NO! We are NOT flooding here! And YES, the fishing is good! But what is coming?
The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for controlling the flow through the White River system. Though I certainly am not an employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, in this report, I will try to explain what I perceive to be happening with the river systems in our area. I will also give some explanation as to how to fish in higher river levels. The charts I have included and most of the information can be found at the Army Corps of Engineer, Little Rock District web site found at http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Water-Levels/.
Between April 1st and May 5th, we received about 14.5 inches of rain; most of that came within the last two weeks. With that much rain, we have seen near drought conditions turn into flooding across many areas in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. That is why the US government had a series of dams built back in the 1940’s and 1950’s to help control flooding through the White River valley system of rivers. This entire region would certainly be in much worse conditions if not for the dams we now have in place.
The White River system includes four major dams: Beaver Dam near Rogers, Arkansas; Table Rock Dam near Branson, Missouri; Bull Shoals Dam near Bull Shoals, Arkansas; and Norfork Dam near Salesville, Arkansas. Norfork Dam is actually on the North Fork of the White River and is a major tributary. Two other very significant tributary rivers to the White River near us are the Black River to the east and the Buffalo River to our south. On April 30th, the Buffalo River near St. Joe, Arkansas, crested at 35 feet. Normal flow is between 5 to 10 feet. The Black Rock River at Black Rock, Arkansas, crested at 30 feet on May 1st while flood stage is anything over 14 feet. There are no flood controlling dams on the Black River or the Buffalo River.
The primary purpose of the dams here on the upper part of the White River is to control flooding down river. Obviously, the lower parts of the White River are currently flooding, but the flooding would be much more extensive without these dams in place.
Beaver Lake is designed to hold back about 8.5 vertical feet of flood water. Table Rock Lake is designed to hold about 15 vertical feet of flood water. Bull Shoals Lake is designed to hold 35 vertical feet of flood water and has a volume capacity equal to the combined volume of Beaver’s and Table Rock’s floodwater.
The charts below show the level of Bull Shoals Lake as well as the level of the White River below the dam.
The left scale of the charts indicates the elevation above sea level. The top chart indicates that as of Friday, May 12th, Bull Shoals Lake reached a level of just over 692 and is still slowly rising. The bottom chart shows that starting about noon on May 11th, the river level became fairly steady at about 458.
The normal pool level of Bull Shoals Lake during the summer is considered to be 662. The top of the dam is considered to be 695. The lake is just short of 3 feet from reaching the top of the spillway gates. The Corps of Engineers are projecting the lake to reach a level of 693.5 before it starts coming down. Let’s hope they are correct.
Two situations are possible at this point. First is that the Corps will be able to release enough water through the electric production generators to slowly lower the lake and keep the river within the banks. The second situation is that we get a lot more rain and the lake rises to 695, the top of the dam. Then the Corps will open the flood gates to release water from the lake with a flow equal to the water coming into the lake, until the lake level is stabilized. This will probably cause some amount of flooding in some places, especially around Cotter and other places farther downstream.
So what is keeping the Corps from releasing more water right now?
The Army Corps of Engineers follows a White River Water Control Plan. The key to understanding how they control the river is the river level gauge at Newport, Arkansas. Newport is something close to 150 miles downriver from Bull Shoals Dam, just below the confluence of the Black River with the White River. The chart below shows the level of the river at the gauge in Newport.
The chart on top shows that on May 6th, the river crested at just over 33 feet. And, as of May 12th, the level has dropped to about 28.5 feet. Flood stage at Newport is considered to be at 26 feet, so there is still some flooding happening there as well as downstream.
The plan specifies that the river should be managed in such a way that keeps the gauge at Newport at or below 12 feet of water from May 8 until the end of November unless the 4-lake system of Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake are above 70% of the flood storage capacity. Then the river level is to be regulated to 14 feet. As of May 12th, the 4-lake system is reported to be at 88% of the flood capacity.
What we can expect to happen in the coming days, is that as the river at Newport continues to drop, the Corps will slowly increase flows from both Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes. At some point in the coming weeks, the Newport gauge will get to 14 feet, Bull Shoals Dam will reach full flow of water coming through all 8 generators, and Norfork will be running full flow, too.
Minimum flow of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam is something close to an elevation of 452. As of May 12th, the river level is 458, so there is about 6 feet of water coming through the generators. Full generation will increase the river level about 10.5 feet above the minimum flow, or 4 to 5 feet more than the current flow level.
These are not unusual circumstances for this river system. As in past occurrences, we will probably see increasing flow rates through Bull Shoals Dam during May and consistently high flows during June, July and possibly into August. I am not as familiar with Norfork Lake and Dam, but I would expect higher flow rates down the North Fork River for a couple of months, too.
The trout in our rivers are very able to manage the high water flows. In fact, the higher water brings great amounts of food to them. We have always found strong, healthy, and bigger fish as a result of high water seasons.
The trick to catching trout will be getting your bait or lure to them. I recommend using a river rig leader system that includes a dropping sinker about 8 inches long and a leader about 30 inches to the hook. Usually a 3/16 ounce sinker is sufficient, while some will prefer a 1/8 ounce sinker to get the rig to the bottom more quickly. Live worms, plastic worms, shrimp, PowerBaits, and grubs would all be effective baits. Sinking minnow type lures will also be effective in size ranges of 1/4 to 9/16 of an ounce. Marabou jigs are great in sizes 3/32 to 1/4 ounce. Top water jerk baits can literally be a blast when a large Brown rolls over the top of your lure, then comes up out of the water trying to shake it off.
Safety on the water has to be the primary concern for all. NEVER use an anchor on high water; your boat will probably be swamped within moments. Drag chains are susceptible to risk as well. I have known of several fishermen that have gone swimming after the chain hung on a rock and they were flung into the river. I have also known of a drag chain causing a small boat to become swamped, though I have not known this to occur on our longer John boats.
Drifting into docks or overhanging trees is the other cause for river accidents. It is imperative that the motor operator concentrates his attention on the position of the boat at all times. He must always be looking downstream and prepared to move the boat a safe distance away from the bank or perhaps another boat.
Absolutely the best thing to do is hire a professional guide. The guide will not only help to keep you safe, but he also knows the best places and practices to find the best fish. For those that do not fish very often, a fishing guide can ensure your success of catching. For those that are more experienced, let a guide control the boat and motor while you concentrate on the catching.
We are offering a 10% discount off our guided fishing rates to anyone who does not normally fish with a guide on this river until Bull Shoals Lake returns to its normal power pool level and flood waters are no longer being consistently released. Be sure to ask for your “high water guided trip discount” when you call to make a reservation.
So, no, we are not flooded and if things go according to plan, we won’t be. The water level will be high throughout the summer, but the fishing quality should be good. Give us a call to schedule your visit to the White Hole Resort and let us arrange a guided fishing trip worth remembering.