Norfork Tailwater

Habitat Work on the Norfork

Posted by John Berry on December 8th, 2011
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During the past month the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AG&FC) has been doing some habitat work on the Norfork River in the Catch and Release section upstream from the Ackerman Access. This is one of a few projects funded in part by the legal settlement with Trout Unlimited over the Norfork Overlook Estates law suit.  The idea here was to stabilize Charley’s island and improve the trout habitat in the area surrounding it.

I had heard first hand reports about the work being done from the anglers that fished there during the construction phase. The AG&FC hauled large boulders upstream in the river bed over a half a mile in huge dump trucks. Once on site they moved them around with heavy equipment. During this whole process, anglers were fishing around the heavy equipment. They were undeterred by the traffic and off color water. Many reported success with high numbers of fish caught.

During all of this action I chose not to fish there. It just isn’t in my DNA to want to fish under such crowded and noisy conditions. I prefer a bit more solitude. I tended to do most of my fishing on the White River, during this process. On the occasions where I did fish the Norfork, I was located far downstream. I did note that the water was off color but it did not affect the fishing or quality of fish caught. Now that the work was complete, I wanted to see the outcome and see how it would fish.

I worked nonstop right up to the Thanksgiving holidays. I then went out of town for several days. When I returned, I was ready to check out the project. I checked the predicted generation and found that the water on the Norfork would be turned off around seven o’clock the next morning. I decided to go. I asked my wife, Lori, to join me. She had a cold and declined. I thought about taking my yellow lab, Ellie, but decided against it because I did not know what kind of conditions to expect.

The next day I arrived at the Ackerman Access around 8:00 AM and noted that the water was a bit too high to wade. There was a truck in the parking lot but I did not see any anglers. It was beastly cold (37 degrees) and the wind was howling (there were lake wind advisories). Luckily the sun was shining and it did not seem as cold as it could have been. I decided to go to the Dam and see if the water had dropped out there.

When I arrived at the dam, there was only one car there. It was an angler unloading his kayak for a float down the Norfork. I had the place to myself. I fished one of my favorite spots for an hour. I managed to land four rainbows and a nice seventeen inch brown. I decided to return to Ackerman to see if the water had dropped out.

I was surprised to see no one else in the parking lot. I grabbed my rod and headed upstream. As I walked up, I could see big changes. The island had been reinforced with large heavy boulders on the upstream side. The channel on the near side of the island had been dredged and the gravel that had filled it during the last two floods had been pushed into a pile near the bank.

I took a minute to rig my rod. I put on a hot pink San Juan worm with a black zebra midge dropper, a bit of lead and a strike indicator. I began fishing the near channel and had immediate success on the worm. I kept changing the dropper fly and ended up with a size eighteen red zebra midge. I was now catching fish after fish with about sixty percent on the worm and forty percent on the dropper. The near channel was fishing better than it had in years. I fished far up stream and found plenty of trout wherever I went. It was not just numbers. I was landing some nice trout in the sixteen to eighteen inch range. All of them fought well.

I decided to fish the far channel. To access it, I had to scramble over some large boulders. The large rocks formed a barrier to the channel. I walked along the barrier until I found an easy spot to climb over. The channel appeared to be unchanged. I began fishing and caught a few trout. I did not stay long because the bright sun caused a serious glare on the water. I could not follow my strike indicator into the glare. In my haste to start fishing that morning, I had not changed from my regular glasses to my polarized fishing glasses. On the near channel, I had the sun on my back and the glare did not bother me there.

I scrambled back over the rock barrier. I resumed my fishing and kept landing trout after trout. I glanced downstream and saw another angler approaching. I looked at my watch. It was one o’clock. I had been fishing the area by myself for four hours. I had truly enjoyed the solitude. It turned out to be Mark, a fishing buddy of mine. We chatted about fishing and the changes brought on by the project for a few minutes and I reluctantly left. I wanted to check on Lori.

I had been interested in the stabilization and habitat project. I checked it out and fished the area and was impressed with the results. The area was fishing better than it has for quite a while.

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