1200 West Main #7 Cotter AR. 72626

Understanding Water Generation



Probably the question we get asked the most, and the biggest hurdle for many new fly fishers on the White River system is how to figure the generation “patterns” and where can you fish at certain water levels. It is a double edged sword, without the flood control/hydro electric system there would be no trout. Without the luxury of a regular schedule it can prompt a whole bunch of “cussin” at the water authority.

But with 44 miles of the White and 4 miles of Norfork within 20 minutes drive either way, flexibility and river knowledge (or a copy of the Mid South Fly Fisher's Home Waters guide book) will keep you fishing. Part of the beauty of the system is that it is incredibly varied, from our Minimum flow  up to 8 units, or indeed as we have seen when the flood gates open up: even 10 units (equivalent) of water, but that with the right knowledge and tactics the rivers are fishable on all levels.

You can stay in touch with the ongoing river levels and our assessements though The Ozark Fly Fisher Journal  or call into the shop on your way to the river.

Here is a simple explanation of terms. The most common, as mentioned above is generation units or generators. Bull Shoals has eight generators, Norfork two. While there is some variation in the amount of water each generator can process, the rough guide is average capacity is about 3200 cfs (cubic feet per second). But each generator can also be dialed up anwhere from 0 to its maximum. Thus 3 full units is the same amount of water as 6 units on half. Clear as Mud?


Easily fixed. Grab your cell and dial in 870.431.5311. You will be listening to a recorded message for real time generation for first Bull Shoals and then Norfork. You will want to know not only how many units are on now, but also how many were on at the last change in generation, and what time it occurred. 

Remember that the number of units given is a maximum--they don’t talk in halves. 



Knowing what is happening at the dams at present is important, but often it's more important what has been going on in the past 6 to 8 hours. This is the water that is going to be coming at you if you are more than a few miles downstream from the dam. History over the past few days will give you a guide as to what pattern has been followed. A little extra hint... generation is usually heavier Thursday and Friday than early in the week, or on really hot days.

The information presented in the following web pages is generally 2-3 hours behind, sometimes longer. Be cautious about relying on the last figure given, sometimes it might take an extra hour to settle this figure.

Bull Shoals Generation History   Graph     Table

Norfork Generation History        Graph     Table

Tip: look at the graphs for trends. Tailwater height (green line on the graph) will show you how much extra water depth is added. On the White 452 is roughly normal low water height. CFS is important, the recording may say 2 units generating but if they are pushing 2000cfs its really under 1 unit.


Though notoriously inaccurate the South West Power Authority’s generation projections are available, usually after 5 pm for the following days' flows. You can call the recorded schedules number at 866-494-1993. The recording will ask you which river and which day you are seeking the schedule for. Or check SWPA Generation Projections.

When the site loads look down the left hand side and click the day of the week you are interested in (best for today and tomorrow). First things first... check the date at the top of the page. If you see last week’s date the new schedule for that day hasn’t been posted yet. Look across the top row...number 14 is Bull Shoal Dam (BSD), 15 is Norfork (NFD).

These tables give you measurements in Megawatts. The average Mw from each generator at Bull is around 49, on Norfork it's 46. Divide the numbers you see in the columns below BSD or NFD by 49 for Bull Shoals and 46 for Norfork Dam to tell you how many units will be online.


Most of what we have been discussing here has been hydro-electric driven, but of course flood mitigation is a key reason for the construction of these dams and it influences releases as well. Since water is a scarce and valuable resource the lake storages are divided up into allocations. The SWPA gets a slice for hydro power generation but the top bit is left open for flood control on all the dams in the system.

Flood control is driven by water levels on the lower White River, down in the agricultural flat lands of Eastern Arkansas, more than those up here in the Ozarks. Different flood control levels are set at various times of the year (agricultural season), so that if the river is higher, limits are placed on the flows from Bull Shoals.

Canny fly fishers might spot abnormally high flood levels on the lower White and anticipate low or zero generation out of Bull Shoals.

The NOAA's White River Basin Data gives a pretty good analysis on one map of what is happening on the White and its tributaries like the Kings, Buffalo, Crooked Creek, North Fork of the White and so on. It's handy for your smallmouth trips too.

Lake Forecast Table. This site is a good predictor to use when the lakes are in flood stage to when normal generation might return.