Steve Dally's White River Fly Fishing Guide Service

Understanding Generation on the White


High water - Lynsey Graham pic

High water - Lynsey Graham pic

Probably the question I get asked most, and the biggest disincentive to fly fishing the White River system is how to figure the generation “patterns” and where can you fish at certain water levels. It is a double edged sword, without the floodcontrol/hydro electric system, there would be no trout. Without the luxury of a regular schedule it can prompt a whole bunch of “cussin” at the water authority.

But with 44 miles of the White and 4 miles of Norfork within 20 minutes drive either way, flexibility, and river knowledge (or a copy of the Mid South Fly Fisher’s Home Waters guide book) will keep you fishing.

Part of the beauty of the system is that it is incredibly variable from the zero generation up to 8 units, or indeed as we saw in spring when the flood gates opened even 10 units (equivalent) of water is still fishable.

So let’s start our Generation Primer with some simple explanation of terms. The most common, as mentioned above is generation units or generators. Bull Shoals has 8 generators, Norfork 2. While there is some variation in the amount of water each generator can process the rough guide is average capacity is about 3200 cfs (cubic feet per second). But each generator can also be dialled up anwhere from 0 to its maximum. Thus 3 full units is the same amount of water as 6 units on half. Clear as Mud?


Easy fixed. Grab your cell and dial in 870 431 5311. You will be listening to a recorded message for real time generation for first Bull Shoals and then Norfork. If you need to grab a pen. You will want to know not only how many units is on now, but also the last change in generation.

Remember that the number of units given is a maximum _ they don’t talk in halves.

Now program this into your phone.


As we will move onto later, knowing what is happening at the Dams now is important, but often its more important what has been going on in the past 6 to 8 hours. This the water that is going to be coming at you if you are more than a few miles downstream from the Dam.

 History over the past few days will give you a guide as to what pattern has been followed. A little extra hint generation is usually heavier Thursday and Friday than early in the week, or on really hot days.

 The information presented in the following web pages is general 2-3 hours behind, sometimes longer. And becautious about relying on the last figure given, sometimes it might take an extra hour to settle this figure.

Bull Shoals Generation History  Graph    Table

Norfork Generation History      Graph     Table

Tip: look at the graphs for trends. Tailwater height (green line on the graph) will show you how much extra water depth is added. On the White 452 is roughly normal low water height.

CFS is important, the recording may say 2 units on but if they are pushing 2000cfs its really under 1 unit.


Though notoriously inaccurate the South West Power Authority’s generation projections are available, usually after 5pm for the following day. These tables give you measurements in Megawatts. The average Mw from each generator at Bull is around 49 on Norfork its 46.

SWPA Generation Projections

To use this resource, click the link above. When the site loads look down the left hand side and click the day of the week you are interested in (best for today and tomorrow). First things first check the date at the top of the page. If you see last week’s date the new schedule for that day hasn’t been posted yet.

Look across the top row, number 14 is Bull Shoal  Dam (BSD) 15 is Norfork (NFD).

So to use this divide the numbers you see in the columns below BSD or NFD by 49 for Bull and 46 for NFD to tell you how many units will be online.


Most of what we have been discussing here has been hydro-electric driven, but of course flood mitigation is a key reason for the construction of these dams and it influences releases as well. Since water is a scarce and valuable resource, not that there is any shortage here this year, the lake storages are divided up into allocations. The SWPA gets a slice for hydro power generation but the top bit is left open for flood control on all the dams in the system.

This year the flood pools were totally filled, and flood water releases take priority over power generation. But since the lower White (eastern Arkansas) remained high, releases this summer were slower than expected so agricultural land downstream wasn’t flooded.

Lake Forecast Table . This site is a good predictor to use when the lakes are in flood stage to when normal generation might return.