There are few places in the entire USA that offer the opportunity for such a wide range of species that may be caught fly fishing. The Ozarks comes top of the list for those options.
The jewel in the crown is the White river, and the short section of the Norfolk that flows into the White river some 40 miles downstream of Bull shoals dam. The White and Norfolk rivers currently produce many world class trophy trout, many in excess of 10lb, and for those lucky anglers numbers of fish in excess of that are caught through the year. Both rivers contain, Brown, Rainbow, Brook and Cutthroat trout.
Both the White and Norfolk rivers are designated tail waters, that is they are influenced by water flows from release of water from the lakes through the dam at Bull shoals and Norfolk. The continuous flows of water from the lake above introduce into the river systems the vital nutrients to sustain invertebrate food sources, one of the reasons why trout will grow fast in these fertile systems.
Fly fishers have some 100 miles of trout water combined for the two rivers. There are 5 designated trophy catch and release zones through the systems. Through out the systems there are a number of shoals, good wadeable water that holds many fish. Fly fishing from a drifting boat is very popular and would be the only option if water levels are too high to permit wading access.
The Arkansas Game and Fish have provided for a good number of access points for both wade and boat access.
The mainstay of the diet of the trout in these rivers is crustaceans, such as sowbugs, scuds and crawdads. Along with those food sources, caddis, mayfly, midges and bait fish to name a few.
For the fly fisherman that gives you many options so far as how you choose to fish the rivers. Overall the most effective way to fish the rivers is with a indicator nymph rig. When hatches take place such as caddis, mayfly and midges then the fly fisherman can turn his attention to dry fly and emerger techniques to imitate the species the trout are feeding on at that time.
Many of the large trophy Brown trout may be caught using both dry and sunk line techniques with the addition of streamers, and wooly buggers. Should we see the shad kill, which normally takes place through the winter and early spring periods then expect some explosive action and the chance to nail a real trophy fish. Flies that imitate the dead and dying shad, such as white marabou streamers, floating dead shad patterns and white jigs will often hook you up with a fish of a lifetime.
It is not uncommon for days on the river when more than 30 to 50 fish may be caught. Many of the larger trophy trout are found in the trophy zones at Bull shoals dam and the catch and release zone of the Norfolk river. Both rivers can boast the potential to produce that lifetime trophy Brown, at any point within the trout habitat zones.
For general fishing these rivers rods in the range of 9 to 10 ft coupled with lines weights of 5 or 6 will suffice for most needs. A good selection of flies to imitate sowbugs, scuds, crawdads,and wooly buggers in olive, black and white. Midge and caddis patterns in sizes 14 to 22, both dry and emergers. Generic fly patterns such as hares ear, pheasant tails, San Juan worms in red, worm brown, soft hackles various and wet flies will give you a good cross section of fly patterns that will work well here.
Overall 4 or 5 x tippet added tp a standard tapered leader. In the case of midge fishing you may well have to reduce that to 6x to fish the small midge imitations. A dry fly line will take care of most needs for presentations. Add the use of sink tip and intermediate line for the deeper water techniques and you will be well set for fly fishing the trout water here.
Warm Water Species
The Buffalo river is a noted small mouth habitat, for those of you who like to pursue this worthy quarry with the fly rod.. Crooked creek and many other warm water creeks within the Ozarks also contain both small mouth and very large numbers of sunfish species, Bluegill, Long ear and Green sunfish, goggle eye, warmouth and Ozark bass that are indigenous to this region. Not to mention large mouth bass. Both largemouth, small mouth and many sunfish species are also found in the lower sections of the White river around the Sylamore creek access point.
You might even try your hand at fly fishing for the many large garfish found in the rivers as well as the elusive carp, some that are well in the 20 to 30 lb weight range. It is even possible to catch catfish with the fly rod!!
Both Bull shoals and Norfolk lakes, will provide for excellent fly fishing at given times of the year. Often overlooked by many who visit here to fly fish. Norfolk lake contains a large number of Striped bass, l can testify to the thrill of hooking a 20lb fish on a fly rod.
Along with the Stripers, you have a host of other species, such as large , Kentucky and small mouth bass, sunfish of many species, carp, catfish, garfish, white bass and crappie. The spring fishing here for crappie can be particularly good with many fish in the 15ins range to be found at times.
Overall the best lake fishing will be in the warmer periods for bass and sunfish species, early mornings and later evenings are the time to go for those guys. Surface activity for stripers is dependant on the forage bait fish, shad. Again early and later evening into dark are the times to concentrate for this species, as well as many of the other bass found in the lakes.
The staple food source for the small mouth is crawdads, imitations of those will work well along with wooly buggers in brown ,olive and orange. Hair bugs and foam bodied flies that represent terrestrials, and jigs in white and gray. Hoppers are a good bet in the late summer and fall periods. Bass on the lakes will hit subsurface imitations of bait fish, crawdads and nymphs. Top water action early and late is good using hair bugs, foam bodied, and bait fish patterns.
Stripers feed mainly on the threadfin and gizzard shad found in the lakes. Surface fished imitations of those in the area of feeding activity are the way to go here. Or white jigs fished at depth. Sunfish can be caught using all manner of flies, early and late evening fishing in the warmer month periods will give you great top water action. Jigs work great for deepwater techniques. Same also for the crappie on the lakes. Fish over structure with jigs and indicators for the best results.
Rods in the 9ft range with line weights of 6 to 8 for the large species such as striper and other larger bass species. Dry and sunk lines will be needed to cover all permutations of presentations for the lakes. For the rivers and creeks, dry lines for the shallower systems, sink tip and intermediate for the deeper water zones.