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Subscriber Walter Kirkland has checked in with a report on fishing the Norfork and White rivers in Arkansas. It’s chock full of useful and interesting information. He writes:
“This past October, several members of my fly fishing group and I returned for the third time to Jim and Liz Smith’s River Ridge Inn (www.riverridgeinn.com) on the Norfork River in Arkansas, very close to that river’s confluence with the White River. The lodge provides a variety of accommodations, from a one bedroom cabin to an eight-bedroom lodge. The inn does not serve any meals, but all accommodations are equipped with kitchens and grills. There are also two hot tubs available for tuckered-out fishermen.
“The White River system consists of two main streams, the White itself and the North Fork of the White, better known as the Norfork. Both rivers are tailwater streams whose flows are regulated by dam releases. Wading excursions on either river can be tricky, as the river rises quickly when the dams are generating. Scheduled releases are posted on the Internet. However, as we found out on our last trip, the published releases are not entirely reliable. Wading fishermen must be very careful and stay aware of water levels. The releases on the Norfork are the most troubling, as the water there can rise up to three feet in a matter of minutes near the dam. That kind of rise could take one-and-a-half hours lower down, near the Norfork’s confluence with the White.
“Both rivers teem with trout. Rainbows are the predominant species, but there are ample populations of browns, cutthroats, and brook trout. Nymphing is the most reliable technique here during the month of October, though there can still be some hopper fishing at that time of year. On past trips, some in our group took large browns near the banks on hopper flies. This year, we were hit with an unusual heat wave, and the fish were hunkered down in deeper holes and in faster moving riffles. We observed very little insect activity on the surface.
“Guides told us that we did not need to go lower than a 5x tippet, but I discovered that the best combination for hooking and landing fish was a 7x fluorocarbon tippet teamed with a very light rod—4 wt. maximum. Many of the trout we caught were in the 12- to 14-inch range, but we landed fish upward of 22 inches. At other times of the year, heaving big, articulated streamers will attract larger fish, and for that, a 6- or 7-wt. rod would be appropriate.
“The most effective rig overall was a dual nymph set-up fished under a strike indicator. San Juan worms in red or cerise, egg patterns, or Y2Ks, followed by a dropper with a small zebra midge (size 16 or smaller) or soft hackle proved very productive. Olive wooly buggers with a soft hackle trailer were deadly as well.
“In past trips to this area, I fished with guide John Berry (www.berrybrothersguides.com), who is widely considered the dean of White River fishing guides. Originally from Memphis, John has fished the White and Norfork rivers for more than 40 years. He has a 20-foot outboard-powered White River johnboat. He is personable, knows where the fish are, and almost always knows what they are taking.
“On our last trip, our group focused on wade fishing.
“The River Ridge Inn has productive exclusive waters on the Norfork directly in front of its property. Also, about one mile upstream from the lodge is a parking area with several easily accessible wading spots nearby. During wadeable periods when water is not being released, many fishermen focus on the area near the dam. This is usually where the bigger fish are. I took a 22-inch brown from that area last year. Dry Run Creek enters the Norfork near the dam. This creek is loaded with large brown trout, but the fishing here is restricted to handicapped anglers and anglers 16 years old or younger.
“The following Web site has maps and directions to many excellent wading areas on the White River: www.agfc.com/resources/GuidebookDocs. We focused on two areas, Wildcat Shoals and Rim Shoals. Both provided miles of easily wadeable water, and even on weekends, there was no combat fishing. As for local fly shops, in the past, we have always visited the Blue Ribbon Fly Shop in Mountain Home (www.blueribbonflyfish.com). They are an excellent resource for information, equipment, and guides.
For some reason, that shop was closed the week we were there, which was strange, given that fall is one of the busiest fishing periods of the year.”