Fishing the White River

My brothers and I will be fishing the White River in Arkansas this fall. It’s supposed to be a great trout river. (Rainbow and Brown). We’ll all be in kayaks. Anybody fish this river? Is it as good as they say? I assume the standard trout lures will work. We are also going to fish Bull Shoals lake. Anyone familiar with the lake?

slightly familiar…
The White is a great, scenic trout fishing river. It’s also a little dangerous for kayaks and canoes. Being below a power generation dam, it can rise up to 6 feet in a matter of minutes, and it’s extremely cold, cold enough for hypothermia, even in mid-summer. Not that it has any whitewater or anything, and there are no obstructions to hit, but the current can be VERY strong when power is being generated. When the generators are off, it will have a lot of long, slow pools. Best fishing is when they first start generating and the river first starts to rise. As it comes up, you can kinda ride the rise and stay in good fishing for quite a while. When it’s low, it’s extremely clear and the fish can be very tough to catch, unless they’ve just dumped a bunch of stockers in it. If you’re fishing with spinning tackle, you can catch fish on small crankbaits and Mepps type spinners, especially when the water is higher.

There are huge brown trout, world record class, in the White. The easier fishing is in the riffles, but the really huge trout hang out in the deeper pools.

Great river, what’s left of it. But I’d give almost anything to be able to go back in time and fish it for smallmouth bass before the dams were built.

Thanks for the great response. Do you use the same lures for the brown as you do the rainbow? We will be there in early October. We’re actually houseboating on Bull Shoals but taking the kayaks to fish the lake and the river. Have you ever fished the lake this time of year?

They draw down the lake here (Lake Murray into the Saluda River) too. They generally sound a series of warning signals before they begin letting water through. I doubt we’ll take an extremely long trip down the river. Thanks again for the info.

If you are close enough, you’ll hear the
horn, or at least I did back 30 years ago. But, the current is very strong when they release. I was about 2/3rds across the river from the campground, wound up landing about a half mile down from where I put in, could only quarter the river going downstream in the canoe I was in. The best way to fish the White below the dam is to float it. Its been a while, so I don’t remember the next place to take out.

browns and rainbows…
The browns are more likely to hit crankbaits than rainbows. The rainbows will hit spinners okay. Very small brown or olive jigs work well for both species.

I haven’t fished the White much, and most of my trout fishing is with a fly rod. However, I’ve caught some decent fish on the White below the mouth of the Buffalo River, when I’ve done canoe trips on the Buffalo and taken out down at Norfork. That’s when I’ve done well on the crankbaits and spinners. Haven’t fished Bull Shoals in many years.

Bull Shoals is a typical big highland
lake. In October, there should be decent bass fishing in the shallows to about 15 feet of water. Early and late, I’d use topwaters, shallow running crankbaits, and spinning baits for bass. Later, crankbaits, both shallow and deeper running, pig and jig, and soft plastics. Look for drop offs and structure if you have a fish finder.

Must be pretty good
I know a guy in Virginia who closes down his business for two weeks every year so that he can go to the White River for trout. He has some good photos of really nice fish.

I missed out on a lot of these good rivers when my folks lived in Little Rock. We did do some good hiking, but Dad was more than a little put out the first time he went to fish there and he tossed the minnow bucket over the side and twice caught water mocassins in the minnow bucket.

  • Big D

fishing the white and bull shoals
Power baits work well for trout on the white too. The white is a big river but there are places it can be fished from shore and waded if you time it right. Or you can float it, most locals use 16-20 foot flatbottomed jon boats with big enough engines to hold them in the current when the waters coming down from the genrator. There are horns but you can’t always hear them.

Another old standby on the white is yellow corn on a hook, think the fish must see it as eggs. YOu can use an oregon cheese or yellow yarn fly too, or a yellow or bright pink power bait. One other thing, you can fish at night in arkansas and the big browns feed more at night. I mostly flyfish there now. Sowbugs are popular, but you can use lots of different flys.

As far as bull shoals, its a big lake and you can poke around and may catch something. But if you just have a couple of weeks, hire a guide for at least a half day early in your stay, and get clued in on what to use, how to fish it, and where to fish for the rest of the time you’re there, otherwise you’ll be doing a lot of discovery work in a short amount of time. If you do try to diy, then jig and eel bottom bounced from shore out to boat for large mouths, maybe small white jigs and spinners if white bass are about would be worth while.

It you want to fish for small mouth and see what the white may have been like before the dams, buffalo river is a really nice river to check out, it is still free flowing and floods impressively every few years.

The trout are mostly in the tailwaters but in mark twain nat. forest can find some spring fed streams that have trout and small mouth. Pretty area too.

Excellent camping site at
the Bull Shoals/White River State Park. It’s just a mile or so below the dam and it’s very scenic. I camped there last March for a few days and there were lots of trout fishermen, but not so many it felt crowded. Several fisherman seemed to catch their limit using worms and bobbers for what that is worth. Didn’t to any paddling then but the river down to Norfolk looked like it would be great fun to float on.

Home waters
I live in NW Arkansas and fish the white river all year. I use a kayak normally. When the water is low I paddle from spot to spot and then get out and wade fish. In low water I prefer fly fishing. When the water is high I usually use my spinning outfit with rapalas or panther martin spinners. I can paddle against the current during high water but only for a couple of miles. I usually float downstream during high water. Some local outfitters will shuttle your car dowstream for you for a price if you don’t have a buddy and two cars. If you don’t know the river well and can afford it you might try one of the local guides. Some good areas for wade fishing are the catch and release areas right below the dam and at Rim Shoales, and also the non C/A area at Wildcat Shoales.

Great Input on the White River
We’ll have several trucks there so I think we’ll drop a couple off at a good take out area. Do you have any suggestions on a good place to take out after 6 or so hours of floating downstream? We’ll probably put in somewhere close to the dam.

The fishing input from everyone is great. I use a lot of Cajun line, but I’m thinking I might want a very clear line if the waters are extremely clear. I’ll probably stick with 4-6 pound test. I assume crawdad type crank baits in natural colors will work fine. Thanks to all.

I’d go with no heavier than 4 pound test. The craw cranks will work, but I’ve always preferred minnow patterns like Rapalas, Rapala Shad-rap, etc.

Take out
If you put in below the dam or at the state park then a good take out spot would be Wildcat shoales.

White River


The White river is a great fishery. You should have a lot fun this fall when you go. I fish and guide on the White some. I can’t call it my home water though. I’m mainly work on the Little Red River about an hour South in Heber Springs.

In the Fall you will most likely have lower river flows and that is a good thing for Kayaking and fishing. When the river is up the flow can be pretty fast. You can see what the genertion has been like at the dam through this link:

The Brown Trout spawn in the Fall on all the rivers in Arkansas. The best thing to do is to target prespawn fish and let the fish on spawning beds do their thing unmolested. Mid-October is probably the best time to go after these fish. If the river is low be careful to to walk through or drag boats through spawning beds. Also if you are using spinning tackle please pinch down the barbs on your hooks to minimize dammage to the fish.

If you are using spinning gear all the usual suspects for trout will produce fish. Try using lures with some red in it. If you are flyfishing some of the usual choices for that time of year are: Sow-bugs, Scuds, Pheasant Tails, Red or Orange soft-hackles, San Juan worms and Woolybuggers.

Here is a good map with boat ramps on it:

Ask around at some of the commercial docks in the area and you may discover someone running shuttle services if you can’t run your own.

Hope this helps-


That is great information
Thanks for the links. I will check them out tonight. Do the Browns and the Rainbow hit about the same baits? If you’re targeting browns should you use slightly larger lures (spinners)?

I am trying to find out if there is a different technique to catch the bigger fish. It sounds like the rainbow will be plentiful and relatively easy to catch…which will be good because we’ll have a beginner with us. Any additional specifics will be most appreciated. Again, thanks for the great stuff. Keep it coming!


Generator flow
I connected to the link you provided. I’m not quite sure how to read the info. Can you give a quick lesson on what to look for here?

Where would you suggest
we put in and take out for a good one-day trip. Keep in mind we’re all not hard-core fishermen. I’m sure we’ll mix some photo ops and exploring in between fishing. But the main objective will be to catch some fish. Also, you mention not going through the spawining areas. Will these be visible as we approach so we can stay clear of them? And as far as the barbs go, we’re all catch and release types. We may keep a couple rainbows for a shore lunch or something but that’s about all. We’re in it for the fun not the meat.

Here’s one shuttle service:

reading the graphs
Elev. (Red) is the Lake level. The target or pool level is 654.0. If it is way above or way below this mark then generation releases will be effected accordingly.

Precip Blue … recent rainfall

TW- (green) Tailwater elevation… you really don’t need this one.

Power (purple) is the Megawatt Hours of electricity generated by the dam. These numbers can be important when reading the PREDICTED water releases on this site:

14 (BSD) is the White, 15 (NFD) is the Norfok, and 16 (GFD) is the Little Red. Please note that these predictions are not always right and sometimes they will give you predictions 3 days out… sometimes only one etc.

Back to the graphs:

The most important one is the red one… Flow, which is measured in cubic feet per second. This shows how much water is coming through the dam.

The dam on the White has 8 generating turbines (units). When you call this number they tell you how many units are currenly running (870) 431-5311. Each unit has the capability to push around 4000 cfs, but many times they run them a little lower.

Spawning areas will be in the shallow gravel flats and you will see dug out beds called redds… and they are reddish in color.

The same baits will work for both species… vary your sizes and colors to see what they prefer that day, but the same set ups will catch both species.

Big bait, big fish theory can work sometimes, but keep in mind you can also catch a 30 inch Brown using a fly that is smaller than Lincoln’s head on a penny.

Hope this helps-


put in and take out spots

This will kind of be determined by the current and previous days generation if there is any. You may have to choose the areas with the lower flows. If there is no generation to be worried about there really isnt a bad area out there. I would use any of the upper four boat ramps on the river.