Nearly all fly fishers on the White River system share the same hopeful mantra: Please bring low water.
Yet, since February the Corps of Engineers has pumped billions of gallons of water under Bull Shoals and Norfork dams to draw down the lake levels and prevent downstream flooding on the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. Those rivers that look like gravel-strewn streams at low flows are raging, dangerous floodwaters at high flow levels.
As usual, the impact on fly fishing access has been significant. Without adequate access for wade fishing, fly anglers are stuck in boats flinging streamers, slinging big hoppers and flopping nymph rigs. While many fly fishers own boats or hire guides who do, others without water craft or extra money for guided trips simply avoid the White River entirely. That is a sad, unnecessary consequence of poor water management by the Corps of Engineers.
If the Corps needed to reduce water levels in Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes, they could accomplish that goal while providing weekly windows for low water angling access. For example, it takes nearly 48 hours to reduce Bull Shoals Lake by about 1 foot at 16,000 cubic feet per second outflow. That information is readily available on the Southwest Power Administration website.
Therefore, if the Corps reduced the flow each Saturday and Sunday from Bull Shoals Dam to provide wade fishing water, below 1,500 cubic feet per second outflow, the impact on the lake level reduction would clearly be minimal. Even in the worst flood scenarios, a one-foot lake level drop usually is insignificant. In years with terrible flooding, anglers understand the need to reduce the lake level for protecting life and property.
Such a common-sense approach to water management would achieve two goals. First, it would allow the Corps to continue reducing lake levels to prevent flooding. Second, anglers currently deterred by high water flows and no wade fishing access will flock to the White River to catch fish during low later weekends.
The current approach to lake level reduction must change for the billion-dollar trout fishing industry, especially fly fishing guides and outfitters, to continue growing into the 21st century.