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Trout Fishing, State Park Grew Together

Article follows the photos:
  • Bull Shoals-White River State Park

  • A caught rainbow trout at Bull Shoals-White River State Park

  • Bull Shoals-White River State Park

February 12, 2002

Trout Fishing, State Park Grew Together
By Jay Harrod
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Arkansas's seventh state park, Bull Shoals-White River, is located near Mountain Home on the scenic banks of one of the nation's premier trout-fishing streams. This fisherman's haven provides 105 riverside campsites, restrooms and showers, a dock offering rental motorboats, pavilions, a playground, a picnic area overlooking the lake and hiking trails. For additional information, call (870) 431-5521, or visit

In the late 1950s, trout fishing was new to Arkansas. Recently built dams, like the one holding back waters at Bull Shoals, had -- for the first time -- created water in The Natural State cold enough to support fish native to northern streams.

When Bull Shoals Dam was completed in 1951, it was the fifth largest concrete structure in the nation and retained more than 45,000 surface acres of water. Naturally, the creation of the lake drastically changed the land but so did the cold waters that emerged from the massive dam.

Stewart Carlton, interpreter at Bull Shoals-White River State Park, said the ecology of the river changed as well. "It went from a warm-water, free-flowing stream to a cold-water stream. It basically destroyed the local fishery. To make amends with the local people, the federal government agreed to stock the Norfork River [which was dammed, creating nearby Lake Norfork in 1945] and the White River with trout. It was done as an experiment to see if trout could survive in the cold tailwaters."

Within a year or two, Carlton said it became obvious the experiment would work. "Not only was it going to work, but it was going to be phenomenal. The trout were doing excellent."

Almost immediately, the novelty of trout and the newly formed lakes began drawing outdoor enthusiasts to the area. Catering to the needs of these individuals were local businessmen such as Forrest Wood, who'd fished the White for smallmouth before the dam. Wood, who founded Ranger Boats based in Flippin, Arkansas, actually had a hand in constructing the dam. At the age of 18, he worked in demolition and excavation at the site for two years.

After the completion of the dam, Wood worked for a man providing guide services to visiting fishermen on the White River and Bull Shoals Lake. By the early '60s, Wood and his wife, Nina, had purchased several 20-foot john boats and started their own guide service on the lake and White River as well as on the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek.

Like today, the anglers who paid Wood caught an abundance of warm-water species in the lake, but it was the trout that gained national notoriety. "Oh it caught on," Wood said. "There were already people coming to the White River floating for smallmouth bass, and those customers kept coming to fish the lake for smallmouth bass. But some of them gradually shifted over to trout."

While the trout converted many old timers, cold-water fish hooked newcomers as well. "They learned about the trout because people like me would take outdoor writers trout fishing and they'd write about it and more people would come and fish," Wood said, adding that several television shows in the '60s also featured the river's trout fishing.

"Bull Shoals State Park would not be nearly as busy as it is if not for the trout fishing," Wood continued. "The trout fishing is the life-blood of the tourism industry in north Arkansas. The warm water fishing is important, but it can't hold a candle to the trout fishery because there are very few places where there is a cold-water fishery as good as the White River."

Bull Shoals-White River State Park now occupies 645 acres. Like many of the state's other parks, the site was adopted into the system shortly after the creation of the lake. Before becoming a state park in 1955, the property was managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which now leases the land to the state.

Unlike other parks, though, the state inherited very little as far as facilities from the Corps. In 1955, the park consisted of a cleared field for camping and a light pole. "A single light pole that all the campers had the option of running an extension cord to," Carlton said. "They could then plug in to it and get power."

Most of the park's major improvements were made during and after the mid-1970s. And although the park today often serves those enjoying the lake, exploring nearby towns and shops, or using the site as a base camp for Ozark Mountain adventures, there's still one thing no one should ever forget when visiting Bull Shoals-White River State Park...a fishing pole. Because according to Carlton, "you don't want to miss the trout fishing on the White River."


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"