Fishing On The Rim

This section of Arkansas’ White River offers float and wade fishing to fly casters

On The Fly Freshwater

June 2023

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

The story of trout fishing in Arkansas can properly be traced to 1898, when the first of several major floods struck the White River drainage. From then until 1927, the valuable farmlands along this river system were inundated a total of four times. The desire to control these natural disasters lay at the heart of the Flood Control Act of 1938, which was pushed through Congress by the Roosevelt administration. The fact that the resulting dam construction would employ a large number of Ozark folks during these Depression years was another selling point of the plan.

More than 700,000 rainbow trout will be stocked in the Bull Shoals tailwater in 2023.

An unforeseen consequence of the dam-building projects, which began in earnest in 1941, was the eventual destruction of a world-class smallmouth fishery. The White River and its feeder streams had for years been noted for the quality of the fishing available for this species, drawing anglers from around the country. A tradition of float-fishing was long-established in the area, and some of the local families had been guiding anglers on the rivers for several decades.

Once the dams began to come on-line, the cold water released into the river system from the depths of the lakes made the habitat too cold for smallmouths; the fishery soon collapsed. Beginning in 1948, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) released small numbers of brown trout into the tailwaters below Norfork Dam on the North Fork (or Norfork) River. This was followed by larger plantings of browns and rainbows in the Bull Shoals tailwater
on the White River in 1952. Additionally, the AGFC transplanted aquatic vegetation from Ozark springs into the Norfork River during the early 1950s.

All of these plantings proved very successful, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get into the act in 1955. That year, Congress authorized the construction of the Norfork National Fish Hatchery as compensation for the loss of the smallmouth bass fishery in the region. By the late 1950s, the White River system was already becoming renowned for producing trout weighing in double digits, and many of the smallmouth bass guides of the Ozarks switched over to guiding for these newcomers.

Today, the White River system in the Ozark Mountains provides the bulk of Arkansas’ trout fishing. Beginning at the foot of the Beaver Dam, the White River’s trout water runs through a short stretch of Missouri below Table Rock Lake before reentering Arkansas. It then passes through the dam at Bull Shoals Lake and continues southeasterly. It is the next 109 miles of tailwaters down to the Martin Access that have solidified the White River’s reputation as a world-class trout fishery. The scheduled stocking of trout for 2023 consists of 711,300 rainbows, 32,000 browns, 35,000 cutthroats and 8,100 brookies. In 2020 an experimental stocking of 2,500 tiger trout (hybrids of brookies and browns) also took place. In the case of brown trout, there also is a reproducing population of those fish in the river. A number of 30-plus-pound browns have come from the Bull Shoals tailwater.

A White River brown trou.

Similar to the smallmouth angling that the trout replaced, float-fishing from boats is most popular. After all, the White is a big river and the powerhouse at the Bull Shoals Dam has eight turbines that can send a lot of water downstream. Still, there are some places that provide wade fishing at walk-in access points during lower release levels. Which brings us to Rim Shoals.

Rim Shoals is a public access site located 24.5 miles downstream from Bull Shoals Dam. This area is one of the most popular stretches of the White River for fly fishers. Yet, in the greater scheme of things, it probably gets less fishing pressure than many other areas.

One reason for that situation is the set of regulations governing the fishing. Back in 1995 the shoal was identified as a spawning area for brown trout. As a result, a 1.5-mile stretch was designated as a catch-and-release public access site. All trout caught must be immediately released and only artificial lures with single barbless hooks are allowed. Those rules are in effect from just upstream of the mouth of Jenkins Creek above Redbud Shoals down to the power line that crosses below Rim Shoals. Signs are posted with regulations at both ends of the stretch.

Rim Shoals with Upper Rim in the background.

There are two islands in the shoal, referred to as Upper Rim and Lower Rim. The deepest water is on the western side of those. At lower generation periods much of the shoal is wadable. Anglers have foot access via the Rim Shoals Walk-In Area on the eastern shore of there river.

To reach the Rim Shoals Access, take AR 126 north from the community of Buford, then turn west on Buford Cutoff (CR 3). There is a sign for Rim Shoals at this intersection. Next, turn left onto CR 58. Follow this gravel road until it crosses the railroad track, continuing to a gravel parking lot and walk-in access at the head of Rim Shoals.

Always check the generation schedule before entering any tailwater sections of water.

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