Spin Fishing Trophy Trout In Arkansas
Come fish the White River for trophy brown trout.
Come with us to fish the White River and the North Fork River. Bring your family and friends and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Do you have an interest in learning how to fly fish or improving your fly fishing skills? We will be having our annual Fly Fishing School this coming April. Spots available!
My goal is for this site to provide you with exceptional White River fishing information.
I have fished the White Rive since 1978 and have guided since 2004. I believe that anyone considering this destination deserves an accurate description of our fishing.
If you want to believe a guide when he promises to deliver a trophy fish for you, then you might be hearing what you want to hear, more than the actual truth. I can tell you that the White River does deliver many trophy browns in the four to five pound range, with some of fish in the teens, and a few in the twenties. The river holds brown trout that are in the thirties & maybe forties, but they are rarely landed. Catching large fish usually requires patience, perseverance, skill, and a little luck.Redfish from Ship Island
White River and North Fork River Fishery Management
Both of these rivers are managed by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. The abundant nutrients found within this watershed allow its trout to grow at astonishing rates of up to 1″ per month. The river contains trout concentrations of up to 4,000 fish per mile. That’s a lot of fish, growing really fast! The two rivers are managed pretty much the same with the exception that the North Fork River has a much larger percentage of the river set aside as “Catch & Release” areas. Since the North Fork River is only 4.9 miles long in Arkansas, this really doesn’t represent a true comparison picture.
Both rivers are managed as trophy brown trout fisheries. This is accomplished in two ways. Some areas are set aside as “Catch & Release” areas, where artificials with a single, barbless hook are the only method of fishing allowed. All fish caught in a “Catch & Release” section must be immediately returned to the water. A harvest regulation of a minimum size of 24″ is set on German Brown trout, with a limit of one. This size restriction pertains to the entire lengths of both rivers. Any brown trout caught that is less than 24″ must be immediately returned to the water. A large percentage of our brown trout are wild.
Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Cutthroat Trout are managed basically as “put & take” fisheries. While this doesn’t sound very romantic, it is the way it is. The advantage of this is the rainbows provide a lot of action. They are much easier to catch and that means that when the fishing is tough you can still come up with some fish, and everyone has a good time. The Brook Trout and Cutthroat Trout are stocked in much lower quantities than the rainbows and provide the ability to catch all four species of trout in one location. This is not to say that big rainbows, cutts and brookies don’t come along, but it is much more infrequent than trophy browns.
One of our fun things to attempt on a fishing trip is to catch the Arkansas Grand Slam, a brown, brook, rainbow & cutthroat all in a day. I realize the above description of our fisheries management is very general and leaves out the many nuances of fisheries management, but it gets the point across.
Both the White river and the North Fork River are tail waters. What is a tail water river?
In the 1950’s, the Corps of Engineers built both Bull Shoals Dam and the Norfork Lake Dam. Bull Shoals Dam was built across the White River and formed Bull Shoals Lake. The Norfork Lake Dam wasIslamorada Bonefish
built across the North Fork of the White River and created Lake Norfork. (You’ll noticed the spelling difference in Lake Norfork and the North Fork River…it’s a subject of a lot of debate, but the names are found spelled different ways depending on the source…who am I to say.)
Before the dams, these rivers were some of the best smallmouth rivers in the U.S. There is a great history of the fishing float trips taken by thousands beginning in the late 1800’s. To mitigate the loss of the business generated from the smallmouth fishery the federal government promised to forever provide trout for the cold water rivers that now exist.
These rivers are cold water because the dams release water from the bottom of lakes while generating electricity. Since electricity cannot be stored, the water levels of the rivers change as power demands fluctuate. It is not uncommon for the water levels to change 5 to 9 feet in a few hours time. While this seems very radical to fishermen, it is just another day in the life of a White River trout. The trout in our rivers can be caught at any water level; you just have to understand the techniques.
Understanding the changing water levels
Water depths and current speeds fluctuate greatly given the amount of generation coming through the dam. Water levels can vary by 5 vertical feet in minutes and 11 vertical feet in the course of an hour or two, but that is not usually the norm. Usually in a 24 hour period the water levels will vary by 2 -5 feet. These variances are greater and happen faster the closer you are to the dam. As you move further away from the dam, the existing flows drop, or “tail out” at a slower rate. Likewise the increasing flows have time to spread out as they come down the river making the rise of water levels less dramatic.
The rise or drop will still be the equivalent if you were stationed closer to the dam, it just takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours longer to reach those levels, depending on how far downstream you are. The dam’s generation for the present generation level, what the last change was and when it occurred can be accessed anytime at 870.431.5311.
There are several websites that provide monitoring on the dams’ water releases to produce hydroelectric power. By accessing 5 to 6 different sites’ information, and understanding the Corps of Engineers water management plan of 1998, you can become fairly proficient at guessing what the water releases will be. If you really want to learn how to do that just email and I’ll fill you in. If you want to know what’s going on right now, call or email, and I’ll give you my best guess.
The waters of the White River and the North Fork River are very clear. If the water levels are low, the fish can be exceptionally spooky about seeing your line, and this is especially true about big fish. I’ve seen many anglers show up with 10 lb test line and hardly get a bite, while sitting in the boat with their buddy who is using 4 lb. test and he’s catching one fish after another.
Recommended line: Maxima or Ande green, in 4lb & 6lb test. When fishing stick baits in high flows you can get away with 8lb – 12lb test. In low flows you’ll get more bites on 2lb, but getting the fish to the boat can be difficult, and you’ll lose a lot of lures to hang-ups.
Rods: I prefer 6′ rods for throwing the larger stick baits. It needs to have some backbone to set the hook and to handle bigger fish. As you progress down in lure size and weight you’ll need an ultralite rod with the ability to toss the smallest and lightest of lures. I prefer to take this in two steps and have a third rod to handle the truly small stuff necessary in the lightest river flows.
Reels: I only use open face spinning, but you could use some of the ‘light line’ bait casting reels available for handing the stick bait presentations. Just make sure that the reel will comfortably handle 6 lb test line if you find it necessary. There are so many good open face spinning reels on the market these days that I’m not going to talk about brands, just make sure it has a nice, smooth drag.
Lures: As a general rule, fish larger, heavier lures in larger water flows. As water flows decrease, downsize your lure selection. Please consider pinching down the barbs on all your hooks, you’re going to catch a lot more fish than your limit, and you will be returning many fish to the water. Scientific studies show it’s not so much the hook that causes most fish to die, it’s the handling during the release. A fish caught with a de-barbed hook is much easier to unhook. I hear fishermen say that de-barbed hooks will make you lose fish, I just don’t find that to be true as long as you keep a tight line. If you can’t keep a tight line while playing a fish, you’ll lose fish no matter what hook you use.
- Rapala Countdowns in sizes CD1 – CD7 in colors; gold/black, silver/black, brown trout, rainbow trout. Rapala Husky Jerk, Bomber’s Suspending long A, Rapala Shad Rap in similar colors are great suspending stickbaits.
- Marabou jigs in 1/4 oz – 1/32 oz in colors: olive, brown, white, hot pink, white, brown/orange
- Spoons, my favorites are Buoyant Spoons (a funny name for a spoon that sinks like the piece of metal it is) in 1/4 oz – 1/6 oz , colors; rainbow trout, brown trout, black, green, hot pink.
- In-line spinners, such as Mepps, Fox, & Roostertails in 1/4 oz – 1/16 oz in colors; rust/orange, white, black, olive, hot pink.
What do the rivers look like & what are the most common lures used?
The White River is a big river – 75 to 250 yards across with it’s trout waters stretching for 90 miles. It has shallow riffles, deep fast runs, and deep holes. The bottom can be moss and grass covered, clean gravel or solid rock with many ledges and fractures to hide big fish. The White River fishes like a big river. You can successfully employ many different tactics to catch fish. For the spin fisher, stick baits imitating small trout or bait fish will produce some of the largest fish in high water conditions. These include Rapala Countdowns, Rapala Husky Jerk, Bomber’s Suspending long A, Rapala Shad Rap and a host of others that do basically the same thing. During mid-flows these baits will still work, just target deep areas.
The North Fork Riveris much smaller than the White. It averages 35 -50 yards across and at low water 80% of the river can be waded. The North Fork River tends to have low water levels more and is very popular with fly fishermen, because of this it receives and immense amount of fishing pressure. The North Fork is only accessible by boat when it is running 2 generators, because it is a rather shallow river. At higher flows this river can be worked in the same way as the White, with suspension & sinking stick baits. At low flows most fishermen will be wading and your lure selection will need to be small and light. Jigs thrown on super ultralites with 2 lb. Ande green can catch good fish in these conditions. The smallest in line spinners and Rapala Countdowns in a size CD1 can produce good results when water levels are low.
Best time for trophy German Browns
I’ve fished this river since 1978 and have guided on it since 2004. It has been my experience that for trophy browns the White River fish’s best in the cool or cold weather months. Being located in northern Arkansas our winters are rarely extreme. While we will have very cold days that occasionally reach into the teens, they only last for short period before we are back up in the 40’s & 50’s. Snow may come 4 or 5 days a year and is usually light.
One reason the river fishes better during the cold weather months is because the fishing pressure is so much lighter and the fish feed more in daylight hours. It’s at these times that sight fishing for these big fish is possible. Some of the best trophy fishing occurs in mid October to the end of November, then again from mid January to mid March.
The first period coincides with the migration of brown trout upstream to spawn and the second period is after the spawn when the fish are putting weight back on after the spawn. The second period in January to March is when we can have what is locally known as the “Shad Hatch” or “”shad kill”. Obviously this is not a hatch, but a time when shad located in the reservoirs above the dams can be susceptible to quick drops in temperatures as cold fronts move across the region. The stunned, dying or dead shad are swept through the dams electric generation turbines and flushed into the river below. It’s like someone yelling “Free steak” at The Outback Steakhouse. The fish come from miles to gorge on the shad.
At the beginning of this feeding frenzy the fishing is easy. As it progresses the fish learn that all that looks like a shad, is not a shad. This is when each guide seems to have their own tricks and patterns to continue to fool the fish and keep the bite coming. This event happens most often below the Bull Shoals Dam and is thankfully located within a catch & release area, so these trophy fish are protected while they momentarily lose all caution.
Can this hatch be predicted? No, not really. It requires a combination of weather conditions and the dam generators running hard enough to pull the shad through to the river. Is it worth jumping in the car and coming with a moments notice…ooohh, yes. When the action is hot during the shad hatch you will pull your white jig or stick bait away from 3 lb. plus fish, because they are the little ones!
Catch & Release Areas
These areas on both the White River and the North Fork River are subject to the following regulations. All lures must be artificial, with barbless hooks. Baits that have any artificial smell are not allowed. All fish caught must be immediately returned to the river.
Spin fishermen can still enjoy these areas with tremendous success by using jigs. Fished on ultralights with 4lb Ande green . Choose the lightest jig weight that accomplishes getting you to the bottom in the flows you are fishing. The lightest weight jig is critical to the level of natural drift action you can accomplish. The best colors are olive, brown, rust, and black.
Advantages of our section of the White River
We are located 5 miles below the confluence of where the North Fork River enters the White River. We are 45 miles downstream form the Bull Shoals Dam, but we are only 10 miles downstream from the Norfork Lake Dam. The renewing of cold water from the North Fork River keeps our waters cold enough for the trout in our section of the river to remain very healthy. We are always surprised by the number of anglers who don’t realize that great trout fishing is available downstream of the first 20 miles below Bull Shoals Dam. While the upper sections of the White River do have great fishing and I guide in those areas frequently, I catch just as many fish down river in my section.
What’s different about our section of the White River?
It is much less developed. Yes, you’ll see a few houses, but you’ll also notice that 90% of the banks are forest or empty pasture. For many, this is more enjoyable than looking at one house or resort after another that line the banks of the upper river.
There are a lot fewer anglers. There are a lot fewer boats. There are as many trout per mile per angler as anywhere on the river. This equals to the same fish catching experience without the crowds of the upper White.
More importantly is the amount of water in the river. At low generation levels and especially when there is no generation, which happens more often on the weekends, on the upper White River you may be sitting in your boat fishing an area ¼ mile in length, because you can’t motor through shallow shoal areas to reach a different stretch of river. That is not the case in our section of the White River. Even at dead low flows you can access over 7 plus miles of river. It is not fun to share a fishing hole with 10 – 15 other boats!
Why would you even want a guide?
Since our rivers are tail waters and subject to frequent changes of water levels, you may want to gain some “on the water” insight as to how this affects the fishing, wading and boating experiences of the river. Even if you decide not to hire a guide for these reasons, stop by a fishing shop or call a guide and discuss this with them, it will help you catch fish and help you to have a safe day on the water.
- You are in the area for the first time and don’t know the techniques and types of water that hold the big fish, or the higher concentrations of fish.
- You’ve come prepared to wade, but water levels won’t permit it and you are not comfortable renting a boat and navigating the river yourself. So you hire a guide to handle the boat.
- You know how to fish, but want to maximize your time fishing, not looking for the next spot.
- You know how to fish, but want to spend time focusing on your spouse, children, grand children, friends or business client.
What makes a good guide?
One who delivers what you ask for.
You can find really good, competent fishing guides on our rivers. If you are looking for a guide who talks about being the best and knows it all, then you need to look elsewhere. I believe that the day an individual thinks they ‘know it all’ is the day they stop learning. I learn someting new nearly everytime I’m on the water.
I love to fish, but even more, I love to guide people and see them catch fish. I’m polite and professional. I will match your fishing skills to techniques that will catch fish. Something that is unique about my guide service is I offer both fly & spin fishing trips or even a combination spin/fly trip.
Look over several different guides’ websites, call a few of them, and choose a guide that you think you’ll enjoy a day on the water with. The following might be some good questions to start a general conversation.
- How long will we be on the water?
- What is the exact cost, what is included, and when is it expected? What type of payment options do I have? Are you expecting a tip?
- What, if any tackle, food, and drinks do you provide?
- What type of boat is being used, and how old is it?
- Do you teach me to fish, or just take me fishing?
- Do you (the guide) fish on the trip?
- Do you Practice Catch and Release? Can I keep a trophy fish?
- Are you a full, or part-time guide?
- Do you have a Guide License?
- Do you have business insurance?
- How has the fishing been lately, and what can I reasonable expect? When was the last time you were on the river we will be fishing?
- Who removes the hook from the fish that we catch?
- Where can I get a fishing license?
- Where do we meet, and how do I get there?
- If water levels permit, do you allow me to wade?
What to expect from me on a guided trip
Spin fishing trips are all conducted from a boat, unless you request to wade. Wading will depend on the water levels. I guide in all weather conditions that do not have an element of danger. With over 60 miles of water available we can nearly always find a location that presents good fishing conditions. Graphite rods make wonderful conductors of electricity and we don’t want to get caught in a tornado, but a little snow, rain, and wind doesn’t hurt much and the fish don’t seem to mind. Any canceled trips will be at the guide’s discretion with safety given the highest consideration. A trip may be postponed, interrupted or even canceled if conditions are unsafe.
What you should bring on a guided trip?
- Waders if you desire to wade.
- Polarized sunglasses.
- A cap with a bill.
- Subtle, earth toned clothing, especially if wading is an option.
- Full rain gear
Rates For Guided Spin and/or Fly Fishing Trips
|Full Day||½ Day|
|1 or 2 people||$ 300||$ 225|
|3 people*||$ 400||$ 300|
Can I keep the fish I catch?
These fisheries are stocked with rainbows in quantities that require the harvesting of a number of them. I’m all for “Catch & Release” practices of fisheries managed for that, but for rainbows in the White River, it is not expected and will simply result in an overabundance of fish and less food all the fish, therefore you are welcome to keep up to a legal limit of rainbows.
Since our brown trout are managed differently, I release all brown trout, even those in excess of 24″. Pictures and measurements can be recorded and replica mounts are superior in everyway to original skin mounts. We offer a $50 contribution toward your replica mount of a trophy brown trout in excess of 24″.
I do not guide bait fishing trips except to catch a few fish for small children or someone that is handicapped and has difficulty casting. Unfortunately bait fishing can result in high fish mortality, especially if the rod is not in the hands of a experienced fisherman who immediately feels the “take”. The fish ends up swallowing both bait & hook and has a poor chance of surviving if released.
Water and soft drinks are furnished on all trips. Deli lunches are available for $ 8.00 per person. Something unique about my guide service, since I’m primarily a fly fishing guide, is I offer combination fly fishing/ spin fishing trips if you have a fishing companion who doesn’t want to fly fish.
Boat Rentals: All boats are premium 20 foot AFF’s, one of the most stable river boats manufactured. Engines are 20 hp Mercury outboards with jet drives. So you have no prop to ruin. In 9 years we have not experienced a single damaged lower unit. We are the only outfitter I’m aware of renting jet drives.
Boat Rental Rates:
- $ 110.00/ Full Day
- $ 90.00/ 1/2 Day
Plus whatever gas you use during your rental.
Rental includes 4 seats, paddle, life jackets, net, drag chain, & anchor.
Smallmouth Bass Fishing
We have 2 great smallmouth streams. The Buffalo River and Crooked Creek are both close by and offer good smallmouth fishing, especially during the late spring and early fall. Crooked Creek trips are offered on a full day basis only and are usually float/wade combination trips. Buffalo River trips are conducted on the lower portion of the Buffalo River and can be combined with White River trout fishing trips.
Special fishing just for Kids and Disabled
Just 15 minutes from our resort is the little stream of Dry Run Creek. This creek is designated as a special regulation fishery for those children under 16 and for any disabled individual. The fishing is done with single barbless hook artificials, (basically flies only) and is all catch & release. The creek is created by the runoff from the National Fish Hatchery. The highly fertile and oxygenated water allows for an astonishing 6,000 to 10,000 fish per mile in the ½ mile creek. Not only are there a lot of fish, they can be huge! This is the perfect place to teach a beginning fly fisher how to fish moving waters. Casts are short and easy and they can concentrate on perfecting the drift, strike detection, hook set, and fish playing skills. These fish are not exceptionally easy and you have to use the right flies & techniques. Just ask how to fish it and I’ll explain it all, or you may opt for a guided trip for your young angler. Bring the kids, bring the camera, fish will be caught!