Trifecta of Ozarks Trout Rivers

Butler fishes three outstanding north Arkansas rivers in pursuit of a favorite gamefish.

The White River below Bull Shoals Dam in Northern Arkansas is one of the premier trout fishing waters in America. This bold statement is, in my opinion, unquestionable. Yet, the White isn’t the only river in the region worth traveling to for trout fishing. The Norfork River and the North Fork of the White River are each special destinations in their own right.

My introduction to the White River came early in life. Extended family moved from where I grew up in Northwest Indiana to Lakeview, Arkansas. Summer vacations to explore the lakes and rivers of the Ozarks followed. I caught the first trout of my life from the White River while in high school, and I’ve never lost my love of the place and the exceptional trout fishing the river provides.

As my trout fishing exploits increased in seriousness, I began fishing waters all across the country. Name a river in Montana, Wyoming or Colorado and I’ve likely fished it. Yet, I’m still drawn back to the Ozarks and the beautiful waters coursing through the region. The White River maybe the main draw, but a number of smaller rivers also deserve to be recognized, not only for their incredible fishing opportunities, but also for the scenery they provide.

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The North Fork of the White and the Norfork are the same river on opposite ends of a reservoir. The North Fork of the White has its origin in Texas County, Missouri. It flows south for 109 miles until it turns into Norfork Reservoir. This river is certainly the most western like water in Missouri. Meaning, it has a fast, natural flow with riffles and runs that remind one of being on the Madison or Yellowstone. It has a healthy population of trout, especially rainbows. But the further downstream you go, the more likely you are to tangle with a brown trout.

The Norfork River is a tailwater flowing out of the Norfork Dam. This little gem is only 4.5 miles long, but fishes much larger. It’s home to four species of trout; brook, rainbow, cutthroat, and brown. Well, maybe five now, as Tiger trout, a hybrid of brown trout and brook trout, have now been stocked in the White River system. Back in 1988, the world-record brown trout was caught out of the Norfork. It weighed almost 39 pounds. The record has been broken numerous times since, but a larger brown trout than the current world-record being caught out of the Norfork is possible.

Last weekend, five friends and I traveled down to the White for a weekend of trout fishing. We rented a cabin at Copper John’s Resort right on the water. It’s perfect fish camp for those plying the waters with fly fishing equipment, because there is an excellent fly shop, called Fly’s and Guides, right onsite. Jeremy Hunt and his wife Lisa own and operate the shop, out of which they run a number of fishing guides. If you have never fished the White River before, hiring a guide to give you the lay of the land is good idea. It’s a big water, so having a professional break it down for you can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Two of the fellas on our trip are guides. Mike Sexton and Damon Spurgeon operate Cardiac Mountain Outfitters. We certainly had the advantage of knowledge on our side when we launched our boats Saturday morning. The six of us caught a ton of fish on the White, which is one of those rare rivers that provide the opportunity for a numbers game. Meaning, you can try for a 50 or 100 fish days and have a realistic chance of achieving such a lofty goal. My good friend and podcast co-host, Nathan “Shags” McLeod is out for those sort of numbers every time he hits the water. You’d be foolish to bet against him. I, on the other hand, am more easily satisfied with a few good fish and the relaxation of rowing a boat down a gorgeous river.

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See you down the trail…

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Brandon Butler
Long-time outdoor writer and native Hoosier Brandon Butler lives in Missouri and serves as the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Previously, he worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as Governor Mitch Daniels’ liaison to the department, Director of Sales and Marketing for Dominator365 and as the Marketing Manager Battenfeld Technologies, Inc.


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