“The big ones should bite today!” Donald Cranor said as he launched his boat for a day of January trout fishing on Arkansas’ White River.

Cranor knows. A long-time guide on the White and Norfork rivers who specializes in helping clients catch big brown trout, he understands the big fish’s foraging habits and the conditions that affect their behavior on these rivers.

Cranor likes late winter for trophy trout because the big fish key almost exclusively on fish forage, making their locations and behavior extra predictable. We also had very dark skies, which translates into extra aggressive brown trout, plus a strong flow from Bull Shoals Dam, which is the best condition for throwing big minnow baits like Rattlin’ Rogues.

As I’ve consistently found to be the case, Cranor was correct. Fishing nothing other than Rogues, we caught more than a dozen browns of 18 inches or larger that day, including two legitimate big trout, each of more them 25 inches in length. We also caught and released a couple dozen stocker rainbows.

The following day, with about half as much water flowing through the dam, we downsized our lures, mostly fishing Rebel Tracdown Minnows, and caught at least twice as many trout, but with far more rainbows in the mix. We still caught several browns from about 14 to 20 inches (trophies on most rivers), but no really big ones by White River standards.

The two days nicely represented the two great faces of the Bull Shoals tailwater fishery, which begins immediately downstream of the Bull Shoals Dam in north-central Arkansas and extends approximately 100 miles.

Most White River anglers seek (and often find) fast action from rainbows, whether to catch and release or for a limit to take home. The river gets stocked with more than 1 million rainbows each year. Stockings are spread through the year and throughout the tailwater, so many runs stay loaded with rainbow trout.

Other anglers focus on the river’s outstanding population of big brown trout, most of which are wild fish. The White River offers plentiful forage and excellent habitat to produce and sustain good numbers of quality brown trout, and the fish have the opportunity to grow large because the White operates as a virtual catch-and-release fishery. The daily brown trout limit is one fish, with a 24-inch minimum size. Even so, most anglers release those trophy trout that would be legal to keep.

The White River also get stocked with modest numbers of cutthroat and brook trout, but ultra-plentiful rainbow and big brown trout undeniably are the main attractions. The tailwater also has three catch-and-release zones where trout of all species have the opportunity to grow to larger sizes.

To learn more about the White River or to book a trip with Donald Cranor, visit whiterivertroutfishing.net or Cranor’s Guide Service on Facebook