North Fork of the White


Posted by Phil Lilley on September 2nd, 2011
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Missouri is blessed to have several free-floating rivers classified as top trout and smallmouth bass fisheries and the North Fork of the White is one of the best.  If most resembles a mountain stream in Colorado with little visible interference from the outside world along it’s banks.  It’s nice to float and it’s even nicer to fish!

The river starts near Mountain Grove and Cabool and ends at Tecumseh when it joins Bryant Creek to form the head of Norfork Lake.  The upper 50 miles of river is smallmouth bass country but as the cold water of Rainbow Springs hits the river, it’s transformed into one of the best trout streams anywhere.

north-fork-white-rainbow-fryThe next 15 miles of river is deemed trout water as several other springs add more and more good, clean, cold water year-round.  Most anglers float the river, starting and finishing from several public accesses named later in this article.  But there are a couple of accesses one can enter the river and wade but tow things to remember:  First is to respect private property.  You can wade the river but cannot step out on the bank.  Second, the river’s bottom is mostly slick bedrock so felt-sole shoes are recommended.

.Rainbow Springs dumps an average of 137,000,000 gallons of water each day.  This spring and other springs make it possible for trout to thrive in the North Fork.

Rainbows were last stocked in the North Fork in 1964.  They have survived drought and floods and have reached incredible trophy size for the adversity they’ve seen.  Brown trout on the other hand are stocked each year but they too have flourished to become a sought after trophy trout.

Both species of trout are a challenge to conquer.  The water is clear and fish leery.  They don’t call these rainbows “wild” for nothing.  Don’t expect to drop in the river, present a good-looking fly and see a rainbow take it like a dumb stocker rainbow.  You have to be at the top of your game or learn how to “match the hatch” as they say.  Pretty flies are for selling . . . big ugly leeches and bead head midges are for catching trout on the North Fork.  Check with the guides on this river and see what they tell you.

Nymphing is the name of the game on the North Fork.  Running a bead head through big white water rapids is an art and you have to learn it well to catch these trout.  That’s where they are—in the biggest, fastest water.  Pay close attention to the “seams”, where the fast water meets the slower, eddied water after the rapids.  Another hiding place for rainbows.

The deep holes are reserved for brown trout.  They are nocturnal, coming out mainly at night to feed on forage fish, crawfish, sculpins and even a rainbow trout.  But they will bite during the daytime.  Best times are on dark, cloudy days, rainy and windier the better.  They’re the ones who like the big, ugly flies.

Spin fishing isn’t out of the question on the North Fork.  Casting a small crawfish crank bait through the pools will hook a few rainbows and an occasional brown trout but marabou jigs, when worked in the right areas off the bottom can catch some incredible trout too.  Eighth-ounce marabou in earth colors like black, brown, olive and sculpin are deadly on these wild rainbows and the browns like them too.

brian wise

River Levels

North Fork River near Tecumseh, MO

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