Mid winter, us ice-locked northerners, get the itch to fish. Sometimes we have to go where it’s a bit warmer to scratch it. Last weekend I did just that, I scratched my itch on the White River in Arkansas. I had been to the White River a number of years back when my dad used to live in Branson, Missouri. He drove me over one day and we took a look at it. I dunked a fly in it for a couple of hours and then we had to leave. I knew I wanted to fish it again one day, as I had heard rumors of monster brown trout lurking in its depths. I hopped in the truck (gas is cheap now) and made the 12-hour haul down to Mountain Home, Arkansas. On this visit I learned that fishing the White River is ALL about the water flows. In Montana we have tailwaters but they do not fluctuate the water below the dams like they do in Arkansas. It is definitely something I was personally not familiar with at all. In one day, they can have minimum flows in the morning, which are around 2500cfs, and then by mid day the water is up to 12500cfs and then by evening back down to 2500cfs. WOW, this really effects how the fish feed and where they hold. You also must be very careful as a wade fishermen, if you hear the horn blow or even notice the water is coming up, get out of the river quick.
We ended up fishing minimum flows for the three days we were there. From what the guides were saying, it fishes better at higher flows because it concentrates the fish to specific holding spots instead of spreading them out all over the entire river during lower flows. Also, at low flows the fish are much spookier and there is not much food in the water column. Big fish can be caught at low flows but the odds are stacked against you. Apparently it is a real hit or miss game to play trying to hit the water flows. There is a schedule on the release of water but our friend Jeff who is a local guide says not to count on it. We were throwing streamers for most of the trip, had we been fishing nymphs we would have had a better chance. The tug is the drug as they say though and we were hunting for one of the monsters that lurk. We caught an occasional rainbow here and there on streamers which kept it fun. One of the guys that was down and in a different boat caught a 29.5 inch 11lb brown. Maybe next time….. On the long haul back to Saint Paul I decided to look at the flows and see if they had bumped the river at all, sure enough they had, all the way up to 12,500cfs. Darn it, should have stayed one more day. I’d like to thank Dave Holser for inviting me to come along as well as head guide Jeff Trigg for hosting us and showing us around his territory. If you ever find yourself down there look Jeff up, he knows the river as well as anybody. I highly recommend a trip down to the White River, it is an absolutely beautiful place with a chance at the brown trout of a lifetime.