Frigid weather sets the stage for world-class fishing in Arkansas

All photos: Jeff Rose

One of the best times of the year to fish in Arkansas has arrived and it is most commonly referred to by an appropriately ominous name – The Shad Kill.

Each winter, a special set of circumstances sets the stage for an incredible opportunity for trout fishing in Arkansas, especially on the Norfork and White rivers. The Shad Kill refers to a natural phenomenon, in which tiny fish of the shad variety die due to frigid weather and other unfavorable conditions. The shad sink in Bull Shoals Lake and are pulled through the turbines of the dam before being fed into ensuing river.

The Shad Kill at the junction of the Bull Shoals dam and White River is particularly known for its out of this world fishing. After the shad are pulled through Bull Shoals dam and into the White River, an intense variety of brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout await. Having spent their energy either surviving the cold weather or spawning, these trout are hungry and ready to gorge themselves on a fresh supply of shad. This makes for all but perfect conditions for some high quality fly fishing.

Even though we’ve had a more mild winter here in Arkansas, don’t let that soften your supply of thick layers to prepare you for the colder weather. Fishing in February is exciting, but only if you properly layer yourself with thermal tops and bottoms, wool socks, and waterproof waders for those looking to venture into the river. Another “must-do” preparation step is to get your fishing license with the trout permit, which can be purchased for under $20 at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website with ease. After you’ve properly prepared yourself with rod and reel, layered clothing, and a fishing license, you are set for some of the best fishing of the year.

The best time to fish is in the early morning, before the trout are spooked by other fisher friends. Also, as the sun rises on a day without clouds, the water becomes much more clear, making it easier for fish to spot you and your intentions to take them away from their friends and family. Sunset is also prime time for fishing.

That being said, during shad kill season (which typically runs from February to early April), the main thing you want to look at is the Bull Shoals dam turbine activity and White River water levels. The more water being released through the dam, the more shad enter the White River, the more trout get excited, and the better the fishing. The water levels for all the dammed rivers in Arkansas can be found at the state’s Army Corps of Engineers site.

The more experienced you are in fishing, the more you’ll be able to really lean into the opportunity at hand. That being, this time of year is great for the casual enthusiast or simply interested novice to have a great time. If you’re looking for an out of this world experience, treat yourself to a fly fishing guide. Not only do fly fishing guides put you right on top of the fish and teach you how to catch them, they’re the most chill, kind, and fun guys to hang out with in general. For those looking to book a good time with a guide, visit to get hooked up with some of the best in the business.

Sometimes the winter weather and early dark hours make outdoor exploration seem almost impossible, but opportunities like fishing the many rivers throughout the state argue otherwise. Mother Nature never rests and new chances to explore the outdoors open up with every change of the season. Don’t miss out on some world-class fishing in Arkansas during the later months of winter. It’s a wonderful way to connect into nature’s cycle, catch some fish, and breath in your share of re-invigoratingly fresh air.

For more information on sustainable fishing trout in Arkansas, visit the Arkansas chapter of Trout Unlimited.

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Devin O’Dea (@devinthe_____) is an outdoor adventurer, yogi, and the co-owner of Fayetteville-based outdoor culture company, Fayettechill.

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit