The White River below Bull Shoals Dam in northern Arkansas is one of the best trout waters in America. This bold statement is, in my opinion, undeniable.
But the White is not the only river in the region that is worth a trip for trout fishing. The Norfork River and the North Fork of the White River are each special destinations in their own right.
My introduction to the White River came early in life. The extended family moved from where I grew up in northwest Indiana to Lakeview, Arkansas. Summer vacation followed to explore the lakes and rivers of the Ozarks. I caught the first trout of my life on the White River while at school and never lost my love for this place and the exceptional trout fishing that the river offers.
As my trout fishery got more serious, I started fishing in all waters in the country. Name a river in Montana, Wyoming, or Colorado and I’ve probably fished it by now. Even so, I am still drawn back to the Ozarks and the beautiful waters that flow through the region.
The White River may be the main attraction, but a number of smaller rivers also deserve credit, not just for their incredible fishing opportunities, but for the scenery they offer.
The North Fork of the White and the Norfork are the same river at opposite ends of a reservoir. The North Fork of the White originated in Texas County, Missouri. It flows south 109 miles until it merges into the Norfork Reservoir. This river is certainly the westernmost water in Missouri, which means that it has a swift, natural flow with corrugations and courses reminiscent of a Madison or Yellowstone. It has a healthy population of trout, especially rainbows. But the further downstream you go, the more likely you are to get tangled with a brown trout.
The Norfork River is an underwater that flows out of the Norfork Dam. This little gem is only 4.5 miles long but it fishes a lot bigger. It is home to four species of trout: brook, rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout. Well, maybe five now, because tiger trout, a hybrid of brown trout and brown trout, were now kept in the White River system. The world record brown trout was caught from the Norfork as early as 1988. It weighed almost 39 pounds.
The record has been broken many times since then, but a larger brown trout than the current world record from the Norfork is possible.
Last weekend, five friends and I went to White for a trout fishing weekend. We rented a cabin at Copper John’s Resort right on the water. It’s the perfect fishing camp for those out on the waters with fly fishing gear as there is an excellent fly shop called Fly’s and Guides on site. Jeremy Hunt and his wife Lisa own and operate the shop, from which they operate a number of fishing guides.
If you’ve never fished the White River before, it’s a good idea to hire a guide to explain the state of the country to you. It’s big water, so having a professional break it down for you can save you a lot of time and frustration.
Two of the guys on our trip are guides. Mike Sexton and Damon Spurgeon run Cardiac Mountain Outfitters. We certainly had the knowledge advantage on our side when we launched our boats on Saturday morning. The six of us caught a ton of fish on the White, one of those rare rivers that offers the opportunity for a numbers game – meaning you can try 50 or 100 fish in a day and have a realistic chance of making a lofty goal.
My good friend and podcast co-host, Nathan “Shags” McLeod, looks for numbers like this every time he goes into the water. It would be stupid to bet against him.
On the other hand, I am more content with a few good fish and the relaxation of rowing a boat down a beautiful river.
See you on the way …
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoor column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] For more information on Driftwood Outdoors, see the podcast at www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.