Since the Bull Shoals dam was finished in July 1951, the White River is relatively young compared to other tailwaters. Congress authorized the construction of the Bull Shoals dam in 1941, largely due to the growing pressures by local Ozark residents to prevent large flooding, much like the spring flood of 1927 when the White River crested at 105 feet above the river bottom destroying much of the surrounding towns and farm land.
Trout were soon after introduced to the White River, with brown trout growing into the size of footballs due to the White’s ecosystem providing a plethora of feeding opportunities. Although the brown trout effectively spawned and propagated, these carnivorous browns fed on the smaller, stocked rainbow trout. This has led to the White River becoming one of the world’s premiere streamer fishing destinations for big, bucknasty browns.
Now although the White River is known for throwing big streamers (pictured above), there are many other ways to effectively fish the river. When the flows start to rise due to the generation at the dam, these very large brown trout push up towards the various hiding places near the bank. The trees, large boulders, shelves, and drop offs on the outsides of the river provide various places for these larger fish to escape the faster flows and feed. This is why when the water rises, streamer junkies can throw meaty streamers and watch 30” plus browns chase their flies out from cover.
However, certain months bring lower water when the generators are not turned on. Although chances of catching a world record brownie are not high during these lower flows, the White River still presents a wide variety of viable options for catching lots of quality fish. During my trip to the White River this past week with Steve Dally and Chad “Mississippi” Johnson from Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher, we fished many different techniques and set ups. Although we spent little time nymphing, we managed to land a handful of quality fish in a short 20 minutes. After this, we spent the majority of time throwing smaller streamers in the 2-3” size range. This style of streamer fishing on the White is often overlooked, but on this cloudy, November day, this technique was where the money was at.
For throwing smaller streamers on the White River, a fly angler has a few different options. Of course, you can throw a 6 or 7 weight rod with a traditional WF floating line with a longer leader to get your flies down. Another option is to use a versa-leader attached to a weight forward line to get your flies down. This will turn your weight forward floating line into a sink tip. However, my favorite technique that the gentlemen from Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher taught me was throwing a 7 weight with a sink tip line and a lightly weight fly. The smaller flies we threw often had a spun deer hair head which caused them to float initially. Once the sinking tip got down though, the fly started to dive and swim with a very fishy motion. This created an injured baitfish look that many of the trout couldn’t resist. The flies we threw varied in color. We mixed the colors up over the course of the day, but our most productive colors were a lighter tan or white and a two-toned olive and white fly.
When fishing the White on lower flows, the trout have a much longer view at your fly in the calmer water, making it more difficult to maintain consist hook ups. However, if you use a two handed stripping technique to burn your flies in with a slight pause every few seconds, this can initiate some violent takes. Another option is to target the faster riffle sections while swinging flies. Steve Dally and I used the sinking tip set up previously mentioned and did very well with this technique.
The White River can be a very large, daunting river. However, one must remember that the same techniques for finding feeding fish apply for this river that apply elsewhere, especially out west. There are fly shops in the area who can assist you, especially Dally’s Ozark Angler.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Steve Dally for a while now. Not only is he an excellent guide who knows the White River as well as anyone, his passion for fly fishing and servant’s heart make Steve stand out among all the guides and shop owners I have met. Not only do these things alone differentiate Steve from many others, but Steve has a way of surrounding himself with like-minded individuals who have a passion for teaching the art of fly fishing. Chad “Mississippi” Johnson is one of these individuals who has been guiding on the White River for over a decade. Chad’s ability to teach all arrays of fly fishers in ways that will resonate with them is just one of many qualities that makes him stand out. When it comes to streamer fishing for trophy browns, Chad is the man to talk to.
So next time you head to the White River, don’t forget to throw smaller streamers if the 6” plus streamers are not producing and to stop by Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher!