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Established 1954
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Cotter Trout Dock Weekly Fishing Report

January 29, 2020


Had a few guided trout fishing customers this week but no photographers.

Below is the Fishing Report from Arkansas Game and Fish.

White River

(updated 1-29-2020) Cotter Trout Dock (870-435-6525) said trout fishing below Bull Shoals Dam on the beautiful White River has called for more patience this past week and maybe a little more variety from your tackle box. The rain we received a couple of weeks ago brought the lakes in this watershed up several feet (Bull Shoals Lake is nearly 8 feet higher than just before the rain event) and the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing a lot of that into the White River. Generation numbers are averaging 23,000 cfs, accounting for releases from both the turbines and project conduits. We are nearing the end of the brown trout spawning season and have seen them move away from the spawning beds and into other favorite spots (think: deep holes) from the dam to Calico Rock. Lots of territory for the trout, lots of opportunity for the anglers. Try luring the browns with a silvery white shad or bright, white stick baits. A nice white Wooly Bugger with silver flash should draw them to your hook, too. The rainbows have been a little finicky, picking and choosing which baits they'll snap at. Shiny gold or bronze spoons, as near to the bottom as you can keep them, will provide some success, as will a feisty red wiggler worm, floating mid-depth. “It's all about variety; if you don't get a bite after several casts with one bait, change locations, change your bait, or both. See you at the river!”

(updated 1-29-2020) Sportsman’s White River Resort (870-453-2424) said the river remains high. “There is a lot of water round-the-clock,” they report. Eight generators are running at the dam. No fishing reports.

(updated 1-22-2020) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-4352169) said that during the past week they received a bit over a quarter-inch of rainfall, cold temperatures and heavy winds. The lake level at Bull Shoals rose 3.4 feet to rest at 8 feet above seasonal power pool of 659 feet msl. This is 28 feet below the top of flood pool. Upstream, Table Rock fell 0.9 foot to rest at 4 feet above seasonal power pool and 12 feet below the top of flood pool. Beaver Lake rose 1.7 feet to rest at 6.1 feet above seasonal power pool and 3.5 feet below the top of flood pool. The White River saw heavy generation and there was no wadable water. Norfork Lake rose 1.8 tenths feet to rest at 6.7 feet above seasonal power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 19.5 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork Dam tailwater saw heavy flows and had limited wadable water. Seasonal power pool has been reset for the lakes in the White River system. Due to a significant rain event last week, the waters are now weeks if not months from wadable water. The catch-and-release section below Bull Shoals Dam is closed until Jan. 31 to accommodate the brown trout spawn. The state park will be seasonal catch-and-release for the same period. All brown trout must be immediately released. In addition, night fishing is prohibited in this area during this period.
The White has fished well. The hot spot has been Bull Shoals State Park. The hot flies were olive Woolly Buggers (sizes 8, 10), Y2Ks (sizes 14, 12), prince nymphs (size 14), zebra midges (black with silver wire and silver bead or red with silver wire and silver bead sizes 16, 18), pheasant tails (size 14), ruby midges (size 18), root beer midges (size 18), pink and cerise San Juan worms (size 10), and sowbugs (size 16). Double-fly nymph rigs have been very effective (my current favorite combination is a cerise high water San Juan worm with an egg pattern suspended below it). Use long leaders and plenty of lead to get your flies down.
Remember that the White River, Norfork tailwater and Dry Run Creek are infected with didymo, an invasive alga. 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 soles that are easier to clean and are not as likely to harbor didymo.

Bull Shoals Lake

As of Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers reports the lake’s elevation at 667.27 feet msl (normal conservation pool: 659.00 feet msl).

(updated 1-29-2020) Del Colvin at Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock said surface temperature of the water is 46 degrees and the lake is 8 feet high as of Tuesday. Crappie reports are good. They’re deep, around 35-40 feet depth of water, and are found toward the main lake. Fish the brushpiles with minnows or jigs. There is also a deep bite for black bass with good results. Spoons and ice jigs are working best. The walleye action is “pretty random,” Del reports. Nothing on bream or catfish. Also, note that Del provides a video regularly on Youtube (Del Colvin/Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock) in which he talks about various and timely methods to fish the lake, which baits are working best and areas to target.

Norfork Lake

As of Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers reports the lake’s elevation at 560.19 feet msl (normal conservation pool: Sept.-April, 552.00 feet msl; April-Sept., 555.75 feet msl).

(updated 1-15-2020) Lou Gabric at Hummingbird Hideaway Resort said Norfork Lake fishing is in its wintertime pattern, but with some twists due to all the drastic weather changes. “I guess this is normal, but when you go from 20 degrees to 60 degrees and then the water level changes 5.8 feet in a day, it tends to confuse the fish, or at least it confuses me.”
He adds, “Fishing would not be any fun if it was the same day in day out. With all the changes, it makes for a lot of searching different types of areas to see what the fish have decided to do. I guess it really is not the fish, but what the weather changes have done to the fish’s food source. Typically, as the water gets cold, large schools of shad tend to migrate out to deep water in the main lake river channel. This was what was happening over the last couple of weeks. With the rain last weekend, what is typical has changed. The bait has moved out of the main lake deep water. As of this (Tuesday) morning, I found lots of bait half way back in creeks, but still in deeper water.”
Lou says the movement of huge schools of shad affects the locations of striped bass. “Over the last couple of weeks, I was finding and catching striped bass between the two main bridges on the lake. The fish were in 80-120 feet of water and suspended anywhere from 20-50 feet down. Today I couldn’t find any there in the main lake. I finally found that the shad had moved halfway back into the creeks. And when I found the bait, I started marking big arcs scattered though out the bait. I set out three rods with live bait at 30, 35 and 40 feet deep. I was also jigging a white ¾-ounce spoon.
“About 20 minutes after I had set out the bait, a huge school of fish came under the boat. The fish were from surface to the bottom. All of a sudden each of the live bait rods got buried and I hooked into one with my spoon, but it came off immediately. I landed the first fish (a hybrid), then went to the second rod and the fish swam under the big motor and broke off, the last fish just stole the bait off of the third rod. After all was said and done, I got to land one of the fish and the big school had vanished. It was very hectic while it lasted. I kept moving around in this 75-85 feet of water. I had my spoon down to about 40 feet and I noticed a smaller school of fish at 55-60 feet down. I started dropping my spoon and the line went slack and the fight was on. The fish inhaled the spoon on the fall. I ended up landing a nice striped bass. After this I was still marking fish, but they were really scattered out.”
Bass and crappie are also affected by the weather and water level changes. They may not travel for miles (like striped bass) following the massive schools of shad, but they may change what depth they like to feed at, in the same general area. What the crappie were doing before the 6-foot rise in water level was feeding at the top of the brush on 25-35 feet deep brush. They were typically suspended down 12-20 feet deep. Small jigs or spoons have both been working well. Bass were also feeding in these same brush piles, but typically down toward the bottom of the brush. Bass were also on the shoreline 8-20 feet down and crankbaits were working great. “A couple of days ago I was back in a creek and found some nice schooling bass in 80 feet of water, suspended 30 feet down. I will be out doing a little crappie and bass fishing over the next week, so hopefully I will be able to figure out what this recent change to the lake has done to these species.” Norfork Lake surface water temperature Tuesday morning was 48-49 degrees. The lake level has risen a little less than 6 feet since last weekend and currently sits at 559.27 feet msl. Most creeks and coves are stained, but the brown water from the heavy runoff is falling out. The main-lake is somewhat clear. “Happy fishing and see you on the lake.”

(updated 1-29-2020) Tom Reynolds of STR Outfitters had no report.

Norfork Tailwater

(updated 1-22-2020) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said Norfork Lake rose 1.8 tenths feet to rest at 6.7 feet above seasonal power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 19.5 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork Dam tailwater saw heavy flows and had limited wadable water. Seasonal power pool has been reset for the lakes in the White River system. Due to a significant rain event last week, the waters are now weeks if not months from wadable water.
The Norfork tailwater is fishing better. Navigate this stream with caution as things have changed a bit during the recent flooding. There has been major gravel recruitment at the bottom of Mill Pond and the dock hole. The most productive flies have been small midge patterns (sizes 18, 20, 22) like ruby midges, root beer midges, zebra midges (black or red with silver wire and silver bead) and soft hackles (sizes 14, 16) like the Green Butt. Egg patterns have also been productive. Double-fly nymph rigs have been very effective. Try a small ruby midge (size 18) suspended 18 inches below a red fox squirrel and copper. The fishing is better in the morning.
Dry Run Creek is fishing well. With school back in session it will be less crowded during the week. The weekends can be pretty busy. The hot flies have been sowbugs (size 14), Y2Ks (size 12), various colored San Juan worms (worm brown, red, hot fluorescent pink and cerise size 10) and mop flies.
John also said, “For the past couple of weeks I have been taking advantage of the recent wadable water on the Norfork Dam tailwater and enjoying it immensely. During this time, I was also trying to get my wife, Lori, to join me. Due to her heavy dog-training schedule she had not been able to join me. We have two show dogs, Tilley and Ghillie, which are both English Labrador Retrievers and take a lot of her free time. We went on a Sunday and did well.
“Last Wednesday we saw an even better chance. We were scheduled to have a nice long window of low water; the weather was warm, sunny with light and variable winds. We left the house a little early so that we could eat lunch at Heidi’s Ugly Cakes on our way to the river. Heidi is not open on Sunday. A trip to Heidi’s is a key to success on the Norfork.
“Lori and I arrived at the Ackerman Access around noon. The water was fully dropped out. We took a few minutes to rig our rods. I chose to stay with the double-fly nymph rig (pheasant tail with a ruby midge dropper) I had used before. Lori decided on an olive bead-head Woolly Bugger with some flash.
“We began walking upstream. Lori stopped about halfway up and waded over to a new spot that she had discovered. It is a nice deep run with a bedrock bottom. It holds plenty of trout but is challenging to wade. The trick is not to slip and fall. She always wears studded boots with felt soles to keep this from happening. In addition, she keeps her wading staff out at all times.
“I went far upstream to my favorite spot. I fished there for about an hour and landed three trout. I decided to move on. I went to my next spot. I fished there for about a half an hour. I did not get a bump. This was a place where I have caught a lot of trout in the past. It gave me something to think about. It was time to try new flies or even a new technique.
“I had noticed a few midges on the top of the water. I had not seen fish rising but I thought it may be time to try a soft hackle. I had tried a Green Butt (my signature fly and a very productive soft hackle) a couple of days before, with no success. I decided to try a partridge and orange soft hackle.
“I stripped off my two nymphs’ lead and strike indicator. I tied on a 3-foot 5X tippet and a partridge and orange that had a mashed down barb. I moved downstream to a spot that looked productive. I slowly fished my way downstream. I had gone about 15 minutes with no action. I was starting to worry that this would not work when I felt a subtle take. I landed a nice trout and continued fishing. Over the next hour I landed about a dozen trout.
“We had decided to fish until 3 p.m. so that we would be home to feed the dogs. It was time to go. I walked down to where Lori had been fishing. She had done well and had really enjoyed her afternoon on the river. She had stuck with the Woolly Bugger but had thought of fishing a partridge and orange.
“Our day had been special. For me, figuring what would work was important. For Lori, it was sticking with what was working that mattered.”

Buffalo National River/Crooked Creek

(updated 1-22-2020) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said the Buffalo National River and Crooked Creek are navigable. The smallmouths are much less active in the cold weather. John’s favorite fly is a 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.