Caney Fork Trout Fly Fishing - Caney Fork Trout Guide


Striper, Trout, Smallmouth, and Musky, guide trips in the Nashville area. Our home waters are Cumberland and Caney Fork River and our specialty is fly fishing for Trout and Stripers.

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Author Topic: When the prophet speaks...  (Read 2753 times)

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Phil Landry

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When the prophet speaks...
« on: December 25, 2015, 11:45:01 PM »
... people should listen, and try to look themselves in the mirror.

A Brief History of Trout on the White, Norfork and Little Red Rivers
by Dave Whitlock
October 2015

Originally from Oklahoma, I made Arkansas my home from 1971 until 2006.  However, I actually became active in trout fishing in the region and in working for progressive management of Arkansas tailwater fisheries starting in 1956. I continue to be connected to these amazing rivers today, even though we now live back in my birth state of Oklahoma.  As far as I know, the AG&F seldom recorded the efforts of fly fishing clubs and individuals and so much of the information here is from my recall of my 60 years of interaction with the rivers. Some of the details will be generalized but I’m sure there are still those living who can corroborate this information.

I began fly fishing the White and Norfork Rivers in 1956 when I lived in Bartlesville and Tulsa, OK.  We would drive to Cotter or Rim Shoals every couple of weeks, leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday.  At that time the fishing pressure was very light and only a few of us used any type of artificial lures and flies. The numbers and sizes of the rainbows would be incredible by today’s standards – ten pounders were as common as 2 pounders today.  The average was near 4 pounds and they were beautifully prime in shape, color and strength – as good as any wild trout I’d caught in Montana, Wyoming and Oregon.  The browns were fewer but many were trophy-size and superbly healthy fish.  I believe there had been a one-time stocking of 25,000 brown trout on the Norfork. Those original Norfork browns must have moved into the White when Bull Shoals dam was completed and cold water release began.

    It appeared that both species at that time were reproducing in the White.  There were lots of redds with browns and rainbows spawning from the dam to Cotter Spring, Rim Shoals, Bruce Creek and Buffalo Shoals. Most of the 3-6 inch young fish I observed were obviously naturals. Adding to the habitat were several aquatic plant species growing heavily in the White and Norfork which helped to provide very healthy water chemistry and quality and good shelter for the trout. The initial moderate water flows supported huge populations of scuds, sowbugs, crayfish, sculpins, aquatic insects and several species of minnows. When the tailwaters were first established, the riparian areas on all the streams were strong and in good shape. Eventually though, because of uncontrolled bank development, flooding, high generation waters for extended periods and beavers, the White and Norfork have gradually widened, shallowed and lost untold amounts of the big, bank-stabilizing trees.

In the early days of the tailwaters, river travel by outboards was extremely difficult because of the extensive vegetation beds, allowing for very little fishing pressure on the trout and a fantastic, year-round growing environment for them.  AG&F reported ½-1 inch growth rate per month.  About that time, the Bull Shoals generators were put on line. At the same time, two years of exceptionally high watershed run-offs occurred causing much of the White River’s streambed to be scoured of vegetation and aquatic insects, leaving huge schools of big trout basically 100% vulnerable to fishermen.

About that time, too, the Norfork and White tailwaters began to be extensively publicized by outdoor writers, including myself, in newspaper columns, magazines and TV shows.  The great harvest of these incredible trout began.  Most everyone took home ice boxes packed with trophy trout to their freezers. An AG&F agent was assigned to count and size the trout harvested at the Cotter Dock.  I believe he reported an excess of 1500, four- to fifteen-pound trout each month. The dock employees and guides working there were amused at the count, saying that many more catch limits were harvested each day before the agent came in to count catches in the afternoon. It was pretty common to limit out twice a day during this period.

In the mid 60’s the AG&F began to be concerned that rainbow catches were drastically dropping in sizes and numbers.  Robert Baker, the warm-water regional fishery biologist in charge of the cold water rivers, said he’d read a paper written by an eastern biologist stating that the single worst cause of the brook trout decline in the east was the introduction of ‘cannibalistic’ brown from Europe. Robert convinced the AG&F to eradicate the White and Norfork browns to save the rainbow fishery.

And so they did – by shocking, netting and tributary spawning bed destruction.  A blind eye was turned as locals shot and gigged spawning browns.  I remember one local telling me that he and his friends shot two tow sacks full of browns with shot guns in Bruce Creek in just one night. Within about three years the resident population of these wild browns, which had amounted to about 15% of the river’s year-around population, dropped to less than 1%!
However, the quality of the rainbow population continued to deteriorate - eventually resulting in a mostly put-and-take rainbow fishery of 10-12 inch stockers.  A winter-time, artificial-only regulation was tried for a time, with limited results and studies showed that within 60 days after bait-season opened, the size of the rainbows was back to a very low average.  At that point, a trophy of any species was rare, since the browns had been eradicated. Some AG&F personnel began to get the message along with lots of fishermen, especially fly fishers, that it wasn’t the browns - it was the overfishing – mostly allowed by few regulations or enforcement, deteriorating habitat for the fish plus the stocking of poor-quality rainbows. We know now, of course, that nearly every decline in US trout fisheries can be traced to human influences. In the early 50’s, when these Arkansas rivers were so prime, there were very few trout fishermen because these rivers had been bass streams and the interest in trout was not there yet. However, the number of fishers exploded over the next decades, but the needed regulations sadly lagged behind. Another adverse impact on the trout and their environment were long periods of very high water coupled with long periods of very low water. This very low water level allowed the stream to warm and the oxygen levels to plummet, putting great stress on the trout. At times, during low water, some local residents would even net or spear trout that were stranded in pools isolated from the main river.

As this decline of the Norfork and White Rivers was reaching the lowest point, I had been working on improving the design of a small box that was used in Europe to stock Salmon eggs into streams. This became the Whitlock-Vibert Box.  I petitioned the AG&F to allow several of the local Federation of Fly Fishers clubs to restock the rivers with wild brown-trout eggs.  I was informed that it would be a waste of time because trout eggs would not hatch in tailwaters. I knew from watching the previous spawning activity that eggs would definitely incubate and hatch successfully in the Norfork, White and Little Red.
After many requests, the AG&F allowed us to try test plants of trout eggs in Whitlock-Vibert boxes below Bull Shoals and Norfork dams. A biologist was appointed to observe the plantings, incubation and fry production. The eggs hatched at about an 85% rate and most of the sac fry buttoned up and entered the river.  We also planted boxes at Wildcat Shoals and Rim Shoals with excellent results at those test sites as well. After that initial reported success, the AG&F granted us permission to stock wild brown eggs if they could be certified disease free.  We found those eggs near Missoula, Montana at David Harriman’s Trout Farm.  The browns were Bitterroot River fish.
From 1980-1990 the White River Fly Fishers, North Arkansas Fly Fishers, Green Country Fly Fishers and the Arkansas Fly Fishers purchased and planted 100,000 eggs each year, divided between the White and Norfork, proportional to each river’s size and ideal shoal habitat. This project restored the phenomenal, wild, natural-spawning brown populations to both rivers!

The Little Red River below Greers Ferry Lake also received two seasons of 50,000 Bitterroot browns and 30,000+ Bitterroot brown trout fry the third year when egg planting conditions were not available due to high-water conditions when the eggs were shipped. This three-year program resulted in the incredible 100% wild brown-trout fishery the now exist in the Little Red – and the trophy-sized browns caught there. The world record Little Red brown was 16-17 years old, most likely coming from that very first planting of 50,000 eggs.

To my knowledge the Little Red has not received any other brown stocking since these three years of eggs.  The White and Norfork, however, have continued to be stocked with tame, hatchery browns, annually. I have read AG&F reports stating that there is no evidence of these hatchery browns ever reproducing in the White or Norfork. Studies show that female trout that are artificially inseminated quickly lose their natural ability to spawn successfully in the wild. The male’s don’t seem to suffer the same fate and I believe that the tame brown males are crossing with the wild, Bitterroot browns as I have seen them on redds with wild females. This would be easy to confirm by comparing the DNA of wild browns in the White and Norfork with the Little Red browns. If they are indeed interbreeding, I believe it is mperative that the hatchery stocking be stopped and browns from the Little Red be introduced into the White to help rebuild our pure strain of Bitterroot browns. This can be done by either taking brown trout eggs from the Little Red browns and hatching them in the Norfork or White were the browns now concentrate to spawn, or by transplanting 1- and 2-year old stock from the Little Red.
It appears that the AG&F allows excessive fishing harassment of the spawning Little Red browns. The spectacle is as ugly, sickening and cruel to those magnificent fish as anything I’ve ever seen. Everyone who has an interest in preserving the incredible wild browns of the Little Red should make a visit to any of the spawning shoals in October or November to witness this brutalizing carnage first hand. Not only are the browns prevented from completing their spawning and then protecting their eggs from scavengers, many are killed because of swallowed bait hooks and flies and/or by the careless manner in which they are released. The redds that do have successful spawn are often trampled and destroyed. Last year many photos and videos were taken of magnificent, dead spawners floating away below the redds. There is absolutely no reason that this should not be ended. AG&F regulations stopped a very similar and disgraceful event below Bull Shoals dam, and now those wonderful trout can peacefully reproduce. This is a proven success in Arkansas and it is hard to understand why the Little Red browns do not deserve the same protection. After all, these mature spawning browns are the only source of all the wild browns in the Little Red, and so are extremely vital to the continued health of the trout population. The three-month period of perceived economic loss, if the browns were protected, would be brief and would be significantly offset by more trophy fish available in the river for the entire rest of the year.


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Re: When the prophet speaks...
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2015, 09:14:16 PM »

A post for another night,
"You see the fish, make the cast. Tic, tic, hit him, no not a trout set!!!!!! What are you doing?"


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Re: When the prophet speaks...
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2015, 12:01:44 PM »
I can't wait to go fish the White again and rip some of those Browns off the redds! The hell with the prophet!
Who is John Galt?


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Re: When the prophet speaks...
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2015, 10:34:50 PM »
Today is a better day to reflect on this post.  I am going to go with more is less….

1) Yes I love trout fishing, I have fished both wild and tail water fish. Both fun…however, one I hope they succeed in the wild and the other well if they don't succeed it becomes a minor problem. 
 2) People view tailwater fish as life.  Fish, theoretically are here for food and enjoyment nothing else. God created them for us to eat and worship him.
3---tailwater trout support many guides,   (follow the money, follow the concerns) 

Bottom line, before you get caught up in the efforts of posting things like this look in the mirror and ask yourself two questions. 1) Am I posting this because I care about money because I am a guide?.  2)In the long run when God was creating this earth did he was thinking I hope people don't figure out the migration of brown trout. 


I love the fall because this topic gets old, until people who know what is going on start posting toads.  look back, phil posted dead brown trout.(trumpified)

Care about what truly maters in life…………its not brown trout
"You see the fish, make the cast. Tic, tic, hit him, no not a trout set!!!!!! What are you doing?"