Bull Shoals Dam, which fuels Arkansas’ world-famous White River trout fishery, contains eight turbines, and at any given time, zero turbines, all eight, or any number in-between might be running for power generation. The result is a river that can fluctuate several feet and vary enormously in character from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour.
Seldom changing is that fact that excellent fishing opportunities for rainbow and brown trout exist, and during late winter and early spring, you normally can do very well by casting Rebel Minnows.
Tailwaters typically change far less in temperature though the seasons than do free-flowing rivers, so the trout will readily feed on “moving baits” like Rebel Minnows even when the air temperature is quite cold. The fish also relate well to minnow imitations this time of year because they feed extensively on shiners, sculpins and other fish forage with other food sources being less available.
The same general minnow casting strategies work for a broad range of water conditions. You just have to vary the size of minnow you throw and pick your areas based on the flow.
If the water is “off” with only the prescribed minimum flow coming through the dam, a TD47 Tracdown Ghost Minnow or TD50 Tracdown Minnow, both about 2 ½ inches long, work wonderfully. Brown trout, especially bigger ones, tend to lay low under these conditions, so stocker rainbows typically prevail. Fish are apt to be stacked up in any deep area where you find current.
Given moderate flows, which on the White River means one to three generators running, a 3-½ inch TD10 becomes a better tool. Catch numbers tend to go down a bit with the larger minnow, but you’re more likely to have larger rainbows and some quality browns in the mix. The fish move to the tops of current-swept gravel bars in higher water and hold along the edges of eddies where they can ambush food in the current.
Heavier flows call for bigger baits, and casts must be more precise. Again, catch numbers tend to go down, but high flows provide the best chance to catch a really big brown trout on a minnow lure. Because no larger Rebel Minnow is a sinker, it’s necessary to add a couple of split shot to the line or lead strips to the belly of the lure to get down to the fish in the stronger water. Well defined eddies behind downed trees, within cut banks and behind structures such as jetties or docks become extra important with high flows.
At any level and with any Rebel Minnow, vary your presentations until you figure out how the fish want the lure moving that day.