White River

Observations on Minimum Flow

Posted by John Berry on March 29th, 2014
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white river minimum flow

As many of you know, minimum flow has been implemented on the Norfork and Bull Shoals tailwaters. The overall concept was to increase the minimum flow of water that would be released from the dams. This would add a small amount of water to the outflows that would aid in navigation. More importantly it would increase the wetted area on our tailwaters, which would provide a bigger base for food production and increase our river’s fish holding capacity.

It was a simple enough project on the White, as the generators at Bull Shoals Dam could easily be run at very low levels of generation and required no modification. On the Norfork, it was a bit more complicated. The generators could not be run at lower levels of water flow and a siphon had to be installed. This took a bit of time to accomplish.

There was also a problem of where the water would come from. The water in the flood pool of Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes is controlled by the Corps of Engineers, while the water in power pool is controlled by the Southwest Power Administration. Both are federal government agencies. It was finally decided that the water would be allocated from flood pool to power pool on the lakes.

The hard part of all of this is that it literally required an act of Congress to enact. There were numerous studies and years of negotiation but it was finally approved and implemented last year. Now that minimum flow is here and I have had some time to fish on it I have made a few observations. It should be noted that these are my opinion and mine alone.

Minimum flow on the Norfork has been quite successful. This river is much smaller and more easily waded at low water than the White. The increased flows have made it more navigable by canoe, drift boat and kayak but it is still not enough water for river boats. The increased flows have been a boon to fly fishing. They have created several new places to fish and all of the old ones are still there. The wading is still pretty easy and there have been lots of anglers there whenever there is low water.

The White is more of a mixed bag. Here again river navigation has been enhanced. River boats can now go to spots where they could not reach before. Several areas that did not fish well before, are now holding trout and fishing much better. The big change has been the wading. Spots that were easy before are now challenging. Spots that were challenging are now treacherous. I find more wading anglers than before hugging the bank.

I have waded at several locations like the Narrows, Roundhouse Shoals, The Catch and Release section below Bull Shoals dam and Rim Shoals. I have been able to go most of the spots where I wanted to fish but it has been a struggle to get to some of the more challenging areas.

Do not take chances! I wait for the water to drop fully out and get as low as possible. I wear studded boots and carry a wading staff. I do not fish alone. I wade carefully and take my time. Monitor the water level carefully and always be on the lookout for rising water. Remember that there is much less of a safety margin than before. If the water starts rising, you will have much less time than before to safely exit the water. I carry my smart phone (in a waterproof case) and carefully monitor any changes in generation, to give me the maximum time to head for safety should the water come up. You can still wade the White, but you should exercise more care than before.

I have also had to change the way that I fish it. The heavier runs that I used to fish with a woolly bugger now require a sink tip line to get the fly down to the bottom where the trout are. Side channels that were previously barren of trout are now great spots to fish soft hackles or dry flies. I have had success fishing double fly nymph rigs with a small nymph suspended below a San Juan worm.

Minimum flow is here to stay. You need to embrace it and learn to wade and fish the heavier flows.

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