The North Fork of the White is Missouri’s trout river. Sure, other Missouri waters have trout. The Current, Eleven Point, Niangua and Meramec are all exceptional trout fisheries, and Taneycomo, which is actually classified as a lake, is one of the top trout fisheries in the country, but the North Fork is special. It’s our state’s equivalent to western trout fishing.
Tucked away deep in the Missouri Ozarks, surrounded by mountainous lands where our black bear population is growing rapidly, is this fast-flowing trout river offering the perfect getaway-from-it-all backcountry fishing destination. The North Fork is ideal for a family fishing adventures, or a few buddies looking for an escape.
The North Fork flows for 67 miles across Douglas and Ozark counties before emptying into Norfork Lake near Tecumseh. It is heavily spring fed and has long stretches of riffles and even some class II whitewater. Smallmouth bass, goggle-eye and sunfish can be caught throughout the river. The lower 12 miles of the North Fork are trophy trout sections.
The North Fork’s Blue Ribbon Trout Area extends from Rainbow Spring to Patrick Bridge Access. There are a good number of rainbow trout in this stretch, with many falling in the 10-14 inch range. The Red Ribbon Trout Area extends from Patrick Bridge to Norfork Lake. This is where anglers can expect to encounter the river’s famed bruiser brown trout. Fish over 20 inches are a real trophy, so I hope if you are fortunate enough to land one, you’ll capture the moment with a photograph and then quickly release it so another angler may know your same excitement. If you want to have it mounted, you should consider a reproduction mount. No one will know the difference.
The North Fork is not a tailwater. It’s a free following rocky river with wild and wooly trout. But perhaps the best part, it receives very little pressure. It’s a gem. And I can feel fine telling you about it, because it’s out there. It’s in a wilderness not often named amongst the must visits – Yellowstone, the Smokies, Grand Canyon. But the Ozarks are amazing. They’re tough. Not at all an easy part of the world. But incredibly welcoming to those who come and visit to experience the region’s immense beauty.
Sunburst Ranch is an outfit to work with in the area. Their cabins are topnotch and the campground is a park like setting right on the river. They have over a mile of river frontage, so you can fish right out your door. And later on, when you crack a cold one relaxing on your front porch or by a campfire, you’ll be serenaded by river rushing by.
They also offer canoes and kayaks for rent. Rafts and tubes are available for those wishing to lounge, but I wouldn’t recommend either for fishing. If you have your own raft, drift boat or other fishable craft, Sunburst has a private takeout. Access to the river is fairly limited, as it flows through a remote region. There are MDC maintained accesses at Hebron, Blair Bridge, and Patrick Bridge. Twin Bridges and River of Life Farm also operate private access points.
The folks who fish the North Fork have to want it. Shuttles, guides and good dinners are not around every bend. You better bring your own wine, and you’re not getting a pizza unless it comes from a gas station freezer. A trip to the North Fork is an adventure. That’s want you want, right? You want to try something new. Experience a place that leaves you shaking your head thinking, I can’t believe how amazing this river is.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Ron Kruger fishes the North Fork of the White River in southern Missouri which is an excellent trout fishery with a wild, western feel.
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