A UW-Stevens Point Fly Fishing Club Adventure to the White River
When the UWSP Fly-Fishing Club was planning trips for this year last spring, one place that was thoroughly brought up was a trip to Cotter, Arkansas to fish the mighty White River. I was very skeptical. I was worried that we would drive thirteen hours down to Arkansas to hit terrible fishing like some trips we had taken. Another worry was that there would not be enough public access for us to fish once we got there. But with the little doubt that was had, we decided that it was a trip to try.
The section of the White River that we were planning to target was below the dam on Boal Shoals Lake. This is a very tricky stretch of river because the dam releases different amounts of water during a single day. They run generators so when the need more energy, they open more gates to run the generators. When they release the water, levels can rise so quickly that you can sometimes get stranded in the middle of the river, so knowing the schedule is very important. In this stretch of the White, main target species are brown and rainbow trout, which is what we were hoping to lay into when we finally got down south.
So now we fast track to January 2015. Our trip started the night before we even left on the 10th of January. Ten eager members gathered at my house to tie some flies and get ready for what we hoped to be an amazing trip. And after a few hours of sleep that night, we got on the road for our thirteen-hour drive from Stevens Point to a grandmother of one of our members house in Flippen, Arkansas, where we would stay for five days.
Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by much warmer weather than our bitterly cold Wisconsin weather. We made a quick stop at a local fly shop in Cotter, Arkansas to get our licenses and see what the ticket is to catch fish this time of year. Unfortunately, we were not able to get there with enough light or energy to fish that night, but our anticipation for the next day of fishing was in full force.
When planning a long trip to world class fishing, you need to pack all the gear you will need seeing as you will not be able to just drive back for anything you’ve forgotten. When fishing the White River, you will encounter many different methods of fly fishing. Methods you will encounter can be throwing dry flies, nymphing, streamer fishing, and mousing. But most rods are not real good at covering all of these methods.
I would start out with bringing a 4 weight to fish with dry flies. It is a lighter rod that will help land a fly delicately on the surface of the water. This will help the fly ride better on the surface of the water. A 4 weight rod has enough strength to comfortably land fish up to 20in but can land fish that are bigger as long as you play them out.
The next rod that would be useful to bring is a 6 weight. This rod would be ideal for casting nymph rigs as well as streamers which this rod has the power to throw. This size of rod is capable of landing any size of fish that you will encounter on this trip. For some of the bigger brown trout that you may encounter on this river, it may feel a little light, but a six weight can definitely handle it much better than the 4 weight.
Another rod that would be nice to bring would be an 8 weight to help throw larger streamers for monster brown trout. This rod will be big enough to handle any fish in the river with ease, but small fish on it will not be as enjoyable. But if you are looking to catch a monster trout, large streamers will be your ticket and this will be a rod of choice.
As for leaders, I would recommend 5x for fishing dries and nymphs. These are thin enough that a trout will not be able to see the line leading to the fly. When fishing these two types of methods, the trout will sometimes be picky and will look at the fine details. For streamers, you should use a shorter version of a leader. The size of the fly will help you base what size of leader you should use. The larger the fly, the larger the leader you should use. The bulkier line sizes don’t matter too much because these fish are not paying too much attention to the minute details while the large fly is enticing them.
When it comes to figuring out what to put on the end of your leader, it gets a little tougher. One thing to look at are hatch charts. For the white river, a good guide to what will be hatching during your trip is the hatch chart put out by Ozark Fly Flinger (https://www.flyflinger.com/pdf%20files/offhatch.pdf). This chart can help you figure out what to tie before your trip. If you do not tie flies and have to buy them, I would recommend that you wait until you get down there. To get the best information on what fish are hitting on, a stop at a local fly shop will help immensely. Most of these fly shop owners also guide on the river so they are out there daily watching the river conditions and they can see what is hatching and what the fish are biting on. And even if you do tie your own flies, I would still go into the shop and talk with the workers and see what they recommend.
When our club went in mid-January, there was not much of a hatch. One thing that was hatching, though, were Blue Wing Olives (BWO’s). We were told that there was some hatching at this time. But to get strikes, you would need to be fishing these at a large hatching. An easy way to tell if there is a hatch is to watch of them flying by or watch for trout hitting the surface. This was the only dry fly that worked for us at this time, but later in the year, from mid-March to late October, the dry fly bite will increase with the rise in hoppers and other terrestrials along with other aquatic insects. If you are looking for big numbers of fish, this is not a method for you. But if you want to see some of the coolest strikes you may ever see, you may want to give this a try. Nothing beats watching a trout suck a fly right off the surface.
For those of you who want to catch fish in large numbers, nymphing will be the way to go. The way to nymph the white river is like nymphing in any other stream; run two nymphs under an indicator. When our club went down, we were fishing between the spawn and the post-spawn transition. So one tactic that worked well for us was egg patterns. Most of our members ran set-ups that consisted of an egg pattern and then a midge running about a foot-and-a-half behind. Midges will be on the bottom of the river, but are sometimes pulled off by the current and end up in the mouth of a hungry trout. Other patterns that also work well are scuds.
Another popular way to catch fish, especially targeting the larger fish, is to fish with streamers. The best streamer that we used down there was a sculpin pattern. A Sculpin is a small fish that resides in rivers and streams that trout love to eat. You could fish them two different ways, either swinging the flies (our most productive method) or strip the fly in. With either presentation, I would recommend using a sink tip to get the fly down to the bottom. This resulted in many decent rainbow trout as well as a nice brown trout. Another pattern that worked well was a small trout imitation. The larger trout will eat the smaller fish and this can make for some really cool strikes if it is worked near the surface. Later in the year, there is a shad kill up in Boal Shoals Lake, and the dead shad fall through the dam and flow down river where hungry trout are waiting to engulf them. This is a great time to throw flies that imitate these shad and just let them swing through to fish waiting for them.
And the last, and most fun method of catching these trout would have to be night fishing. This is when you get the bigger fish to come out to feed. Fishing larger fly patterns and stripping them along the surface of the water will sends vibrations through the water. These fish will sense these vibrations help trigger a strike that is one of the most vicious strikes you will ever see. A lot of times, the fish will launch itself strait out of the water to hit your fly. But one thing you have to be careful of is light. Try to limit the amount of light from your headlight that hits the water and try to just listen for the strike or feel it. It is one of the most intense fishing methods out there! This method produced three very nice brown trout and had many other strikes which made it a popular method for our group.
The White River in Arkansas is a fly fisherman’s paradise. There are trout around every corner and every run. Whether you are going down there to catch a lot of rainbow trout or one big brown trout, this is a destination that you need to put on your list. The river is a superb fishery that the people who live around it care about and are proud of. As long as you use some of the techniques that have been mentioned in this article, you should have a successful trip. Remember to stop at a fly shop before you head out to see what hatches are going on or what the fish are hitting best on. I promise that this will be a trip of a lifetime.
by Drew Wallace