Trout that cruise year-round in the clear water of the White River below Beaver Dam get extra company come springtime.
From late February into May, walleye and white bass migrate up the stream from Table Rock Lake to spawn. That gives anglers a chance to catch a White River trifecta -- trout, walleye and white bass. It's a short-lived fishing opportunity that attracts platoons of anglers.
Reports of walleye stacked thick in the river, also called the Beaver tailwater, stoked the fishing fever of three local anglers. Was the story true or just an exaggeration that ripens on the fishing grapevine? The trio headed for the river April 15 to find out.
Walleye become a most sought-after fish in March and April in the clear tailwater stream. The opportunity to catch rainbow trout and white bass, to boot, had Pat Bodishbaugh and Jason Smith, both of Fayetteville, excited about a day on the water. It didn't matter that rain was pouring when they arrived.
"Fine day to fish," laughed Smith over the din of big, heavy raindrops on the roof of his pickup. The game plan was a float trip from the Beaver Dam access to Bertrand access 3 miles downstream.
Rain ended by the time they launched their kayaks at the boat ramp 150 yards downstream from the big concrete dam. A modest amount of water being released from one spillway gate created a gentle 1 mph current.
It only took a few paddle strokes to realize the stories of walleye stacked like firewood in the tailwater were true.
"I just went over about 15 walleye," Bodishbaugh reported almost immediately after launching. "There's walleye all over the place."
They were easy to see close to the bottom in the aquarium-clear water. Pods with dozens of walleye, big ones, were right under their kayaks. Getting them to bite was another story.
Now and then a keeper-sized walleye followed a lure, but wouldn't take it. At one point, a walleye weighing maybe 4 pounds followed a wiggling Flicker Shad crank bait through the water with its nose a millimeter from the back hook.
"I'm looking at those walleye, and they're looking at me," Smith noted from the seat of his kayak. Walleye must be 18 inches or longer to keep below Beaver Dam. The daily limit is four.
That's as close as any of the three got all day to catching a walleye.
Trout were more cooperative.
Mepps spinners and small jigs coaxed a handful of rainbow trout to the hook. At one deep pool, a 16-inch rainbow nabbed a 3-inch swim bait and leaped from the water three times like a Razorback gymnast. But that lure was meant for a walleye. The trio hoped for white bass to round out their trifecta, but not a single white bass was seen.
Close to noon, kayaks were beached for lunch on a gravel bar near the Parker Bend fishing access. There the anglers met perhaps the happiest man on the river that day. Alan Broccard of Huntsville steered his flat bottom boat ashore next to the kayaks.
"Hey, would you guys do me a favor and take a picture of a fish I caught?" he asked. From his boat's livewell Broccard lifted a beautiful 21-inch rainbow trout, one of about 80 trout he'd caught and it wasn't even noon.
Broccard let the trophy rainbow go, but he wasn't done. Next he hoisted a 19-inch walleye for another photo. He released that walleye back into his livewell for a future fish dinner.
Broccard was having a field day casting small brown and orange White River Zig Jigs.
"This is the best day I've ever had here," the fisherman testified.
Broccard shared the fishing joy by giving us each a couple of jigs. They worked, all right, and resulted in more trout tugging at the end of a fishing line. Yet it was walleye that stole the show, even though they wouldn't bite.
"I've never seen so many walleye," Bodishbaugh said when the trip ended at Bertrand access midafternoon.
Nary a walleye bit a hook, but the anglers saw with their own wide eyes that the glowing walleye stories were true indeed.
Here are the Arkansas state records for walleye, white bass and rainbow trout, the trifecta of species available during spring in the Beaver tailwater:
• Walleye: 22 pounds, 11 ounces, caught at Greers Ferry Lake, March 12, 1882.
• White bass: 5 pounds, 6 ounces, caught at Mississippi River, Oct. 27, 2005.
• Rainbow trout: 19 pounds, 1 ounce, caught at White River below Bull Shoals Dam, March 14, 1981.
Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission