For the serious die-hard fly fishing fan winter means BIG brown trout from November through February. The crowds are gone during this time as thanksgiving weekend marks the end of the season for most fishers. But for some it is just the start. There are no crowds and boat traffic is at a minimal during this time. January in particular is quiet and quite easy to find a stretch of water that no one else is fishing. Yes it can be cold and if the wind isn’t blowing and the sun is shining it’s also a fine time to sight fish for either brown trout or rainbows. Fast flowing shoal (riffle) water is the place to be and preferably in shallow gravel although the slower water can be productive further down stream at this time of year. I prefer the upper end of the river for two reasons. It is close to the house and the spawn has moved upstream and I have followed it since October and the month of January puts this action in the first 6 miles of river below the dam. Fishing this water with various type of eggs on long leader is highly productive sight fishing to big fish. Midges of various types including the dry version can also be very productive on rainbows at this time.
At this time of year many anglers are looking to February and the opening day of the catch and release area by the dam. Since November first this one mile area has been shut down to protect the spawning fish. This area is extend an extra quarter of a mile down to the State Park trout dock break water. On February 1st this coming friday at midnight this area will re-open to angling. This area is not only a catch and release area but some special regulations apply here. This area along with the the other C&R area Rim Shoals are the most patroled areas on the river by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AG&F) officers. Remember to use single barbless hooks with out droppers. However there does exist a particular quirk for this area by the dam in that a barbless treble hook can be used. It’s a crazy regulation for most of us as fly anglers and I won’t go into it here. Opening day at the dam is often very crowded wether generation occurs or not. Lots of wade anglers if there is no generation and lots of boats if there is generation.
Speaking of generation I will make an educated forecast for the fishing and generation based on 13 years of experience. The lake level is at 652.03 ft above mean sea level. Normal elevation is 654.00 feet. This past January has been cold and there hasn’t been much generation other than peak power demand early am and late P.M which allows for plenty of wading time. The surface temp of the lake is 45.4 f and apparently is consistently this temperature up to 80 feet down. The reason I bring this up is for the angler wondering if there is going to be a shad kill this year. The magic temperature for the shad kill seems to be around 42 f so based on this information along with the opinions of other guides on both the river and lake it dosn’t look good this year for a shad kill due to the temps and due to the generation pattern of the last few weeks. Both the lake temps and heavy generation need to happen for a good shad kill. I would be surprised if there was such an event this year unless we get some heavy rains. However if we do happen to get some heavy generation a few could come through the dam an this is a prediction I hope I get wrong as the fish could really use this protein.
When fishing heavy generation this winter shad patterns will still work well as they always do as will peach or apricot egg patterns. On low or no generation times eggs, scud (trout crack), sow bugs, midges, san juan worms and soft hackles are the norm. Other flies will also work as will variations of the above mentioned flies. Stealth, long leaders, 6x or 7x cfc tippet and no or small indicators. White palsa indicators are the norm however I often use grey McFly foam which believe it or not is easier to see and indicates a more subtle take but which ever type of indicator you use make your cast so that it does not splash the water and spook the fish. The C&R area by the dam is a much harder spot to fish than most of the other areas of the river.
Jim (Jimmy T.) Traylor