White River


Posted by Phil Lilley on October 3rd, 2011
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The White River below Bull Shoals Dam is the granddaddy of rivers here in the Ozarks. The dam has eight turbines, twice as many as any other dam on the system.  When all eight are online, the White River becomes a fast, wild, cold river, demanding respect of all those who venture out on it.  But when there’s no generation, the same care is required because of the many gravel bars and shallow riffles that dot up the river up and down.  Some areas, like Wildcats Shoals, are almost impassible.  This is a major reason why there are so many fishing guides on the White River.

The White was made famous back in the early 1900’s by its long, guided float trips for bass.  The building of the second dam on the river, Bull Shoals Dam in 1963, created one of the best trout fisheries in the country.  The river is 101 miles from Bull Shoals Dam to Lock and Dam #3 below Guion, Arkansas, and all of it is trout water.

Picture by Cotter Trout Dock in Cotter, Ar

Overnight camping trips are still offered on the White.  An outfitter sends a large commissary boat with a crew ahead of anglers to set up camp, build the fire and prepare dinner to be ready just as the anglers arrive from a day full of catching big rainbows and browns.


Calvin Johnston, of  Olathe, Kansas, holds the White River brown trout record.  Johnston hooked the 38.7-pound “hog” that measured 37.5 inches on Feb. 27, 2015 while fishing at Rainbow Drive Resort in Cotter.

There aren’t many places in the country that an angler has a chance for a “grand slam” which is bringing to net a rainbow, a brown, cutthroat and a brook trout all in the same day on the same water.  Here on the White River, you can do that!!

White River 2

Abundant food and ideal water temperatures enable the system’s tailwater trout to grow one half to one inch per month, year round.
 Unlike other tailwaters in the system, the White sees lots of insect hatches like midges, mayflies, caddis and stones, but freshwater shrimp or “scuds” are the trout’s main diet.  There’s also sculpin, crawfish and other forage fish in the river.

Special fishing regulations divide the river into sections where trout are assured a chance to grow to trophy size.  Catch-and-release areas, size limits, bait and hook restrictions are all in place in to make the White River one of the best trout fisheries in the country, growing big browns, big rainbows, large cutthroat and brookies for anglers all to enjoy.

Water Release

When water is released from Bull Shoals Dam, anglers downstream and out of earshot of the warning horn have to be mindful that water level and flow can increase quickly, even dangerously.  Extreme caution must be practiced at all times, especially when wading or using an anchor from a boat.

White River

Estimating when recently released water will arrive at the point where you will be fishing is also crucial to ensure you’re outing is a safe one.

The following is an estimated time, assuming an eight-hour shut down overnight and a generation of 3-5-8 units in sequence within three to four hours of first generation:

Gaston’s – five miles/45 minutes
White Hole – eight miles/90 minutes
Wildcat Shoals – 11 miles/3 hours
Cotter – 18 miles/ 4.5 hours
Rim Shoals – 24 miles/ 6 hours
Ranchette – 29 miles/ 7 hours
Buffalo City – 31 miles/9 hours
Shipps Ferry – 10 hours
Norfork – 49 miles/14 hours
Calico – 62 miles/24 hours
Sylamore – 79 miles/35 hours

Water release, past releases and river levels can be obtained by calling 870-431-5311 (recording).

Southwest Power Administration’s site for Scheduled Water Release


State Record River Fish

The White River system holds several state records, and rightly so. They only bolster the fact that the White River is one of the best fisheries in the state, as well in the country.

Brown Trout – Rip Collins’s 40 lbs, 4 oz., caught on the Little Red River on May 2, 1992
(Held the world record for over 15 years)
Cutthroat Trout – Scott Rudolph’s nine-pound, nine -ounce, caught on the White River on October 6, 1985
Rainbow Trout – Jim Miller’s 19-pound, one-ounce, caught on the White River on March 14, 1981
Striped Bass – Jeff Fletcher’s 64-pound,  eight-ounce, caught on the White River on April 28, 2000
Chain Pickerel – Ave Vogel’s seven-pound, 10-ounce, caught on the Little Red River on January 6, 1979
Alligator Gar – John Stortz’s 240-pounder, caught on the White River on July 28, 2004

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