Fishing remains good on the White River

Epic floods have been the norm in 2017. Several 500-year floods rocked the Midwest and the Ozarks last spring and Texas recently faced the ravages of a 1,000-year flood.

The White River Basin in Arkansas faced heavy flooding in April and May. Flood records which stood for over 100 years toppled.

The North Fork of the White at Tecumseh, Missouri, reached the highest levels since August 1, 1915. Bull Shoals Lake is still well above normal pool as a result.

Damon Spurgeon hooks up with a respectable Brown trout, but he was hoping for a true monster.

Damon Spurgeon and I recently traveled to Cotter, Arkansas, to fly fish the fabled White River for monster Brown trout. The renowned trout stream still ran high as a result of the heavy spring rains and is expected to do so until mid-October, according to local fly fishing guide Larry Babin.

“This is the longest stretch of high water I’ve experienced on the White,” the manager of the Natural State Fly Shop in downtown Cotter said.

Despite the higher than normal river flows for the summer season, Babin has continued to put his clients on fish.

“The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks roughly one-and-a-half million trout in the White River each year,” he said. “That is a lot of fish and they are still there despite the high water conditions.”

As we walked onto the deck of White River Trout Lodge, Damon and I paused, before placing our bags inside, to look at the river.

Bill Cooper

“This place is mesmerizing,” Damon said. “Look there are trout feeding just off that weed line. There is a really nice Brown, too.”

“Calm down,” I said. “You are going to tire yourself out getting so excited. We have three days coming up with the best fly fishing guides on the river. You’ll see lots of trout over the course of those three days.”

After visiting with White River Trout Lodge owners Bill and JoAnna Smith, Damon and I headed to downtown Cotter to Natural State Fly Shop, which is located within sight of the famous Rainbow Bridge, which spans the White.

We immediately struck up a conversation with renowned fly tier Ron McQuay. He is well known in fly fishing circles and Damon immediately began quizzing him about fly patterns best for the White River and how to fish them.

I saw an opportunity. Minutes later I began filming the conversations between McQuay and Damon. McQuay proved to be a wealth of information. Clips from those discussions may be seen on

Shortly, the fly shop manager, Larry Babin, walked into the store. Introductions were short. Conversations took off like a fire doused with gasoline. We had walked into a fly fisherman’s dream come true.

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We planned to hook up with Larry of, Matt Millner of Rising River Guides, and Taylor Wooten of the following afternoon. Larry, Matt and Damon would float in Larry’s drift boat with Larry at the helm, while the other two guys fly-fished. Taylor and I would follow in a second boat. I would film the action.

Damon and I spent the next morning filming pieces with Larry and Matt, and intermittently discussing what we could expect for the afternoon of fishing to come. We were primed by the time fishing time arrived.

Everyone chattered nonstop as we readied the drift boats, tied on flies and double-checked the camera gear. The consensus among the fishermen in our party was to tie on a hopper in hopes of catching a big brown of ten pounds plus.

I inhaled the fresh air fragrant with river smells as we pushed into the current. I made my last-second checks for light and power on my video camera. Seconds later, Larry, Matt and Damon yelled in excitement.

“Did you see that fish blow up on that hopper?” Damon had a fish on less than 75 feet from the boat ramp. It looked to be a good afternoon on the water.

They all posed for photos with the beautifully-colored Brown trout. It provided a great start to the trip, but was not what we were looking for. Damon and I were on assignment for and hoped for a monster Brown trout of 20 pounds or more.

Larry had informed us that the bite had been tougher with the high water conditions. It would be a gamble to target larger fish, but Damon knew he was facing the possibility of catching a lifetime fish. He elected to cast big hoppers and even larger streamers in hopes of hooking that one monster Brown.

Respectable Browns up to 22 inches continued to fall prey to the big hoppers, but the monsters weren’t playing. Damon managed one explosive strike from a much larger fish before nightfall approached.

“I saw several huge Browns that will haunt me for a long time,” Damon said. “One had to be well over 20 pounds. It is just phenomenal to be on waters that house such huge fish.

“I know every cast I make has the potential to turn one of the big ones. I’ll fish until my arms fall off for that one fish.”

Damon made thousands of casts over the next two days and caught plenty of trout, but no monsters.

“I knew the chances of catching a really big Brown were slim, with the current water conditions, but I’d fish it every single day if I could. The big ones are there.”

We were sent to the White River to gather material for a wintertime trout fishing article. With it still being  summer, we relied on the guides for information and photos about wintertime trout fishing.

Therefore, it proved a great adventure to gamble on catching a big Brown. Big Browns one, us zero.

We shall return soon!

By Bill Cooper

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