River Rigging for High-Water Trout on the White RiverWinter is an outstanding time to catch big trout from the White River, and high water normally lends itself to casting lures like the Rebel Tracdown Minnows that we would be using.
by Jeff Samsel
The flooded signs at the Wildcat Shoals access made it immediately clear that this trip to Arkansas’ White River would be unlike any other I had experienced. With all eight turbines at Bull Shoals Dam running around the clock and 10 floodgates open, the river was rocking, to say the least.
Winter is an outstanding time to catch big trout from the White River, and high water normally lends itself to casting lures like the Rebel Tracdown Minnows that we would be using. When you’re talking about floodwaters, though, the fish tend to hold tight to the bottom in any eddy they can find, and they won’t move very far to feed. Even with sinking lures, traditional casting strategies simply don’t get the lures down enough in the strong current.
Guides on this highly dynamic tailwater must continually adjust for conditions, and long-time guide Donald Cranor figured out exactly how to cope with the excessive water. For three days our group drifted over gravel bars and along the edges of grasslines and pulled Tracdown Minnows on “river rigs,” which kept the lures swimming just off the bottom and among the fish.
“That’s where the trout are when the water is like this, so that’s where you want your lure,” Cranor said.
A river rig is essentially a three-way rig, pegged with a 3/8-ounce bell sinker. White River guides routinely use this rig to drift with bait, but Cranor proved that it also works exceptionally well for delivering a minnow-style lure just off the bottom. Guides use an Albright knot to attach a leader to the main line so one end drops about a foot to the weight, and the other end, which is about 3 feet long, leads to the bait or lure. A small three-way swivel and two sections of leader could also be used.
We had excellent success with 2 ½- and 3 ½-inch Tracdown Minnows, including slender-profiled Tracdown Ghost Minnows, mostly in trout color patterns and in blue back/orange belly.
The TD47 Tracdown Ghost Minnow comes with barbless hooks, so it was the main tool we used for fishing a highly productive special regulations area, where only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. A good strategy, if an angler wants to spend some time in the special regs area and some time in general waters, is to have two rods set up with river rigs and a barbless Tracdown Ghost Minnow on one and a regular Tracdown Minnow on the other.
Cranor suggests a simple presentation for dragging a minnow lure on a river rig. “You can work it a little with tugs, just to make the lure flash, but often the best thing to do is just hold the rod still let the lure do the work,” he said.
As the White River gradually settles, casting the same Tracdown Minnows to the shore and working them with jerks and pauses will be extremely effective for brown and rainbow trout.
The Bull Shoals tailwater offers approximately 100 miles of trout water and year ’round action, with two distinctive trout fisheries. Rainbows are managed as a put-and-take fishery, with year-round stockings of nearly 1.5 million fish annually.
Brown trout enjoy excellent reproduction, and the population is managed as a trophy fishery. The daily limit is one fish, with a minimum size of 24 inches, and anglers mostly release trophy browns that would be legal to keep. Spawning areas are also protected with special regulations, including a total seasonal closure of the most important spawning area, immediately below Bull Shoals Dam.
Fishing with minnow-style lures produces excellent numbers of brown trout measuring from the mid-teens to low 20s, and any fish that grabs a lure in the White River could turn out to be a brown trout that weighs 10 or 20 pounds (or much larger).