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The Different Attitudes of White River Basin Trout
Understanding the variations in how these fish fight
It would be simple to assume that pretty much all of the fish on the White River, Norfork Tailwater and Lake Taneycomo fight the same way –especially with respect to the rainbows. The fact of the matter is that once a trout is stocked, they must immediately adapt to prevailing flow conditions. If the water is high during induction, the fish experience a “baptism by fire” because they must immediately find a spot out of the current where they will not become prey for a resident lunker. During lower water conditions, freshly stocked trout have more time to adapt to their new surroundings. The fish that survive the first few weeks of river life are true products of their environment, and they will begin to display unique characteristics based on the stretch of river they inhabit.
For years, I have been observing the behaviors of both rainbow and brown trout, and there is definitely a difference in how fish fight from one spot to another. The areas with lighter flows, adequate in-stream structure and really good habitat are where the trout seem to be lazier overall, even though they may be bigger. If a fish is forced to fight strong current the majority of the time, they will inevitably be lean and strong. In general, the trout of the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo each act differently after they are hooked, and this is a direct reflection of the circumstances the fish encounters throughout their life.
The White River
Out of the three Ozark tailwaters that I frequently fish, the trout on the White are by far the strongest. Even though there is really good habitat in certain areas, every fish in the river is exposed heavy flows at some point or another. A few of the browns and rainbows that get really big are quite fat, but in general, the trout on the White River are muscular and sleek specimens. Browns and rainbows each have their own battle strategies. ‘Bows will give you everything right away, but they do not have near the stamina or brute power of a brown. Both species are capable of long runs and spectacular aerial displays.
The resident fish that live in the catch and release area below Bull Shoals Dam are both fat and strong. There is not a lot of structure in this zone, but the sheer volume of food more than makes up for this shortcoming. The trout that spend their time in the “Top Pool” (the first ¼ mile below the dam) are even stronger fighters than their counterparts below the shoal. The rainbows on the entire White tend to run straight away after feeling the hook, as opposed to running upstream or downstream. Even a 12-incher will give you a run for your money on this river.
If the water remains low for long periods of time, White River trout will lose some of their longevity with respect to how long they will fight hard, but their initial reaction is always intense. The browns up and down the river go absolutely wild when they are hooked, but after their initial fury, they dig in for the long haul. There are very few places in the world where the trout fight as hard as they do on the White.
The Norfork Tailwater
It is hard to imagine just how much diverse water can be found on the short, 4.8-mile long Norfork Tailwater, unless you get the chance to see it for yourself. If there was a video game where anglers could design their own trout stream, my version would probably resemble the Norfork during low water every time. The reason that the Norfork is so ‘perfect’ is also why the fish here tend to fight relatively weakly. There is so much food easily accessible that the trout do not have to expend much energy to feed, and there are plenty of ledges that provide hydraulic-relief for thousands of fish. The trout on the Norfork are the epitome of lazy.
I would never want to give the impression that the fish on the Norfork lack enthusiasm. Rather, they just do not have the muscle to fight for really long periods or to make frequent, dramatic runs. Of course, the trout on the Norfork are bigger, on average, than what is found on other Ozark trout fisheries, so anglers are still often treated to a battle. Do not expect really long runs here, and the browns on the Norfork really like to pull towards the bottom of the river. Because of strong current and a lack of structure, the “Top Pool” below Norfork Dam is where the strongest fish are found.
Upper Lake Taneycomo
The water directly below Table Rock Dam is flat and fairly plain. Even though there are not a lot of big rocks and submerged trees in this section, there are plenty of eddies along both banks where the trout can feed with minimal effort during high water. There is plenty of food to be found on upper Taneycomo, so the fish here get very fat in a short amount of time.
Because of the unique dynamics at play on Lake Taneycomo, the rainbows in the upper end are extremely spirited fighters. A 14-incher can take five minutes to land and an 18-incher is capable of getting into the backing on the first run. Unlike on the White, where the ‘bows tend to take off across the current, the fish on Taneycomo like to fly upstream and downstream. This adds an exciting element to an already thrilling encounter. The browns fight hard here, as well, but the energy of the rainbows is remarkable.
I would be remiss if I did not mention how important it is to fight and land every trout hooked as quickly as possible. Each time you turn a big fish successfully reduces the fight time significantly. There truly is an art to efficiently battling large trout.
Anglers who fish the White River, Norfork Tailwater and Lake Taneycomo will be treated to very strong fish with plenty of attitude, but each fishery’s trout act a little differently when they are hooked. Even though the majority of fish caught will be hatchery rainbows, the extreme conditions of these waterways quickly turns these “truck” trout into worthy adversaries –a stocker will act wild within weeks of being introduced. This can be quite the surprise for those expecting little resistance from these fish.