White River

Opening day on the White River, upper trophy area

Posted by Phil Lilley on January 26th, 2013
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One of the major events on the fly fishing calendar is opening day. This takes place at the Catch and Release section below Bull Shoals Dam. This is arguably the area of river that holds more big fish than any other and it is the main spawning water for brown trout on the White River. Every year the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission closes it down from November I, through January 31, the next year, to protect the spawning browns. During the spawn the brown trout do not eat. This means that, on opening day, these large spawned out hungry browns get fished over for the first time in three months.

Due to the quality of the fishing, it can get a bit crowded on opening day. A lot depends on the water level. If we have low wadable water, just about every angler in the area shows up. In addition, serious anglers from outside the area show up. The best spots always seem to be taken and you will probably fish a bit closer to other anglers than you would like.

One time I scheduled my opening day fishing trip to begin at day break. I got there really early and as I was donning my waders in the parking lot I noticed several anglers walking up from the river. I struck up a conversation with them and learned that they had been there since midnight and had done very well. This taught me that if you are going to be the first one there you better start pretty early.

On high water days, the crowding can be just as bad. It seems like every boat on the river is jockeying for position. This is where the White River Jon boat comes into its own. A drift boat is a one way trip and unless someone wants to row upstream and come back through the section you will only get one shot at it. A White River Jon can make drifts through it all day long.

Sometimes it is an anything that floats kind of day. This is where anglers show up in any form of water craft. The most common is a bass boat. They are great casting platforms but are not perfectly suited to our river. The problem is that, if you are running back up to the dam to drift through the Catch and Release Section, in a boat with a two hundred horse power engine, you will have the tendency to put the hammer down and make the run at fifty miles an hour, like you do when fishing in a bass tournament on a lake. In doing so, you kick up a big wake that can be a serious nuisance to your fellow anglers or create a dangerous situation. By going that fast you can also hit an obstacle. Several years ago the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission added a lot of fish habitat. This is either large rocks or large logs. With the constantly changing water levels, these navigation hazards are clearly visible or just beneath the surface. It is much like navigating through a minefield.

Last year my wife, Lori, and I went to opening day. We didn’t arrive until late in the morning. I talked to some of my fellow guides to see how they had done. They had done well fishing on the Baxter County side and had landed several nice browns but nothing huge. I launched and decided to fish the opposite side of the river, as it had not received as much pressure. Lori was fishing with a Y2K under an indicator. I was running the boat and was too busy doing that, to fish myself. As luck would have it, we were fishing close to the bank, when she hit a big trout. It took a few minutes to land it. It turned out to be a twenty four inch male brown. She caught it on the first drift. Lori caught several more nice trout that day but nothing equaled the first.

If you have never tried it, you need to give opening day a try. I will be there!

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