By and large, southern fly fishers are tailwater fishers. In a region with few spring fed streams, and virtually no glacier or snow melt, it takes a dam to create water conditions that help trout to thrive. Hydroelectric power has been a boon to many areas, providing abundant and inexpensive power, while producing cold, clear, oxygenated water with many food sources. Hard to believe they weren’t built solely for the benefit of we trout bums.
I wanted to share two books with you that will increase your pleasure of fishing tailwaters in general, and southern tailwaters in particular. The first is “Ozark Trout Tales” by Steve Wright. I’ve read this one over and over, having originally stumbled on an autographed copy at Dale Fulton’s Blue Ribbon Fly Shop near Mountain Home, Arkansas. Wright’s book, written in a flowing, easy to read style, sets the stage by providing a history of fishing on the White River System, and discussing the impact of the dams built for hydroelectric power. Starting with Beaver (one of my favorite tailwaters) and continuing downstream through Table Rock, Bull Shoals, North Fork, and finally the Little Red, the author takes us on a survey of key spots for trout fishing in the Ozarks.
More than a book for your favorite reading chair, Wright has given us a stream side companion, a book that will spend as much time in your vehicle as on your coffee table. Each destination is treated with care, including river access details, local history, and attractions. While purists (guilty) may recoil at the idea of fishing with worms or live sculpin, these are included, as are key fly patterns for each area. This book is a treasure for the beginner and seasoned Ozark angler, alike.
Wright’s eye for unique individuals in the region adds a special flavor to the book with insights into fishing methods, the character of the river, and the impact on the region of these “man-made” trout streams. An example is Charlie Vincent, a transplant from the high plains of western Kansas, who has perfected the art of luring big trout with nightcrawler in the White River near Branson, Missouri.
If you think you know everything about trout fishing in the Ozarks, this book will gently prove you wrong, while encouraging you to revisit favorite spots and try new ones. While the book is, sadly, out of print, an online search revealed several sources of used copies in good condition.
A newer book, “50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish” seeks to provide national coverage of tailwater fishing opportunities, and (you’ve been warned) may create serious wanderlust, mapping, and planning activities for the more adventuresome. Seriously, the book is a virtual national compendium of tail water fishing opportunities, and provides great detail for each fishery it covers, from fishing methods to guides to lodging and food. Generally written by locals, and curated by Terry and Wendy Gunn, this book takes a bit of a chance with such a wide range of streams, and pulls it off well.
Fittingly, a section on our beloved south is included, with specific coverage of Ozark streams including the North Fork, White, and Little Red. On those streams in particular I was able to vouch for the integrity of the included material. I also noted that the section on Tennessee’s Caney Fork River was well done, including information about access to the river from the Interstate 40 westbound rest area near Lebanon.
“50 Best” is a great way to become acquainted with great fishing opportunities across our great land, and is an excellent resource for both travelers who look for local fishing opportunities, and those seeking to plan an expedition solely for fishing one or more of these great locations. I’ve already dog-eared page 7, on the San Juan River in New Mexico. Stay tuned.
I hope you will find time to enjoy one or both of these books on a rainy or snowy day, and then take them afield with you. Tight Lines!