White River

Access points that offer great wading and wonderful fly fishing water on the upper White River

Posted by Blue Ribbon Fly Shop on September 14th, 2010
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The catch and release area below Bull Shoals Dam:

This one-mile stretch located directly below the dam is known for its big fish, shallow water and challenging fishing. The trout in this zone have seen every fly in the book, and most of the water resembles a big spring creek with slow and skinny water. There is one pretty large shoal area, but this is where most of the crowds congregate because the majority of fly anglers prefer to fish “familiar” types of water like riffles and pockets. The shoal can fish pretty well, but the slower stretches hold less-pressured fish that are often quite visible. A good strategy is to walk to empty areas and before fishing, study the water to get an idea of how the fish are behaving and look for likely holding spots. The slow water below Bull Shoals Dam fishes best when there is some wind chop on the water, as this makes the fish far less spooky than they are when conditions are slick. Weighted flies like scuds, Zebra Midges and sow bugs work very well during low water, and keep in mind that your indicator often only needs to be set a foot to a foot and a half above the fly. 6x tippet will really increase your odds of success. During periods of light generation (one and two units), there are some good places to wade on the golf course side – start by parking in the lot that is as far upstream as you can drive, and there is good water to fish from that bank all the way down to just below the boat ramp when the water is not running hard.

Bull Shoals State Park: ┬áIf the water is low and you are not having much luck with those tough fish in the catch and release area, drive downstream to Bull Shoals State Park and look to start near the “Big Spring” access area. Most of the water in the Park is slow and deep, but there are always loads of eager fish due to the area’s high stocking rate. Still, don’t get lulled into thinking that there are only stockers in Bull Shoals State Park – there are plenty of nice rainbows and huge browns to be found in the both deep holes and shallow-water runs. Dew Eddy Shoal is located downstream of Big Spring, and this is a gorgeous piece of water for both nymphing and dry fly fishing, but keep in mind that Dew Eddy fishes best from the opposite side of the river than the access point. If you do cross the river, always be aware of rising water because the horn is rarely audible this far from the dam. Bull Shoals State Park is the last good fly fishing access for several miles, so a boat is needed to fish the river from the Park down to the Narrows.

The Narrows: This new access is located off Denton Ferry Road a mile or two upstream of the Wildcat Shoals Access. The best spots are found on both sides of the island, with the deepest water (and most fish) located on the far side. Every year, fly fishermen get in trouble in the Narrows area because the water can come up very quickly here, which often makes getting back to the access point difficult (or impossible). Always be aware of your surroundings and avoid the temptation to walk way down stream – the lower tip of the island is as far as we recommend going, and if you do get into a situation where it looks like you will not be able to safely cross the river on the near side of the island, remain on dry land. A boat will come by and help eventually, or if worse comes to worse, call one of the nearby resorts to request a lift. Program the numbers for White Hole Acres, Stetsons and other docks into your cell phone if you plan on fishing the Narrows. Nymphs and dry flies work well in this area, and if you are fishing below the surface, be sure to use enough weight to get your fly near the bottom. For the most part, bigger nymphs in sizes #14 to #8 work well almost anywhere on the White during low water – the Bull Shoals Dam catch and release area is one of the only sections where really small flies are necessary.

Wildcat Shoals: This popular stretch of riffles is loaded with fish, and there are scores of really nice browns in the section where the riffles slow down and the water gets deeper. Try exploring with a hopper/dropper rig, as this set up will tell you where the fish are and what types of flies they are looking for. As with everywhere on the White, constantly be aware of rising water levels. For the most part, there is no reason to wade more than half way across the river in the Wildcat area, and if you can get to the bank on the side of the access during rising water, it should not be a problem to get back to your vehicle.

Roundhouse Shoals
Cotter and Roundhouse Shoals:
There is some decent access right in downtown Cotter, with the best water located around and upstream of the bridges. Dry flies like caddis and sulphurs work well in the backwater area upstream of the parking lot, but most of the fish are small there. The “big” side offers up some nice structure, but the water is flat and moving, so it can be somewhat technical. If the fishing in Cotter is not what you are looking for, drive downstream a mile to Roundhouse Shoals; there is a large dirt parking area and access to some great fly water is relatively easy. The flat water above the riffles fishes well when there is some wind chop, and there is some fun water for fishing dries and small nymphs on the back side of the main island where the shoal is. Stripping flies like large soft hackles and Wooly Buggers works well in the main shoals, but this can be a challenging spot for dead-drifting techniques. As you move downstream from the access point, the water slows down and gets deeper, making this is the area to fish hard if you are after one of the many big rainbows and browns that call the Roundhouse area their home.

Rim Shoals:
This catch and release zone is very popular amongst fly fishermen, but access to the best water can be tricky without a boat. One productive strategy is to walk upstream to Jenkins’s Creek Shoal along the railroad tracks, but be aware that there is some very deep water along the moss beds at the lower part of this riffle. Below Jenkins’s Creek, the river is wide and deep, so safely and effectively wading this section is generally not worth the effort. The main shoal is accessible via a parking area downstream of Rim Shoals Resort, but this is often a very crowded spot. It pays to cross the river and walk downstream if you are looking for some space and bigger fish. Rising water can make crossing back to the access point difficult, but Rim Shoals Resort offers shuttles to and from the island which allows anglers to fish with some peace of mind. This is another trout dock number that is worth programming into your cell phone.

**There are other accesses downstream from Rim Shoals all the way to the Norfork’s confluence with the White, but walking in is pretty difficult. The spots mentioned above offer up more good fly water than one could fish in a lifetime, and never be afraid to try several different techniques and flies until it becomes clear as to what the fish are looking for – the White is known for its fickle fishing at times, so what worked well one day may not elicit any interest the next day.

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