The effect of Minimum Flow on Wade Fishing the White & Norfork Rivers
It's been talked about for a long time. Everyone knew it would be great for increasing the oxygen levels to promote a healthier fishery. The one thing that was right in front of most people was just how it would effect the way you could fish the river and how the people around you would resolve to fish it. The best way to understand the point of this article is to separate it into two categories; wade fishing & river boat fishing.
Wade Fishing: For the most part, it was the wade fishers that were leading the charge to have the AGFC and the Army Core of Engineers get behind the funding it would take to install the equipment necessary for minimum flow. While the battle for funding continued over many years, the wade fishers were blind to the way minimum flow would alter the places they would be able to fish after the implementation of minimum flow. Once it looked as if minimum flow would become a reality it was said the water levels would increase 5-6 inches to the normal zero generation. Zero generation provided multiple places for the wade fisher and the thought of just 5-6 inches of water couldn't make that much difference. Could it? Well this writer was one of the few who continued to explain that 5-6 inches of water would change the river tremendously. The Core of Engineers are still trying to dial in exactly how much water will become the norm for minimum flow. But the generation increase that we have seen on these rivers thus far is closer to an additional 8-9 inches of water. This has changed wade fishing a great deal. All of the Shoals have changed and many of those "favorite spots" are gone.
This effects the elderly and physically challenged the most due to the increase of depth of the water and the swiftness that comes with it. Many of the access points that used to provide numerous "easy" wading opportunities are no longer locations with multiple opportunities to find a spot and wad in. Now, there are still wadable opportunities. But, with the high traffic seen at many of these public access points, finding those few wading spots gobbled up and often stacked full of fishers has become the norm.
Boat Fishing: One of the positives low water had for the wade fishers was the depth of the water in most of the shoals was too little for most boats to motor up river. This provided a more relaxed opportunity and kept the fish holding in their normal wade fishing locations. Well, that's all gone. While the wade fishers were pushing for minimum flow, the boat fisherman were just sitting back and smiling. Due to the minimum flow, boats can motor through almost every shoal now and those days of peaceful fishing to holding fish is gone. As a matter of fact, there has been a significant increase in local guides using river-boats purchasing jet motors for their boats. Jet motors need much less water to run than the conventional outboard motors. Now the guides and those owning river-boats realize they can fly through the shoals easily with a jet motor now thanks to the introduction of minimum flow.
Moving forward, the wade fisher needs to regroup and accept the fact that you can't get one thing without the other. Minimum Flow and highly oxygenated water is great, but at the cost of losing all of their normal wading spots and the solitude that came from limited river boat access. I am one of those wade fishers who is effected by this. But thankfully, I am still mobile enough to manage the increase of water and current necessary to find new fishing spots. My advice is to take a deep breath and talk with your local fly shop. Obtain as much information as you can from the fly shop, purchase a white river map, and begin the process of locating those spots in the rivers that are still wadable. The only saving grace in this scenario is minimum flow will continue to improve the health of the White & Norfork Rivers for generations.
- story by Mick Spaulding, N2flyfishing.com