The Best Time to Fly-fish The White River

There has never been a better time for fly-fishermen to try the White River tailwaters. The Ozark river and its tributaries have an established reputation, and the number of good lodges, guide services and shops catering to fly-fishers has never been better. Drift boat fly-fishing has taken off on the river and opened up a return to the original idea of enjoying quiet drift fishing on the White. Yet, with increasing use and pressure, there are still opportunities to catch good numbers of stocked fish but also to find an occasional trophy wild trout due to initial planting of wild trout in egg boxes many years ago. The wild trout program, so successful in introducing wild trout to the tailwaters, is now also being revived thanks to Dave Whitlock, Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishers, area schools, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

One question I'm asked frequently is, "When is the best time to come fish the White River?" That's a difficult question to answer because different people mean different things by it. Here is how I usually qualify my answer.

"When will I catch the most fish?" April, May and June. This is when the stocking is slated to put the most number of fish in the water, although stocking occurs year round.

"When will I have the best chance to catch the bigger fish?" Big fish are caught year round. See the Trophy Wall. What changes is the method. January through June is a good time to catch big fish at high water with sink tip lines and large streamers. Because the water is often high, this means you can approach big fish more closely. By mid summer, larger browns are very difficult to catch during periods of high sun. Early morning and late evening become more important fishing times. Night fishing and especially the predawn hours are good times from August through October. During the spawn in late October through January is a popular big fish time, but I don't fish to spawning fish and will not guide someone who wants to fish in that manner. Brown trout should be left alone during these times and not harassed. Fishing though is good during that time and there is always plenty of water to fish while leaving the redds alone.

"When is the best dry fly fishing?" Typically, low water makes for the best dry fly fishing or during hatch situations. Low water can usually to be found from late August through December on the tailwaters. I like fishing hoppers and terrestrials starting as early as July. Hopper fishing usually becomes ineffective by the end of September. That's when I switch to nondescript dries with grizzly, brown, or olive hackle in sizes 12-18. In November and early December I'm usually fishing a Royal Wulff (#14-16). After that I fish midge dries until the high water comes. Occasionally, we'll have a brief stretch of low water on Bull Shoals Tailwater in March when the big caddis hatch is on, and that can also be an excellent if the water conditions are right for it. The two mayfly hatches on Bull Shoals from mid-May through mid-June can also provide some dry fly fishing, although I've found the fish are usually more keyed on the nymphs and emergers then.

"When is the best nymph fishing?" Spring and especially May and June offers some of the best nymph fishing. Water releases are usually moderate to high and that means river levels are still up enough to make for good water depth and flows for excellent drift fishing. Mid-May through mid-June also has good mayfly hatches on Bull Shoals Tailwaters. The fish are usually keyed in on the nymph or emerger and this makes for great nymphing. Low to mid water flows make the best nymph water.

"When is the best streamer fishing?" Morning tailout from the previous night's generation on Bull Shoals tailwater makes for some of the best streamer fishing. This can be found also in May and June and all the way through the summer months into late August. On Beaver, the best streamer fishing is also usually also in the spring and summer during generation.

"When is the best weather?" April through June, September, and October are probably our nicest months as far as weather is concerned. Click here for the National Weather Service Climatology page for Fayetteville, Arkansas.

"When is the best drift fishing?" Although year round, April through August usually offers the most water.

"When is the least crowded time?" Late July, August, mid-September, November, January, February, and April see fewer people on the river. I discourage clients from booking a fly-fishing trip on the major holiday weekends.

"When is the best wade fishing?" September through December is when the conservation pools are lowest, and this often coincides with summer high temperatures breaking in the fall. During that time, there is usually very little power demand for generation until prolonged frosty mornings start occurring in late autumn, so there is more low water until the reservoirs fill up again with spring rains. Sometimes this period of low water extends into March.

"When are the best hatches" April through June for caddis and mayflies, and July through September for terrestrials. Midge and Tiny Blue Winged Olive are frequent in the winter months.

When someone asks me, "When is a good time for fishing the White River?" I reply, "Just about anytime!"

I would love to help introduce you to the White River. Please call or email me with your questions or to check on dates.