KW Morrow, White River

January 17th, 2005

Winter in the Ozarks
By KW Morrow

The Ozarks tailwaters and spring creeks are fishing quite well this winter. Our weather this fall and winter has been wetter and milder than usual. On New Year's Eve I was out fishing on Lake Taneycomo below Table Rock Dam in breathable waders, a pair of khaki slacks and a polo shirt. It struck me that there just isn't a lot of good trout water in the United States where that is possible. A fishing trip to the Ozarks may be just what the doctor ordered to cure the cabin fever so prevalent among my northern fly fishing brethren. Keep it in mind.

In 2004, the White River Basin was listed among American Rivers' "10 Most Threatened Rivers." We nominated the watershed for inclusion again this year, but last week I was informed that we would not be listed again for 2005. Nothing has really changed that much for the White River in the past year, but the contest is about who can present the best nomination package more than it is about which rivers are the most threatened. I do believe our efforts to inform the public about the threats facing the White are beginning to pay off though. 2004 brought two developments on the Arkansas side of the border that look very encouraging. Local anglers are volunteering and organizing "Stream Teams" in conjunction with area school districts to assist regulators in water quality monitoring on the White, Norfork, and Little Red Rivers. This effort not only improves the quality of the data for regulators, it also serves a vital public awareness function by getting the school kids involved in the effort to protect our water quality. Most of the municipal wastewater treatment plants in the Upper White River Basin on the Arkansas side have also come into voluntary compliance with a much lower rate of nutrient contamination in their effluent discharges into the White and it's tributaries. On the Missouri side, similar (but more stringent) reductions were effected a few years ago. These efforts have resulted in a sharp reduction in phosphorous and nitrate pollution in the system of lakes and rivers.

Another development we saw in 2004 was that the federal government decided not to fund the Minimum Flow Initiative for the White River System. While there are some detractors regarding Minimum Flow, every major conservation organization, both the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Missouri Department of Conservation, and most other stakeholders favor the proposition. The major detractor is the Southwest Power Administration, which controls the hydroelectric production of the dams. So that fight continues.

All in all, the Ozark tailwater fisheries are fishing better than they have in several years. Various improvements in fisheries management techniques that have been instituted since the mid-nineties seem to be working to improve the density, size, and health of our trout. Missouri will be implementing a new system of trout fisheries management in 2005. The model consists of Blue, Red, and White Ribbon designations for all the trout fisheries within the state. Blue Ribbon fisheries will be those where trout reproduce naturally and no stocking occurs. They will have the strictest harvest and tackle restrictions including the harvest of no more than one trout daily and a prohibition against natural and artificial bait fishing. Red Ribbon fisheries will be those that also provide excellent trout habitat, but where some challenges to the long-term survival/reproduction of trout also exists. Two fish per day over fifteen inches can be kept in these waters. White Ribbon fisheries will be the remaining cold-water fisheries where trout are present throughout Missouri. Harvest and methods restrictions will be generous. These changes go into effect on March 1, 2005.

If you've been thinking about planning a winter fishing trip to the Ozarks, I encourage you to commit. We're pretty friendly, hospitable people who...for the most tourists. And our fishing is world-class. Be prepared for cold weather, but don't expect it to be freezing. It can get quite cold here in January and February, with night time temperatures dipping into the teens. But daytime temperatures rarely stay below freezing and generally run from the mid-forties to the high fifties. You probably won't experience the seventy-plus degrees we enjoyed this past week, but it'll probably be a might warmer than Minnesota! ~ Ken (Silver Mallard)

About Ken:

Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1988, and spent the next several years serving in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the nation's service in 1993.

Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian, having penned articles and stories that have appeared in several national hunting publications like North American Hunter magazine, on, in regional and local newspapers, and historical and literary journals. He also provides hunting and dog training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods retailers nationwide and works with other outdoors businesses and conservation organizations in the fields of public relations, promotional marketing, fund-raising, and advertising. He also is a partner in Silver Mallard Properties, LLC. He currently resides with his wife, Wilma, their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe, and their Labrador Retriever, Jake, in Branson, Missouri, where he founded the Branson/Tri-Lakes Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in 1998.

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