Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the River: Norfork River, Arkansas

June 3, 2010

Ahhhh Arkansas! Land of my fly fishing birth! One of two really. I started fly fishing somewhere around the age of 12. Jay (big brother) is 5 years older than me and he started somewhere around that age too. A friend of our fathers had a fiberglass rod in the rafters of his basement and he gave it to Jay. After about 5 years of Jay being self-taught, on mostly bluegill and bass, he started to pass it off to his little bro (me).

I don't remember which came first, Arkansas or Pennsylvania, but I do know that the very first places I ever fly fished was the Norfork and White rivers of Arkansas, and Penn's creek in Pennsylvania.

Ever since then, we try and make a pilgrimage to Arkansas every year two and they are almost always worth it! The times it's not is when you show up for 5 days and the water is high the entire time.

That wasn't the case for this trip (or at least not exactly). We had been watching the Norfork flows pretty closely and the rhythm was the generators shut down at 9 PM and turn back on at 12 noon the following day. The White was out of the question since it was mostly running at full generators.

If you've never fished these rivers they are tailwaters, but they water flows are dictated by power demand. On low flows, I think the Norfork runs around 70 cfs, but when they turn the generators on the river becomes a raging torrent at about 6000 cfs. Kind of a dramatic change ...

Nevertheless, fate was kind of on our side and we adjusted accordingly to make our fishing day from 5 AM (on the water, in our spot fishing) to 12 noon.

This trip was prompted from an article that told of the "rebirth" of the river due to massive flooding two years prior (I think it was two years ago). Jay and I can attest that the rivers were getting a bit stagnet, with algae blooms replacing the beautiful cress grass and vegitation. Fish were looking sickly and bigger fish seemed to be more scarce. The rumor was that the flood gutted the river, blew out the algae, and washed a bunch of dead baitfish into the river below. I don't know about all those factors, but I can say that the slime of the river was gone, the underwater vegitation was looking better than I've seen it in many years, and the scuds were ... abundant (to put it lightly).

We had a great trip! Most of the grey mornings were spent blind fishing gentle riffles, and once the sun was up it was a sight nymphers dream! There were also risers to be had on midge and baetis, but the vast majority of fish were active sub-surface.

It's always hard to say what was my favorite, because I love the subtle strikes of blind fishing, but how can you go wrong with sight nymphing? If you've never fished the area before, you're probably asking how I can compare blind fishing with sight nymphing, but this place is different. There are so many fish that will be tucked up into 8" deep, broken water that it really means blind fishing is unique and nothing short of awesome! So, you end up blind fishing these shallow, broken riffles that a two-year old could walk across without much trouble, but if you pay attention to these lightning micro-strikes, you lift up on a 14" rainbow that you never even saw there! It's pretty sweet.

As far as flies and tactics go, it's pretty straightforward nymphing. You can fish standard runs all day long, or you can fish tight (as described above), or you can get crazy and fish flat water for bigger fish, feeding lazily on midges. Our staple flies ended up being the Gammarus Scud and a #24 Cream Midge with a thread head (which we don't currently sell, but we hope to correct that sometime soon!). Sow bugs were working well too, just not as well as the G-scud.

Really, if you wanted a bigger, picky fish, you needed the cream midge with 7x and a micro indicator. That's where the money was at.

All in all, we landed a ton of 12" to 14" fish, a good amount of 15" and I think five 18"+ fish. Never really spotted any Monsters in the 6 lb.+ class, which was a bit of a shame cause that is our favorite target.

A good time was had by all, and the days were filled with friends and family. Ben joined us for the trip and I think he will chime in and verify that our tales of Arkansas were not too highly exaggerated.

Until next time,



  1. sounds like an awesome place,, great reaport!!

  2. I'd like to avoid spouting cliche gibberish in your comments section, Jeff, but when I think about this trip, I invariably start gushing.

    I'm new to the sport (4 years), and I've only fished a couple places outside of Colorado. This was by far the most memorable.

    Strands of mist lazily fingered the slate water as the dawning sun burned orange over tree-crowded banks. Blue herons, slender, silhouetted, were our only company on the river as each day broke. There was a stillness and peace in the warm, water-laiden air that quieted the soul and focused the mind.

    You see what I mean about gushing... All that to say, the fishing was the shit. :)

    I've had some spectacular days in my first few years of fishing (thanks to Jeff and his patient guidance), but after nearly 40 trout in a few hours on the first day, I knew we were in for something special. We spent more time scoping the water for larger fair the following two days, and we picked up a few healthy browns. But the consistently staggering thing about the river was the shear quantity of fish it held.

    I spent a couple hours late one morning fishing a run that was holding 50 fish. 30 or so were suckers, but there were a couple dozen trout interspersed among them. I'd drift past two or three suckers and wait for the trout to turn--simple as that. Then I'd move five feet upstream and fish to the next trout.

    Then there was the spot near the dam where the water, rising as the generators kicked on, pushed at least three-dozen trout into a back eddie. It was like 45 minutes of shooting fish in a barrel.

    The calm of the mornings was the best though--a truly wonderful time spotting fish in crystal-clear water, with no Colorado winds to battle. And lazy afternoons and evenings with the Allen family were just as sweet as the mornings on the river.

    If you ever get the chance to spend a day on the river with Jeff or Jay, take it.

    Fan-boy gratefully signing off--