Putting It All Together
So the big question is well what does it all mean? If you are prepared to fish from a boat or wade, or a combination of both, on any given day you have a tremendous playground on the White and Norfork. Every guide on this river who has been fishing the high water of recent seasons will tell you they can catch fish on everything up to wide open generation, and something beyond.
But if you are solely intent on wade fishing then you have to stay flexible , be prepared to jump from shoal to shoal and lose some fishing time even in a normal year.
So here is our guide to utilising the information in the previous chapter to fish up and down the river. We are obviously going to err on the side of caution. The White under generation isn’t inherently more dangerous than any other, but be aware these rivers can have sharp and sudden rises. The cold water can limit your ability to survive prolonged immersion. Swimming isn’t a good idea.
Rising water can catch all of us unaware but do what you can to minimise the risk. Call the Dam to see what is coming before you start and check on the predicted flows.
Mark the waterlevel on a nearby rock landmark, ie a stump or rock, so you can always guague whether its rising or falling. Pay attention to the time and your surroundings.
Always have your escape route to higher water planned, particularly if you waded through deeper water to get to your fishing spot. It doesn’t take much change in depth and speed to make crossing impassable.
Pay attention to your fellow anglers around you, if they all start leaving in a hurry it might because water is coming. Find out. On the other hand if you spot a rise or are aware of an imminent rise, let everyone else in your area know.
Don’t leave anyone behind.
If you are caught get to the easiest bank/island, even if its not where your car is parked. Signal fellow fishers, you will be found alive. Even if you can’t call us at the shop (870 435 6166) you can often txt a friend to call us. It might be boring/cold uncomfortable if you are stuck on the wrong bank, but its better than dead.
Its a rarity to have extended period of round the clock zero generation on the White. Happily since we are fishing 44 miles of river it takes a long time for the water to cover that distance. In the summer months it can be common to see the generators switched off overnight, before being kicked on around 8am or 9am as the airconditioners start for the day. On the White this means good fishing. You can start at the Dam early fishing low water until the horn blows. Jump in your car and scoot downstream. Depending on how much water is released it might take 3 hours to reach Wildcat Shoals, or 6 to Rim Shoal. That’s a day on low water.
As a guesstimate you can say its going 3-4 units are going to run around 3mph, more water is faster, less water is slower. So its a simple calculation, divide river miles to your location by the speed, and you get the time it will take.
Wildcat Shoals is roughly 12 miles downstream. River Map here.
Cotter is around 18 miles from the and the head of Rim Shoals 23. We tend to use 4 miles an hour as a guide on rising water, to allow some margin for error.
One thing to be aware of though is a pattern of “hard rises” say from 3000 to over 10,000 in a couple of hours, these will mean the rise is faster and less time to reach your safe ground, if this has been the pattern then move fast if you see the water starting to rise.
On the other hand falling water moves a lot slower so its going to take a good while longer for the water to fall out.And these are only guides.
On Norfork the evening off/morning on, schedule is a curse. Because Norfork is so short it doesn’t take the water long to move downstream. And because it is so narrow and intimate, at low water part of its charm, any generation finishes fishing for the waders.
However if you can float and wade, the 1 unit does offer some wading alternatives around the islands. I always carry my cell when I’m wading the lower accesses on Norfork, where you cannot hear the generation horn. I used to call the number every 30 minutes, since it takes 45 minutes for the water to come down I would have time to escape.
Unfortunately the generation announcements on Norfork became somewhat unpredictable since I first wrote this, making anything but the bottom end of the trophy zone risky to access without water transport.
High Water Wading On the White
Unlike Norfork you can keep wading once the horn blows on the White, But its a matter of right place and right time.
The Dam to State Park: Great area in low water and sections remain fishable as the water comes up. If you are below the first shoal start pushing back to the edges once the horn blows, its comes fast here. Right at the top you can fish almost up to 2 units on the grass verge but space becomes tight. Between the two boatramps is some very popular shoal water, but don’t hang about if the horn blows.
Three Chutes: Nice little- fished spot here. But don’t be suckered into wading across the channel at low water with generation on the way, it will become uncrossable fast. Stay on the western side and you can fish a small rise, but watch the slough between you and the road.
The Narrows: Plenty of wading access here on low water, but it doesn’t take much of a rise to cover the dry ground between the access and the lower island, and not much more to make it a tough crossing. But its those who cross to the upper island that most often get stuck on a rise. It can be a long way home and the narrow channel at the bottom can get tough to cross. If you get caught stay on the Upper Island. Even without a phone you can signal one of the homes on the Baxter County bank
Wildcat: Nice to catch a rise at Wildcat but beware of rising water trapping you out in the middle. It can be tempting to keep wading across, but its a long way home. The other issue with Wildcat is that the public access is upstream, so you are walking out against the rise, unless you have access through private property. But even close to the access fish will come up into the shallows on the rise.
Roundhouse Shoals: This steep little shoal can fish well on suprisingly high flows, as fish seek out the slower water along the edges and at the bottom of the shoal into Armstrong Hole. There are also some slower waters at the head of the shoal. Don’t get caught on the far side of the island in a rise. NB: watch out for the pale bedrock here, its superslick limestone that has taken the feet from many.
Rim Shoals: The crossing to the first island is tricky enough in low water to deter some, though its not as bad as it looks for experienced waders. But having access to the island allows you to wade fish though just about any rise. The Rim Shoal Resort runs taxi services throughout this section, or rents boats, so you can access the islands, wade fish and come home. They are also developed a riverside trail here with some higher water fishing. Inquire at the Resort.