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Fly Fishing the North Fork River

Fri, 06/15/2012 - 09:18 -- jmaslar

The North Fork of the White River is one of the finest trout streams in the state of Missouri and the Ozark Mountains. The North Fork is one of the best rivers for wildly reproducing rainbow trout in the entire USA and in addition, the North Fork has trophy size brown trout as well. Rainbows are taken up to eighteen inches long and the brown trout commonly reach sizes much larger than that in parts of the North Fork.

The North Fork River or the North Fork of White River is a 110 mile long tributary of the White River. The North Fork rises in Wright County, Missouri, east of the city of Mountain Grove. After traveling a short distance, it suddenly becomes very much larger and colder. That is due to the contribution of Rainbow Springs, which is one of the largest spring in the state of Missouri. Rainbow Springs dumps an average of over 80 million gallons of 57 degree water into the North Fork daily.

The trout fishing really begins in the area between Rainbow Springs and Blair Bridge which is referred to as the Missouri Wild Trout Management Area. In 1998, the stocking of brown trout was stopped in this almost six mile long part of the river. This has allowed the rainbows in this part of the river to grow faster and larger because they have more to eat. Only flies and artificial lures can be used in the Wild Trout Management Area. Approximately 75% of the trout in this part of the river are wild rainbows. Anglers are only allowed one trout, either brown or rainbow but not both, over 18 inches per day. From the Blair Bridge down to Norfolk Lake, the river comes under the Missouri Special Trout Regulations. This area is stocked with brown trout, but not rainbows.

You can float the entire river in a day, but the best way is to break it down into two separate floats. The uppermost launch is located at Kelly Shoals. From there you can drift down to Trout Lodge. From Trout Lodge you can float down to Dawt. Both sections provide a good day of fishing.

Fly Fishing the North Fork:

 Due to the favorable pH of the North Fork, the aquatic insects thrive producing a variety of nice hatches and also covering the bottom with diatomaceous algae making wading a challenge. To take advantage of these hatches you will need to use stealth. Start with leaders and tippet longer and lighter than those you would normally use in a freestone stream. Dry fly fishing can be good at certain times when a hatch is occurring but most of the time you will need to stick with nymphs, wet flies and streamers.

The best way to fish the North Fork is with a float trip in a canoe oar a raft since there are few good access points. There are a few limestone ledges especially at the “falls” that make floating the North Fork interesting, but the fishing at the “falls” is worth the trip.This area is especially good for nymph fishing.


Little Black Caddisflies hatch during April. These are species of the Brachycentrus genus called Mother's Day caddis is some areas of the West. They hatch mid-stream similar to mayflies. You will find various species of Cinnamon Caddis and Spotted Sedges that hatch from May through September. These are just referred to as Tan caddis by the locals. The Light Cahills hatch during the month of May and can bring the trout to the surface to take dry flies.


Little Sister Caddisflies that hatch in June and July followed by the very significant Tricos hatch will continue into September. Stoneflies are important on this river. Large Giant Black stoneflies and different species of  Little Brown Stoneflies hatch during the months of May and June. Yellow Sallies hatch also in June and July. One of our favorite flies imitates the Hellgramites which are the lava stage of the Dobsonfly. Terrestrials can be a good choice for summer including imitations of grasshoppers, ants and beetles.

Fall & Winter:

Imitations of custaceans,scuds, sow bugs, can be used along with midge nymphs. Also, the October hatch of Tricos will be effective in late fall. Streamers will be a good bet for the deeper runs and pools.

Geographical Location: 
Type of Stream: 
Spring Creek
Rainbow and brown trout (wild and stocked)
South Central Missouri
Nearest Town: 
West Plains

You can reach Rainbow Springs off of County Road 372 but this area is privately owned so you will need permission which in it self may be a challenge. Another possibility is at Kelly ford on County Road 368 upstream from McKee Bridge. Note that the bridge is on private property. The next available spots for access is at Blair Bridge and the Patrick Bridge. You see, access is difficult and that is again why a float trip is recommended.

License and Other Information: 

We recommend the Perfect Fly series of flies as they are the most realistic imitations of natural insects that can be found. We believe that you will agree with us that they consistantly produce more trout.

View North Fork White River in a larger map

More Detail map giving roads, etc.

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