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Phil Lilley
Phil Lilley

White River Overview

The White River below Bull Shoals Dam is the granddaddy of rivers here in the Ozarks. The dam has eight turbines, twice as many as any other dam on the system.  When all eight are online, the White River becomes a fast, wild, cold river, demanding respect of all those who venture out on it.  But when there’s no generation, the same care is required because of the many gravel bars and shallow riffles that dot up the river up and down.  Some areas, like Wildcats Shoals, are almost impassible.  This is a major reason why there are so many fishing guides on the White River.

The White was made famous back in the early 1900’s by its long, guided float trips for bass.  The building of the second dam on the river, Bull Shoals Dam in 1963, created one of the best trout fisheries in the country.  The river is 101 miles from Bull Shoals Dam to Lock and Dam #3 below Guion, Arkansas, and all of it is trout water.

Picture by Cotter Trout Dock in Cotter, Ar

Overnight camping trips are still offered on the White.  An outfitter sends a large commissary boat with a crew ahead of anglers to set up camp, build the fire and prepare dinner to be ready just as the anglers arrive from a day full of catching big rainbows and browns.


Calvin Johnston, of  Olathe, Kansas, holds the White River brown trout record.  Johnston hooked the 38.7-pound "hog" that measured 37.5 inches on Feb. 27, 2015 while fishing at Rainbow Drive Resort in Cotter.

There aren’t many places in the country that an angler has a chance for a “grand slam” which is bringing to net a rainbow, a brown, cutthroat and a brook trout all in the same day on the same water.  Here on the White River, you can do that!!

White River 2

Abundant food and ideal water temperatures enable the system's tailwater trout to grow one half to one inch per month, year round.
 Unlike other tailwaters in the system, the White sees lots of insect hatches like midges, mayflies, caddis and stones, but freshwater shrimp or “scuds” are the trout’s main diet.  There’s also sculpin, crawfish and other forage fish in the river.

Special fishing regulations divide the river into sections where trout are assured a chance to grow to trophy size.  Catch-and-release areas, size limits, bait and hook restrictions are all in place in to make the White River one of the best trout fisheries in the country, growing big browns, big rainbows, large cutthroat and brookies for anglers all to enjoy.

Water Release

When water is released from Bull Shoals Dam, anglers downstream and out of earshot of the warning horn have to be mindful that water level and flow can increase quickly, even dangerously.  Extreme caution must be practiced at all times, especially when wading or using an anchor from a boat.

White River

Estimating when recently released water will arrive at the point where you will be fishing is also crucial to ensure you're outing is a safe one.

The following is an estimated time, assuming an eight-hour shut down overnight and a generation of 3-5-8 units in sequence within three to four hours of first generation:

Gaston's - five miles/45 minutes
White Hole - eight miles/90 minutes
Wildcat Shoals - 11 miles/3 hours
Cotter - 18 miles/ 4.5 hours
Rim Shoals - 24 miles/ 6 hours
Ranchette - 29 miles/ 7 hours
Buffalo City - 31 miles/9 hours
Shipps Ferry - 10 hours
Norfork - 49 miles/14 hours
Calico - 62 miles/24 hours
Sylamore - 79 miles/35 hours

Water release, past releases and river levels can be obtained by calling 870-431-5311 (recording).

Southwest Power Administration's site for Scheduled Water Release


SPA Generation Schedule

Bull Shoals Lake Top Flood Pool: 695.0
White River Top Power Pool: 654.0
(BSGA4) Bottom Power Pool: 628.5
Real time generation 870-431-5311

USACE Realtime Levels

USACE Oxygen Profile Levels, Bull Shoals (seasonal)






Bull Shoals Lake Tailwater

A fishing license and a trout permit are required to retain trout from any state waters or to fish in the White River from Bull Shoals Dam to the Highway 58 bridge at Guion. Licenses or permits are not required for children under 16. There is a daily limit of five trout. Only two brook trout, 14 inches or longer may be retained. Only one brown trout, 24 inches or longer may be retained. Only two cutthroat trout, 16 inches or longer may be retained.

Trout Stamp

Bull Shoals Tailwater: From 100 yards below Bulls Shoals Dam to Highway 58 Bridge at Guion: A trout permit is required.

Rod and Reel Only

Anglers may use no more than one fishing rod or pole and must attend it at all times. No other devices shall be used to catch fish.

Bull Shoals Catch-and-Release Areas

In the following areas, all trout must be released immediately. All hooking points must be barbless (natural or scented baits are not allowed). Chumming is not allowed.

Bull Shoals Catch-and-Release Area: From 100 yards below Bull Shoals Dam to the upstream boundary of Bull Shoals White River State Park, as indicated by signs: Catch-and-release Feb. 1-Oct. 31. Closed to fishing Nov. 1-Jan. 31 downstream to the wing dike at the Bull Shoals White River State Park Trout Dock;

Bull Shoals Seasonal Brown Trout Catch-and-Release Area: From the wing dike at the Bull Shoals White River State Park trout dock to the downstream boundary of the park: Seasonal catch-and-release area for brown trout Nov. 1-Jan. 31. Brown trout must be released immediately. No fishing from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise.

Monkey Island Catch-and-Release Area: From the upstream end of Monkey Island to Moccasin Creek, as indicated by signs.

Rim Shoals Catch-and-Release Area (near Cotter): From sign immediately above mouth of Jenkins Creek to the first electric power line downstream, as indicated by signs;

Big Spring (In Cotter, at the AGFC access to the White River)

From its source to the confluence with the White River, unless otherwise specified. Only anglers under age 16, accompanied by an adult, and anglers with a valid disability license and trout permit may fish Big Spring. Catch-and-release area. Trout must be released immediately. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used (natural or scented baits are not allowed). Chumming is not allowed. Anglers may use no more than one fishing rod or pole, and must attend it at all times. No other devices may be used to catch fish. Fishing is allowed from sunrise to sunset.

No fishing in the “swimming hole” at the upstream end of Big Spring.

No motorized boats are allowed in Big Spring.

Fishing Derbies

Fishing derbies must be permitted in writing by the AGFC District 2 fisheries biologist, and can include fishing with natural or scented baits and harvest of trout.

Disable Anglers

Adult disabled anglers must carry proof that they are permanently and totally disabled and possess a valid AGFC sport fishing, lifetime fishing or combination hunting and fishing license plus a valid trout permit.

Fishing License-

Resident - $10.50 annual (from the time of purchase)
Border Permit - $10
Resident 3-day - $6.50
Non-resident - $40 annual (from the time of purchase)
Non-resident 3-day - $11.00
Non-resident 7-day - $17.00
Non-resident - $22.00

Buy your Arkansas Fishing License Online Here

State Record River Fish

The White River system holds several state records, and rightly so. They only bolster the fact that the White River is one of the best fisheries in the state, as well in the country.

Brown Trout - Rip Collins's 40 lbs, 4 oz., caught on the Little Red River on May 2, 1992
(Held the world record for over 15 years)
Cutthroat Trout - Scott Rudolph's nine-pound, nine -ounce, caught on the White River on October 6, 1985
Rainbow Trout - Jim Miller's 19-pound, one-ounce, caught on the White River on March 14, 1981
Striped Bass - Jeff Fletcher's 64-pound,  eight-ounce, caught on the White River on April 28, 2000
Chain Pickerel - Ave Vogel's seven-pound, 10-ounce, caught on the Little Red River on January 6, 1979
Alligator Gar - John Stortz's 240-pounder, caught on the White River on July 28, 2004

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