Norfork Grand Slam in 2011

Norfork Update 4/22/11

This Arkansas Tailwater is the place to be for variety and big fish

I just wanted to post a brief rundown of two trips I did on the Norork over the last week. For those of you unfamiliar with this fishery, the ‘Fork is a short tailwater (4.8 miles) located below Norfork Dam, 25 road miles from Bull Shoals Dam. It was considered the White River’s “little brother” until the late 1990’s when it started to get attention, primarily as a big fish river that is perfect for fly fishing. In 2008, the entire area was subjected to two 100-year floods in a matter of two months, and the flood gates had to be opened wide at Norfork Dam – the emergency release crested at 80,000 cubic feet per second. This massive influx of water changed the Norfork significantly, and if you haven’t fished there in a few years, you will notice that it is a completely different place. After the floods, the fishing on the ‘Fork was quite inconsistent, but in 2011, the river appears to be back in a big way with respect to the number of fish and the size of the fish.

The trip I did over on the Norfork four days ago was remarkable. My client had fly fished before, but he was still in the learning process. We floated the river in low water (either fishing from the boat in deep areas or wading some of the better shoals) and he caught three big browns – they were all over 18 inches. He’ll be spoiled for life, but it just goes to show that anything is possible on the White River Basin tailwaters.

Then three days ago, I was part of a four man group trip with Tom Rogers taking two guys and I had two guys. The pressure was on me, as I had the two younger members of the party in my boat, and the father and grandpa really wanted them to catch some big fish. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “how many times can this river produce trophy fish, especially for those new to the sport?” Still, I was up for the challenge. Well, one of the young men caught a grand slam, which means he landed four species of trout in one day; the Norfork brook trout numbers are increasing, but the fish are still pretty small. Still, the best cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout he caught were all nice fish for that river. As we approached the lower third of the river, we still hadn’t hooked into anything really big, and I was starting to wonder if it was in the cards for us. As we approached a very shallow gravel area near the bank, I was asked if it was worth casting over there by the guy who didn’t catch the grand slam.

When fishing from the boat on a small river like the Norfork during low water, I stress to my clients that it pays to cast downstream at least forty feet so that spooky fish in that area will see the fly before they see the shadow of the boat. Since he was all ready to cast, I told him to give it a try; I wasn’t expecting much, but you never know. All of a sudden, there’s an explosion on the surface and he’s hooked into a 20-inch brown. We both jumped out of the boat – my client had to chase the brown down because it made a long first run. After a pretty lengthy battle, this beauty was brought to hand, and the day was officially a great success. The fathers were happy, my clients were happy and I was amazed at how productive the Norfork has become once again.

The biggest downside to fishing the Norfork is that there are only two good accesses: one is at the dam and one is near the bottom of the river where the catch and release area ends. This means that the majority of water on this amazing fishery cannot be accessed on foot, even if the water is low. Because a boat is needed to get into the best areas, most of the guides don’t mess with the Norfork and its logistical challenges, but a little bit of work can pay off in a big way. If you do walk in, be sure not to stray too far from your access because it’s easy to get stuck on the wrong side of the river if the water comes up. Because Norfork Lake is steadily rising and is currently a foot over power pool, flow conditions will be inconsistent, but there will still be some low water opportunities. Once the reservoir gets three to five feet above power pool, heavy releases will likely occur until the lake drops back to normal levels – the Corp can drop the lake a foot every 24 hours, so high-water periods can be relatively brief. If you get the chance, the next few weeks should be amazing, as long as we don’t get any really heavy rains, and the Norfork tends to fish well through the summer and into early October. Give me a call if you want to discuss this amazing fishery any further, and I would be happy to point you in the right direction.


~ by troutdoctor101 on April 22, 2011.

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