Trout Fishing Capital, USA
Lacey and I recently drove down to visit and fish with our friend and outfitter in Cotter, Arkansas. We would spend three days fishing the famed White and Norfork rivers. Clint Wilkinson is the owner and head guide of Wilkinson Outdoor Adventures and has been guiding the river for over 20 years! Despite the abnormally terrible weather we were dealt and irregular dam flows Clint had the knowledge and experience to put us on the fish. We were constantly moving up or down river to follow the water and move to where the fish would be. In one day we fished three different sections of river and caught fish at each spot. It became apparent Clint knew where the trout would be hiding at any given flow.
Trout Capital USA
Here is our brief review and story of fishing the White and Norfork rivers in north central Arkansas.
Day 1 “High Numbers”
Clint had an objective for us and wanted to boat at least one fish over 24” during the three days we fished with him. On the first day he wanted to warm us up to the fishery and put up high numbers of fish. We did just that. Our first day called for 2-4 inches of rain and we got it. Between drifts Clint would scoop water out of the boat as we ran up river to make another pass over a gravel bar or shoal.
We fished shad patterns at first, as there were still a few coming through the bottom of the dam and trout were looking for them. Every year Bull Shoals Reservoir has a large shad kill due to cold weather and low oxygen water. These shad pass through the dam and provide an all you can eat buffet for miles downstream.
Lacey had a few rainbows right away on a surface pattern and I had one really big rainbow porpoise for my fly but I missed the hook on him. We drifted about an hour or so catching 6 or 7 rainbows before we decided to dry out and regroup. Clint said it was slow but we were still pretty happy with what the morning produced.
We headed down river to Wildcat Shoals boat launch and caught a dozen or so browns on shad patterns not to mention all the rainbows. We fished them up against the bank in the structure created by downed trees and boulders. The fishing was fast action and exciting. Sometimes we could even see the brown hammer the fly just after it hit the water.
Day 2 “Chasing Water”
We started fishing the Norfork. Clint was extremely excited to show us this fishery, as they hadn’t pushed any water to make it fishable from a boat for over a month. It was surprisingly tough but we caught a few rainbows along with Lacey hitting a nice brown. They were supposed to run the water all day and ended up shutting it off so we went back to Wildcat Shoals where we were last night. We caught 7 or 8 nice browns in less than an hour with the best fish going just over 22”. The bite slowed as the water dropped so we loaded the boat and headed down river about 12 miles to Rim Shoals. I got a few rainbows and 3 or 4 nice browns then Lacey finished the day with a brown that just touched the 24” mark. It was another beautiful day fishing one of the best brown trout fisheries in the world. I guess it depends on what your definition of beautiful is, it did rain on and off all day but we caught fish the entire time so it didn’t matter!
Day 3 “A day for brown trout”
Of course it was raining again as we headed out with Clint. We started our day at the dam and we immediately caught a few rainbows and I missed a half dozen browns on the surface shad pattern. I don’t know what I was doing wrong but I could not hook them! Lacey and I each caught a brown and then they switched the water on us so we loaded up and headed down river. The water had changed color and was brown and dirty from all of the recent rain. Clint changed up our rigs but I promised not to say what he tied on and we drifted over some areas we had not yet fished. Every drift produced a brown trout or two. After a couple hours and a few double hook ups between Lacey and I we had netted over 30 hard fighting browns all in the 18” range. We were both giggling and happy with the day of fishing we just had.
On this trip we didn’t really fish streamers, which is a staple of the White, but with off weather and irregular dam releases we did what we had to do to catch fish. Clint and his guides know this river well and are able to adapt to the dynamic fishery and still put you on fish no matter the conditions!
When fishing the White you have the opportunity to fish 50 miles of brown and rainbow trout filled river. The Norfork is a smaller river about 5 miles yet it boasts large populations of browns and rainbows. In addition the Norfork has some large 20”+ Bonneville and finespot cutthroat trout as well as a few trophy Brook trout.
The lodge is located on the White River within one of the best trophy sections of the entire river. A trip to Arkansas is a great affordable destination to bring a son or daughter who is a beginner at fly-fishing or for the advanced angler looking to target a truly once in a lifetime Brown trout. The White River is arguably the best brown trout fishery in the US with fish averaging 18-22” and many fish caught each year over 10 pounds!
This fishery produces all year round but can have better times to go depending on what you are looking for in your trip.