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Established 1954
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Cotter Trout Dock Weekly Fishing Report

April 15, 2020

Note: I published the info below and apparently created some confusion.  We ARE open and putting out guided trips but very few out-of state people which is actually a large percentage of our business. 
To be clear, we are NOT closed. 

We do not have lodging rentals ourselves but our business has been affected by the Arkansas Governor's temporary Executive Order banning motels and any other lodging businesses from renting to out-of-state people.  We were booked with guided fishing customers every day in April but when the Governor issued his order the motels called their customers to cancel them and then the customers called us to cancel their fishing trips.  The order could be taken off at any time but no one knows.  Our guess is possibly the end of April.

So what do our guides do?  Well, they just go fishing by themselves of course.
Below is guide Doug Knight on one of his (many at the moment) days off.
Click image to enlarge.
Below the picture is the Fishing Report from Arkansas Game and Fish.

White River

(updated 4-15-2020) Cotter Trout Dock (870-435-6525) said the White River watershed is carrying a lot of surplus water from recent rain across northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, which explains why, during the past couple of weeks, all three dams have occasionally added spillway releases to the already high generation from Beaver, Table Rock and Bull Shoals dams. Traffic on the Bull Shoals tailwater has been very light due to coronavirus travel restrictions and stay-in-place orders, and it's a sure bet the other trout streams are missing their fishing friends, too. We trout anglers are aching to get back to the rivers but may have to wait until the governor's executive order banning out-of-state overnight stays for recreational visitors is lifted, which could be at any time, or it may be in place until sometime in May (or longer). So we wait, practice social distancing, keep our hands clean and keep our rods and reels in perfect form. As we pointed out last week, river conditions are working in our favor to create a fantastic fishery when restrictions are lifted. High water often aids in growth patterns of trout, few fishers on the river create an abundance of unsuspecting fish just waiting for something to excite them to bite, and warmer temperatures lure us to the outdoors. There's no better place in our great country to enjoy God's nature than the Natural State: Arkansas. Hoping to see you soon!

(updated 4-15-2020) Sportsman’s White River Resort (870-453-2424) said the river is muddy and high. More than 8 generators have running at the dam, as well as water running at the spillway. Trout fishing is poor. “We finally had some guest this weekend and no one caught anything,” they report.

(updated 4-15-2020) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said that during the past week they had two rain events (combined for a little less than 2 inches), cooler temperatures and heavy winds (to include wind advisories). The lake level at Bull Shoals rose 0.3 foot to rest at 22.7 feet above seasonal power pool of 659 feet msl. This is 13.3 feet below the top of flood pool. Upstream, Table Rock fell 2.1 feet to rest at 3.3 feet above seasonal power pool and 12.7 feet below the top of flood pool. Beaver Lake rose 0.1 foot to rest at 8.4 feet above seasonal power pool and 1.2 feet below the top of flood pool. The White had heavy generation no wadable water. Norfork Lake fell 0.9 foot to rest at 16.4 feet above seasonal power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 9.8 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork tailwater had heavy flows and no wadable water.
The Army Corps of Engineers has opened the spillway gates on Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Norfork dams in an effort to lower the water level on these lakes quicker.
The White has fished well. The hot has been the catch-and-release section below Bull Shoals Dam. 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 (John’s current favorite combination is a deep-water worm with a weighted egg suspended below it).
Norfork Lake fell 0.9 foot to rest at 16.4 feet above seasonal power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 9.8 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork tailwater had heavy flows and no wadable water.
The Army Corps of Engineers has opened the spillway gates on Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Norfork dams in an effort to lower the water level on these lakes quicker.
John also said, “Last week I had one of my regular clients cancel his scheduled guide trip due to fear of the coronavirus (his wife would not let him come). Based on what is happening in our country it was the best thing to do. I can honestly say that I was a bit concerned about the trip. I am 73 years old and am in the group of people most at peril with the disease.
“This has been a common occurrence over the past few weeks as I have had almost all of my trips this month canceled. When I talk to other guides (carefully maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet), they all tell me they are in the same boat. I still have a few trips scheduled for May that I fully expect to lose any day. To make things tougher, Gov. Hutchison has closed the state to temporary visitors from other states. Anybody that would want to fish here now has nowhere to stay. I do not disagree with his decision.
“Guides are in financial trouble. If we don’t work, we don’t eat. We are all independent contractors, not employees. We work for ourselves. If we do a guide trip for a lodge, trout dock or fly shop, they take a percentage of the fee but do not provide any benefits. We are not provided health insurance, retirement or sick pay. If we do not have any trips, we cannot draw unemployment. It is our responsibility to pay for our health insurance, retirement and plan for hard times. Some do this better than others.
“I see a radical change in our business. I do not see a return to normal for a long time. The coronavirus will have to run its course so that our citizens can move freely.
I am fortunate. I am a conservative, retired CPA who was raised by parents that survived the Great Depression and World War II. I have been taught to live a simple life and save money for hard times. I live in a small house, drive a used 21-year-old Suburban and work out of a used 15-year-old Supreme with a 15 hp motor.
“The reality of the situation is that we are not alone. Everyone that I know is feeling pain. I know a lot of people that have lost their jobs. Local businesses are closed or offering very limited services. There is no rainbow in sight. I can only recommend that we all hunker down and survive this plague and be ready to get back to work on the other side.
“We are all in this together. I look forward to fishing with my friends and clients again.”

Bull Shoals Lake

As of Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers reports the lake’s elevation at 682.75 feet msl (normal conservation pool: 659.00 feet msl).

(updated 4-15-2020) Del Colvin at Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock reports that the lake clarity is cloudy and the lake is 23 feet high as of Tuesday midafternoon. He heard no reports on bream. Crappie are good and are spawning in the shallow water. Black bass also are spawning in the shallow water and the bite is fair. Catfishing is good but you’ve got to go deep. Try 35-40 feet depth halfway back in the creeks. The cats are biting on shad. White bass are mainly done and have moved on. They’re biting on jerkbaits and swimbaits. Walleye are good at the main and secondary points, biting jerkbaits in the evening. View Del’s YouTube videos (Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock) for the latest in what’s biting and what Del is using, plus his tips on how to fish the various lures.

Norfork Lake

As of Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers reports the lake’s elevation at 570.51 feet msl (normal conservation pool: Sept.-April, 552.00 feet msl; April-Sept., 555.75 feet msl).

(updated 4-15-2020) Tom Reynolds of STR Outfitters said Fishing for Norfork Lake stripers, bass, and crappie continues to improve. The crappie has moved off the banks due to the cold weather but are being caught over the deep brush piles. Slow trolling small crank baits in 20-30 feet of water near the shore will produce. Another method is to dip a minnow in debris along a deep shoreline. This coming week will slow down the spawn as we are expected to have cold nights and rain for a few days. Once we start having some warm nights and south winds we will see the spawn for crappies, bass and shad. That will be a great time to be on the water as the fish will be very active chasing bait food in the buck brush.
The best striper bite this past week was the late afternoon. With the full moon the stripers feed at night so very early mornings and later evenings usually produce the best. My son Sean fished several evenings and had some great success. He fished Crystal Cove above Blue Lady Resort and caught several good size stripers with the biggest being 32 pounds, which was released. Sean was using 10-inch gizzard shad. This time of year the stripers want the really big baits. As the saying goes “big baits big fish”. Now that the full moon is over, you should resume our normal spring pattern, fishing the main lake points early and later in the morning if you have a west or south wind. I usually fish Big Creek from Wood's Point up to 1C early then move to the windy banks later in the morning. My best baits are 5 to 8 inch gizzard shad. I use long lines and planner boards to cover a large area of water. Another trick is to fish the deep water buffs but keep your baits shallow, the stripers love cruising those areas feeding on threadfin shad.

(updated 4-15-2020) Lou Gabric at Hummingbird Hideaway Resort said Norfork Lake fishing has been good over the last couple of weeks and will continue to get better and better as the weather and the lake stabilizes. Crappie and bass fishing have been the best bite with the striped bass bite not far behind.
He says, “There have been two different methods that I and others have been using to catch crappie. Trolling small crankbaits, such as the Berkley Flicker Minnow size 7, that dive 10 to 15 feet have been working very well. I have been slow-trolling these baits at 1.2 mph. Colors have varied, purple has been working the best as of late, but the firetiger and shad color patterns have also been doing well. Best areas have been part way back in creeks and coves, especially if there is a lot of sunken brush in 10 to 30 feet of water. The crappie are schooling and moving between brush piles. I have mainly been staying in 18 to 30 feet of water and am working the whole area. The other method of fishing for crappie is to vertical jig a small jig over brush that is in 20 to 30 feet of water. The crappie have been suspended above the brush about 15 feet down. There is actually a third method. Crappie are still spawning and will be for some time. They will be up in shallow water, so casting a jig into shallow water or live bait on a slip float will catch you some fish. This last method is the toughest as there is a lot of sunken brush along the shore line so they could be spawning anywhere.
“Bass fishing has also been very good. Largemouth and spotted bass are up in the sunken brush from the shoreline out to 20 feet of water. Top water baits, swimbaits, spinners and crank baits are all working at times. Keep your bait at the top of the brush and the bass will come out and ambush it. Main lake points on both the shallow and deep side are holding fish. If you want to get into some topwater action head back into creeks and coves and find some bait. The bass are coming up and feeding at sunrise and then again at sunset. They move a little deeper after the sun comes up.
“The striped bass bite has had its ups and downs with the ever-changing weather patterns and lake level changes. At this time this species is feeding early in the morning on some of the main lake points in the sunken buck brush. Live bait is working the best, but casting out swimbaits or suspending jerkbaits are catching a few. They will be up in very shallow water feeding out to 30 feet of water. I used live bait with no weights the other day. I was letting the baits swim free just outside of the brush. The fish were cruising and attacking the bait right on the surface. Don’t hesitate to check out coves and creeks where the wind is blowing directly in. Many times in this situation the wind will blow in the bait and the stripers will follow. I found fish in the back of one cove in 20 to 30 feet of water. This species is continually, looking for their next meal. Find lots of bait and the stripers will be nearby.
Over the last week the lake had dropped slowly about a foot, but with the rains the other day it is slowly rising again. The lake currently sits at 570.45 feet MSL. The lake surface temperature is hovering around 60 degrees plus or minus a degree or two. The weather is going to change for the better and is warming up again. The lake is slightly stained to clear. “Happy fishing and see you on the lake.”

Norfork Tailwater

(updated 4-15-2020) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said Norfork Lake fell 0.9 foot to rest at 16.4 feet above seasonal power pool of 553.75 feet msl and 9.8 feet below the top of flood pool. The Norfork tailwater had heavy flows and no wadable water.
The Army Corps of Engineers has opened the spillway gates on Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Norfork dams in an effort to lower the water level on these lakes quicker.
The Norfork is fishing better. Navigate this stream with caution as there has been major gravel recruitment at the bottom of Mill Pond and the dock hole due to flooding. 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 (size 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 very well. With the coronavirus there is little pressure. 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.

Buffalo National River/Crooked Creek

NOTE: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at the urging of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has closed access to the Buffalo National River for the time being due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(updated 4-15-2020) John Berry of Berry Brothers Guide Service in Cotter (870-435-2169) said the Buffalo National River and Crooked Creek are high and off-color. 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.