THE FISHING REPORT
This fishing report will cover the White and North Fork Rivers year round. In the spring and early summer, which is the peak of the smallmouth bass season, the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek will be covered.
First the report for Fly Fishers
The way I cover the fishing report is to give what works 90% of the time.
Our trout fishing is done on tailwaters. These are cold water rivers created by the release of water from the bottom of a lake formed by a hydro-power dam. The released water is a constant 52 degrees, which is perfect for a trout’s metabolism. Rivers of this nature do not experience the insect diversity of freestone (free flowing) streams. This means our trout have a smaller ‘menu list’. The first 2 items on the menu are our most common food sources and ones that our trout will eat all of their lives.
Sowbugs, also known as Cress bugs. These insects spend their entire lives in the water and are common to all tailwater rivers.
The fly patterns that best imitate them have a wide flat profile with the legs sticking out to the sides of the body. Sow bugs stay primarily in the gravel areas of the stream bed. They crawl around instead of swimming, so they are probably best imitated with a dead-drift. They have little to no ability to swim, however they are negatively buoyant and will slowly sink back to the bottom if currents allow. During periods of quickly rising water they can lose their grip on the bottom and become are easy prey for trout. They are also dislodged from the bottom from other fishermen wading and boat activity.
Successful fly pattern colors for sow bug imitations for our rivers are light grey, dark grey, tan and brown. In low water conditions smaller pattern sizes (#18 & #20) will usually get more strikes and have the potential to catch larger fish. When fishing heavier river flows, sizes #14 & #16 offer an easier target for fish to see. I prefer to lightly weight my patterns to make them sink slowly in soft currents.
Scuds, which are a type of freshwater shrimp are extremely prolific in our rivers and inhabit areas with moss beds.
Scuds found in our rivers are of a species that are strong swimmers. While scuds are foragers and grazers of microscopic items they will occasionally relocate when a food source becomes scarce. When scuds move they do so using a ‘mass migration’ technique during low light periods as a prey defense. In addition to being easy prey to our trout during these migrations, scuds can be introduced into the water column by quickly rising water flows, boat activity and wading fishermen.
Fly patterns that properly imitate scuds are usually tied on a curved hook, have the legs shown beneath the body and a body which is tall and thin. Scuds found in our rivers are usually light grey, dark grey and olive. They are normally somewhat translucent. Dead scuds tend to turn pink just like the shrimp you see in the grocery store. Scud patterns are very productive fished with a natural drift. However many times, especially in slow flat water with soft currents, scud patterns fished without an indicator (like a wet fly) and presented with a slow, short swimming retrieve will catch you a lot of fish. Scuds swim like they have no sense of gravity. You will see them swimming upright, on their sides and even upside down. I believe that the strategy of using smaller patterns (# 18 & #20) during periods of low flows and larger patterns (#14 & #16) during periods of higher water flows is the most successful.
Midges are a insect which begin their lives as eggs floating on the water’s surface. they sink to the bottom, settle into depositional areas (that’s a fancy name for a natural spot they get floated/washed into) they hatch into small worms called enstars. They grow a while, then become pupa just before emerging from the bottom back to the water’s surface where they morph into a winged insect. They take flight, mate and the cycle repeats itself.
Tailwater rivers are always home to midges because they like, the constant water temperature they
provide. while midges are a food source year round they become particularly important in the winter when other food sources are less prevalent. Since most of their lives are spent buried in the river’s bottom it is when they become pupa and
leave the bottom to float to the surface and gain their wings that a midge becomes a target prey for trout. However enstars can be dislodging an become easy prey by wading anglers or boat activity.
Trout are most commonly caught using midge fly patterns that represent the pupa rising from the bottom to become a winged insect. As the pupa float down the river a tiny gas bubble forms under their skin (casing) they they will shed soon. this bubble lifts them to the surface. during this process they are completely helpless to avoid being eaten by fish. They have no ability to swim and the trout chose a feeding lane that contains a lot of the rising midge pupa. Trout feeding on midge pupa will locate themselves in fairly slow moving water at whatever height in the water column most of the prey is found at in that particular location. Many times our trout will expose their dorsal fin while eating midge pupa a few inches below the surface. It you can see the trout’s nose, then they are eating midges off the surface prior to them flying away. Techniques to catch trout on midge imitations can be varied. The most common if to fish a midge pupa, a.k.a. emerger, underneath a small indicator. Setting the depth of the indicator to present the fly at the feeding depth of the fish. Some anglers choose to use a dry fly pattern but subsurface patterns will always result in more hookups. I tie my midge flies in sizes #18, #20 & #22 . Smaller sizes can result in more strikes, but landing the fish becomes exponentially more difficult as hook size decreases.
While sow bugs, scuds and midges represent the base food sources of our rivers the following are also important.
The next few items are larger prey sources. As a trout grows past the 16″ mark it begins to feed more often on larger protein prey sources. This is especially true of Brown Trout. As these fish grow to 20″, prey sources such as these become standard fair and the small insects represent their snack items.
Sculpins are a small prehistroic fish that lives on the bottom in areas that have gravel and larger rocks for it to dart among. they are extremely strong swimmers that move in short 1 – 3 bursts when escaping. They will move from rock to rock while searching for food. At times they will use the stiff spines in their pectoral ins to hold themselves in a strong current and eat items as they are swept past by the currents. Their mouths can open to the size of their heads.
Flies which make good sculpin patterns will be weighted and ride with the hook up to minimize fouling on the bottom. Presenting these flies with a sink tip line is usually required to keep the fly in close contact with the bottom.
My favorite sculpin patterns will consist primarily of synthetic materials that have a neutral or negative buoyancy.
Crayfish, crawdads, mud bugs, mountain lobsters…whatever you want to call them, are freshwater crustaceans that trout love to eat.
In our rivers crayfish can be found year round but are very prolific during the spring. they are much more common on the White River once you are downstream of Crooked Creek and the Buffalo River. The trout in these areas of the White River can really get keyed on crawfish in the spring months. Crawfish of every size are available during the spring, so you should have fly patterns that reflect that. Crayfish are not very common in our section of the North Fork River
A good crawfish pattern is should have the same characteristics of a good sculpin pattern. It should be heavy enough to stay close to the bottom and ride hook point up. I personally do not think you have to have an ultra-realistic pattern. The pattern below is mine and while it’s pretty,
the Kraft’s Crawfish pattern below catches just as many, if not more fish, and takes 1/4 of the time to tie!
Most of the time, I fish crawfish patterns on a sink tip line to maintain the fly’s proximity to the bottom.
Bait Fish – Our rivers have a fairly good population of native baitfish in the way of minnows, shiners, chubs, suckers, etc.. Over the years I have noticed that the native baitfish populations on the White River are very similar to the crayfish population, in that both are much more common below the White’s main tributaries of Crooked Creek and the Buffalo River. The trout seems to prefer to feed on the young baitfish that are 1.5″ or less in the spring more than at any other time. While our baitfish come in a multitude of colors and markings the fly that works the best on the young baitfish fry is a simple marabou fly tied Clouser Minnow style in a size #10.
Threadfin Shad – I’ve listed this type of trout prey separately from our native bait fish because it is not a bait fish you will commonly find in our trout waters on a day-to-day basis. Threadfin shad live in the lakes above the local dams. Both Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork have large populations of threadfin shad. The 52 degree water temperature of our local rivers is too cold for this bait fish to reproduce in. BUT, on occasion these lake dwellers find their way into our rivers….and the trout do LOVE to eat them!
Maybe you have heard what we refer to as ‘The Shad Hatch’. Here’s how it happens. About the time winter is thinking about giving way to spring, we will have a few days of bright sunshine and 60 plus degree weather. This warms the surface water of the local lakes and the shad come up to enjoy the warm water. But winter isn’t really over. One night after a day spent cruising the warming surface water of the lakes the temperature plummets into the 30’s or even 20’s as a late winter front passes through. The shad’s metabolism can’t adjust quickly enough and they become stunned and sink to the lake’s bottom. Now, about that time the folks who get their electricity from our local hydro-power dams, turn on their heat because it just got real cold again. This demand for energy requires the dams to turn on their generators, which start sucking on that lake’s bottom water…..and that in turn sucks those stunned/dying/dead shad through the bottom of our dams and into the tailwater rivers below. To the trout, especially the big trout, it is the equivalent of yelling “Free steak at OutBack” inside a McDonalds. Can this event be predicted? Sometimes a couple of days ahead of time, but the best way, is to let me know you are interested and then if it starts happening I’ll give you a call, because it has been some of the best trout fishing for large trout I have ever experienced! Here are some of the flies that will catch them during the ‘Shad Hatch’!