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TOP PHOTO: One of fishing guide Del Colvin’s customers on Bull Shoals Lake hauled in this nice black bass this past week. Del, who sent in the photo, reports that the cold nights and cool water haven’t helped the overall fishing, but he and his clients are finding a few, and he reports that many bass are in prespawn now. Read more of his report below from Bull Shoals Lake.
Reports are updated weekly, although some reports may be published for two weeks if updates are not received promptly or if reporters say conditions haven’t changed. Contact the reporter for current news for the lake or stream you plan to fish.
(updated 3-23-2023) Cotter Trout Dock (870-435-6525) said springtime temperatures are finally here – for good we hope – and the fishing is hot on the rivers here in the Arkansas Ozarks. The water level on the White River below Bull Shoals Dam has continued to stay steady: high water of about four or five units (12,000 to 15,000 cfs). Expect this to continue as the Army Corps of Engineers weathers through the spring rains. Bull Shoals Lake is 665.35 feet msl and the Corps and the Southwestern Power Administration are prescribing heavy releases to bring the lake level nearer to seasonal power pool of 659 feet msl.
How to fish this high water? Use a heavier weight to float your baits nearer the bottom in this water; cast near the banks where the trout don’t have to fight the current and always keep some wiggly worms on hand. This is great water for sinking Rapalas, even as heavy as a CD9 or maybe even an 11. We’re hearing that the best-kept secret is the brook trout Rapala.
Worms work very nicely with the high water level. The brown trout have been biting anything from minnows to sculpins and some silver flash lures. Some browns have even been caught on the old standby of PowerBait and shrimp.
The kids enjoying spring break on the river are staying busy catching rainbows with shrimp and bright fluorescent orange or yellow eggs. You can begin your catching day with a quarter-ounce silver and blue hammered spoon, and finish up with a Rapala Rainbow CD5. “We’re sending them back to school with some great fish tales. Come test the waters and enjoy a spring day in the Ozarks. Bring some rain protection – it’s March in Arkansas!”
(updated 3-23-2023) Dave McCulley, owner of Jenkins Fishing Service in Calico Rock, said that again this week in Calico Rock they are seeing river levels near 11 feet. Both Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes are releasing a lot of water. Norfork Dam reopened 10 spillway gates. Current weather forecasts predict another 2-plus inches or rainfall on Friday. “Although the river continues to be high, it seems like the fish have gotten accustomed to the high water and fishing has picked up. With Norfork opening the spillway gates we continue to see the trout gorging themselves on shad. Drift-fishing with shad has proven effective as has a silver inline spinner with yellow or orange Power Eggs and shrimp. There was one trout stocking this week with the AGFC using their pontoon raft to stock fish downriver of Calico Rock.”
(updated 3-23-2023) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service at Cotter said that during the past week they saw a few minor rain events (combining for a half-inch here), colder temperatures and heavy winds. The lake level at Bull Shoals fell 1.1 feet to rest at 6.5 feet above power pool of 659 feet msl. This is 29.5 feet below the top of flood pool. Upstream, Table Rock Lake fell 0.8 foot to rest at 0.5 foot below power pool and 15.5 feet below the top of flood pool. Beaver Lake rose 0.3 foot to rest at 5.8 feet above power pool or 3.8 feet below the top of flood pool. The White has had no wadable water and heavy flows. Norfork Lake fell 1.5 feet to rest at 3.5 feet above power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 22.7 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork tailwater has had a lot of wadable water the last few days. All of the lakes in the White River system are now above power pool. We can expect higher flows on the White and some wadable water on the Norfork.
Streamer season continues. The brown trout that were spawning for three months are working their way back downstream. Anglers are now targeting them by banging the bank with big streamers on sink tip lines.
He said, “On the White, the hot spot has been the catch-and-release section below Bull Shoals Dam. We have had higher flows that have fished well one day and poorly the next. The hot flies were Y2Ks, prince nymphs, zebra midges (black with silver wire and silver bead or red with silver wire and silver bead), pheasant tails, copper Johns, pink and cerise San Juan worms, gold ribbed hare’s ears and sowbugs. Double-fly nymph rigs have been very effective. My favorite has been a cerise San Juan worm with an orange egg dropper.”
John also said, “Last week I got an email from my old fishing buddy, Joe Nicklo. He is a regular tyer at the Sowbug Roundup and an avid fly-fisher. He wanted to know when the caddis would hatch. Caddis is a prolific aquatic insect and our biggest hatch of the year. This means topwater action, a fly-fishers dream.
“My answer was that the hatch always occurs during the Sowbug Roundup, when I am working in my booth. I sit there and talk to angler after angler when they come in from the river and talk about how prolific the hatch was and how many trout they caught on dry flies.
“This is nothing less than torture for me. As an avid fly-fisher I live for dry fly action. There is something about watching a big trout taking a fly from the top of the water column that rings my bell. We do not get much topwater action here in the Twin Lakes area and this is our biggest and most reliable hatch of the year. I yearn for it.
“Now, like all of nature’s phenomena the actual timing of the emergence of a hatch of aquatic insects is not a reliable thing. I cannot guarantee that it will occur during the Sowbug Roundup this year, but that is when it usually happens. I know that I will be carrying plenty of caddis flies on all of my trips for the next few weeks.
“Another thing to consider is the current water conditions. Due to some heavy spring rains, the lake levels on all of the lakes in the White River system (Beaver, Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes) have risen above power pool into flood pool. As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers are running 16,000 cfs around the clock at Bull Shoals Lake. That is the equivalent of five full generators.
“The river rises about a foot for every generator they turn on. That means the river will be about 5 feet higher than minimum flow, which means no wading unless the Corps ramps down the flow. It also means that the trout are unlikely to rise that high to feed from the top. Look for side channels and quiet banks.
“Fly selection is pretty easy. Before the hatch, my favorite fly is the prince nymph in a size 14. Look for them with a brass bead so they will sink quickly. If you observe rises but see no insects, switch to a Green Butt soft hackle in size 15. This is my signature fly and I will be tying it at Sowbug. When the trout begin taking adult insects from the top of the water, switch to a green elk hair caddis size 14.
“My final thought is: If you go fishing during Sowbug and catch the hatch, do not come in and tell me how well you did.”
Bull Shoals Lake
As of Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers reported the lake’s elevation at 665.11 feet msl (normal conservation pool: 659.00 feet msl; top flood elevation is 695.00 feet msl). By midday Thursday the flow was 16,405 cfs and has ranged about that same level past two days; tailwater elevation was 457.40 feet. The reported lake elevation at Table Rock Lake was 915.35 feet msl (normal conservation pool: 915.00 feet msl; top flood elevation is 931.0 feet msl).
(updated 3-23-2023) Del Colvin at Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock said Bull Shoals Lake level is 665 feet msl, or 6 feet above normal pool level. Water temperature is 50 degrees give or take. The cold rain and cold nights didn’t help this fishing this week. Temperature and conditions will dictate your game plan and success. Bass fishing is up and down like the weather; there are some fish moving up. While some warmer creeks have a wave of fish up skinny, they are mostly bucks with an occasional big. Windy, dirty, cloudy and warm rainwater calls for power fishing with crankbaits, Chatterbaits, a square bill. You’ll have the watch the Rock Crawler or Wiggle Wart with all the bushes. Try on the last couple of swing banks or in or around the pockets. Cover water. Sunny, flat water and stained conditions try slow-dragging a Jewel half-ounce Special Ops football jig in green pumpkin. If you have clear water try a green pumpkin three-sixteenth-ounce shaky head or a Ned. Also go with the ol’ Wobble Head with a menace, slow-banging on the rocks, ledges and points in 5-15 feet early; look in 15-20 feet by midday, outside spawning areas.
The fish are in prespawn mode. It’s getting to where you can beat the bank and run into a few targets staging early prespawn areas in the creeks, as well as swings and points outside the spawning areas. A Chick Magnet fished on flat sides are putting a few in the boat; fish the dirty rocks. A Megabass Jerkbait on breezy day on bluff ends over steeper swings and points with shad nearby will fool a few, but has been hit or miss. I’m not a rig guy, but they are set up for that. The shad are moving up again, and video gamers everywhere from main to backs of the creeks look for bigger spreads shallower than 30 feet. Gulls and loons can help or hurt; if they are over deep water, expect drum and walleyes. Throw around the ol’ McMinnow 2.8 Swimbait in white or shad colors; this has been the deal for me.
The bass are definitely grouping up if you can find them. They are in packs! Whites and walleyes are spawning or in prespawn, so early or late in the day is the deal to fool them. Each day is different so Fish the Conditions.
Del regularly posts new YouTube videos. Visit his YouTube site (Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock) for more information and tips on fishing Bull Shoals Lake.
As of midday Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers reported the lake’s elevation at 556.56 feet msl (normal conservation pool: Sept.-April, 553.75 feet msl; April-Sept. 556.25 feet msl; top flood elevation 580.0 feet msl). Flow below the dam Thursday midday was 8,198 cfs, with constant generation in that range for several days.
(updated 3-23-2023) Lou Gabric at Hummingbird Hideaway Resort said the bite for most species has been pretty good Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, but it will get better once we get some stable weather and a stable lake level. Normal early spring requests. “I have several guests in and they are all catching fish. The bite in the dark is going strong as long as you find where the fish are hanging out. Casting a small 3.5- to 5-inch paddle tail swimbait with a quarter-ounce jighead has been working the best.
“You can catch just about any species in the lake, including walleye, crappie and stripers,by casting out a swimbait. I prefer white or a Sexy Shad color. Once it gets light out, the fish tend to move off the shoreline and into deeper water, about 30-40 feet deep on the same points. I found fish yesterday morning on main lake points. I have been using Tater Baits, Tater Shads in the Bayou Magic, Key Lime and White Trash flavors. I catch most of my stripers by keeping the bait motionless about 3 feet off of the bottom.
“On Tuesday morning before the heavier rain started, I landed my limit of stripers/hybrids, including a 9-pound-plus hybrid. He really gave a great battle. Bob, another guest, found nice largemouth bass back in a creek in very shallow, muddy water. He was also casting out a swimbait. Another area that has been holding a ton of bait and fish is partway back in a creek where the fish are in 30-60 feet of water. Most of the stripers in this area are suspended 20-30 feet down. You will also find a lot of white bass in the same areas with the striped/hybrid bass.
“Wednesday morning was another good day to be on the lake. I checked out a new area and fished a flat in 30-40 feet of water. On one end of the flat I found a lot of bait and found white bass and a few stripers feeding heavily. The fish were at all depths, but the fish on the bottom were the most aggressive. I managed to land a monster striped bass weighing in at 30 pounds that was suspended 20 feet down in 37 feet of water. All my fish Wednesday were caught by slowly vertical-jigging a Bayou Magic Tater Shad. This big guy took 30 minutes to land on 8-pound test monofilament line.”
The surface water temp is holding around 50 degrees. The lake level is falling and currently sits at 556.92 feet msl. The northern part of the lake remains stained. Enjoy Norfork Lake.
Lou also posts almost daily on his Facebook page with photos and where the fish are biting and what’s biting. Check it out.
(updated 3-23-2023) Steven “Scuba Steve” Street at Blackburn’s Resort said the lake level is 556.88 feet msl and has dropped 4 inches in 24 hours as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. They are running one generator about half the time and are varying spillway gates discharge, and recently were cutting back. The White River at Newport is 23.36 feet and they are trying to drop the area lakes as fast as they can.
“They are predicting 2-3 inches of rain Friday and I hope we do not get it, especially in the Norfork watershed.
“The surface water temperature was 51 degrees when I came in at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The clarity is remaining about the same but wants to clear up. I could see my lure down 3-4 feet. Trollers are catching a few temperate bass dragging live bait and umbrellas through shad and others are casting artificial lures back in the bayous and bays.
“Crappie fishing on brush is not the best, but a few fish are being caught every day. That is about the same for most species. Shad are moving under docks under lights about 9 p.m. and bringing spawned out white bass and walleye and a few crappie with them. If you can find feeding fish it can be good, but that is not happening every day. Some bass are back in the creeks near the shore, but not a lot.
“Overall, fishing is just fair.”
Visit blackburnsresort.com and click on Scuba Steve’s Blog for a daily report.
(updated 3-23-2023) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said Norfork Lake fell 1.5 feet to rest at 3.5 feet above power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 22.7 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork tailwater has had a lot of wadable water the last few days. All of the lakes in the White River system are now above power pool. We can expect higher flows on the White and some wadable water on the Norfork.
John said, “The most productive flies have been small midge patterns like zebra midges (black or red with silver wire and silver bead). Double-fly nymph rigs have been very effective. Try a small bead-head nymph (zebra midge, copper John or pheasant tail) suspended 18 inches below a brightly colored San Juan worm (hot fluorescent pink or cerise). My favorite rig has been a pheasant tail nymph size 14 and a ruby midge size 18. The fishing is much better in the morning and late afternoon and tapers off midday.”
Dry Run Creek has fished a bit better. Weekends can get a quite crowded. Some students may be on spring break during the week. The hot flies have been sowbugs, various colored San Juan worms (worm brown, red, hot fluorescent pink and cerise) and white mop flies. Small orange or peach eggs have been very effective. Carry a large net, as most fish are lost at the net.
Remember that the White and Norfork Rivers and Dry Run Creek are infected with didymo, an invasive alga. Be sure and thoroughly clean and dry your waders (especially the felt soles on wading boots) before using them in any other water. Many manufacturers are now making rubber soled wading boots that are easier to clean and are not as likely to harbor didymo.
Buffalo National River/Crooked Creek
(updated 3-23-2023) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said Crooked Creek and the Buffalo River are fishing poorly. With cooler temperatures, the smallmouths have not been active. The most effective fly has been a tan and brown Clouser minnow. Carefully check the water level before entering Crooked Creek or the Buffalo River. There are no dams on these streams. They both have large drainages and are prone to flooding during and following any rain event. The water can rise very quickly.