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Float trips, dams, and tailwater trout: An environmental history of the White River of northern Arkansas, 1870-2004

Helmer, Joel William
Scope and Method of Study: This study describes the environmental and cultural impacts of the four United States Army Corps of Engineer dams built on Arkansas' White River. Focusing especially on the establishment of the tailwater trout fisheries created below these bottom-release dams, the study examines how management of the dams and trout fisheries evolved over time as sport fishing increased in economic and recreational importance. Information for this study was collected from various historical documents, personal interviews, government reports, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Trout Program archives.
Findings and Conclusions: Beginning in about 1870 and continuing into the 1930s the White River was a popular warm-water sport fishery and float fishing destination that assisted in the development of Ozark tourism. With the completion of Norfork Dam in 1944, and continuing with the completion of Bull Shoals, Greers Ferry, and Beaver dams, the river became a series of large reservoirs and cold-water tailwaters. Exotic trout stocked into these tailwaters created a lucrative commercial trout angling industry that eventually eclipsed in value the dams authorized purposes of flood control and hydropower production. These tailwater trout fisheries eventually became world renowned among trout anglers, and important to the local and state economy. Each tailwater now supports a distinct linear trout angling region delineated by numerous resorts, outfitters, and fly-fishing shops in a region formerly devoid of trout. Since no water storage was allocated for recreation, state fisheries managers, angling interests, and the federal agencies responsible for hydropower production and flood control struggle to balance the needs of the downstream fishery and recreation with the Congressionally authorized purposes, especially in relation to the amount of instream flow.