched my boat and we motored upstream. The wind was howling and it was difficult to get a good drift. The water was severely stained and full of trash. The river had been off for a few days prior to this day and the higher flows had flushed all manner of trash downstream. We picked up a couple of small fish but the going was tough. We decided to go somewhere else. Our best option was the Norfork.

We trailered the boat to Quarry park and were pleased to see very few anglers there (I only saw three). I switched the fly rig over to a sowbug under a pink San Juan worm and we waded over to a good spot. The action was a bit slow but we managed to catch several nice trout to include a nice brook trout. About five o’clock Brett had caught enough trout and was ready to join his wife for dinner. On the drive back to River Ridge Inn, I worried about how I would be able to top the fishing on this day on the next day when we would fish again.

The shad were not technically supposed to be coming through as it was not cold enough for a full shad kill. Someone forgot to tell the shad!

John Berry is a fly fishing guide in Cotter, Arkansas and has fished our local streams for over thirty years.

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