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DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Honoring history

DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Honoring history

Angling on the Tailwaters of the White River

March 31st, 2013 by Brandon Butler, columnist, in News

Brandon Butler nets a 15-pound brown trout below Bull Shoals Dam. 

Have you read the book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein? If not, I suggest you take a peek at this classic.

No matter your age, the moral of the story, giving until you have nothing left to give, and then figuring out how to give even more, is a powerful lesson. The White River reminds me of The Giving Tree.

The White River originates in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. The river flows north into Missouri through Branson before turning back south into Arkansas, where it remains until its confluence with the mighty Mississippi near Rosedale, Miss. In total, the White River flows 722 miles.

For millennia, the river flowed free through the hills before flattening out in the Delta. That all changed in 1913 when Powersite Dam was constructed near Forsyth, Mo. The resulting Lake Taneycomo was a big, broad warm-water recreation spot. Tourists were pleased.

The White River had changed. She gave us a lake to fish and ski.

Then more dams came: Beaver, Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Norfork and Sequoyah. And the White, she changed a little more each time as she gave more and more of herself to accommodate the desires of mankind.

Bull Shoals Dam was completed in 1951 and Table Rock Dam in 1958. The competition of these two dams created nearly 100,000 acres of reservoir. And what magnificent reservoirs both Bull Shoals and Table Rock are. The dams also created cold-water fisheries for trout.

Table Rock Dam changed Lake Taneycomo into essentially a tailwater river. It flows 22 miles until it reaches Powersite Dam. Since it is enclosed at both ends, Taneycomo is called a lake. Don't let the name fool you. It's one of the best stretches of trout river in the country.

The water level in Taneycomo, as in all tailwaters, depends on how much water is being generated by the dam. The water right below Table Rock Dam is generally shallow enough to wade, and is heavily fly-fished. Down the lake, the water is deep and slow. The deep slow water allows trout to grow to enormous sizes. Many believe the next world-record brown trout is swimming in Taneycomo. Fishermen look forward each year to the brown-trout migration, when the river's largest trout head to the dam to spawn.

The White River below Bull Shoals Dam needs no introduction in trout-fishing circles. The legendary stretch of river from the dam down to Cotter is easily one of the most recognized trout destinations in the world. It's not the most astute, not the typical tweed-jacket trout river of the west. The white is where fly anglers enjoy a fried rainbow trout shore lunch with hushpuppies and blackberry cobbler. The browns go back, people.

From for those looking for a family fishing vacation, or for those hunting a trout trip of the most serious nature, the White River is mid-America's place to find it. Yet, less than a century ago, she was just a little mountain river flowing free.

It's hard to fathom how the White River changed from a warm-water smallmouth and catfish river into some of the country's most beautiful reservoirs and stretches of trout stream. But I'd say the White River has given and given and given to us. What we owe in return is respect and protection. Our natural resources are our greatest gift. They give and we take. We need to give back. Let's thank nature by working to protect and improve her.

See you down the trail ...

Accompanying photo: 15-pound brown trout

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at