The White River, as I'm sure you know, is a tailwater. Therefore, you have to be aware that the water level can rise rapidly when the damn releases water. Also, the water currents frequently change the bottom of the White R., meaning that the navigatable paths that a boat must use often change.
Having fished it several times over the years, I would be reluctant to take a boat out on my own. But I would go out with a guide, have him or her orient me, and then take a boat out. Two in the boat so you can push it off a sandbar would be helpful.
I'd describe the boats they use as "john boats." They are flat bottomed, shallow, retangular boats with a smal motor on the back. I dislike fishing from canoes (I never seem to have a partner who knows how to manage the canoe while I fish) and from float tubes. I always thought a "john boat" (I hope that's the right term) would be a useful thing to have.
Just north of the White there is a wonderful river called the Northfork (literally the north fork of the White). It has very good trout and smallmouth fishing. You have to know where the underground springs (cold water) flow into the river, because that's where the trout are. Elsewhere fish for smallies and you'll catch a variey of fish. You'll need a boat, probably a rental canoe...just get out when you see a place you want to fish.
Not far away is the Little Red. There's an excellent article on it in the March 2009 issue of "Fly Fisherman" magazine.
The Arkansas Ozarks are a beautiful part of the country and a special place to fish.
We're all in the same boat. We all come 'ere and we don't know why. We all go in our turn and we don't know where. If you are a bit better off, be thankful. And if you don't get into trouble an' make a fool of yourself, well, be thankful for that,'cos you easily might.--J.B.Priestley
I fished the White back in the summer. The water was high and I hired a fly fishing guide. There were boats for rent along the river and some people fished around the boat ramps from shore. I saw locals anchored and fishing from various types of small boats. If the discharge is down it's a wadders paradise. My advise is to just go, you'll find some way to fish after you get there. LOL.
first, it is still wadable when they are running just a little bit of water below the dam. but you must realize this is a dangerous proposition for the inexperienced. good judgment based on experience is the key to avoiding potentially life-threatening problems.
second, the boats are called "river jons" or more specifically "white river jons." the best known makers today are supreme and superior. some are turned out by a few other custom shops in the area. they are very narrow, low-sided, long, fiberglass jonboats equipped with light outboards (usually less than 15hp and often under 10hp) and several pedestal seats down the centerline. it is a tool based on tradition, nothing else. once upon a time...in the days of wooden jonboats and long multi-day float fishing excursions down the white river before all the dams broker her up and killed the world's finest smallmouth bass river, it was the best design. today, the fiberglass adaptation is efficient and suitable. but it hardly the "only way to go" on the white from the contemporary selection of technologies. what one needs is: very shallow draft, stability, ability to make upstream transits against swift current of a big river (low drag + enough thrust is best due to weight of motors negatively impacting draft...this is where narrow boats excel), light enough to drag across a gravel shoal now and then when necessary, ability to register in home state.
third, this is the key for land-locked anglers who want to wade fish the area. what most visiting anglers don't realize is that the white below bull shoals dam isn't the only game in town in fact, it isn't such by a LONG shot! the real attraction of the mountain home/cotter area for anglers is that it consists of 2 world-class tailwater fisheries, 1 on either end of town, and something like 35 miles of wadable world-class trout water accessible by car if you just have a good map, and a little help from the right source of info. when the whistle blows to signal the beginning of generation at bull shoals dam, even if they really open her up it will take several hours for the increased flow to get downstream to places like wildcat shoals, cotter, and rim shoals...for example. so what most "locals" do is simply pack it in at the dam and drive downstream to fish for several more hours. frankly, some of the downstream locations are actually better fishing than the dam park is anyway! then there is the norfork tailwater. just because they generate power at bull shoals, doesn't mean they will at norfork...which is on the other end of town. the norfork tailwater has about 9 miles (i think) of additional world-record-producing brown trout water, all of which is wadable. so many anglers simply head over there instead. quite often, by the time "the rise" (as it is called locally) gets down to rim shoals (just downstream of cotter), generation at either norfork or bull shoals has stopped again. so anglers can even drive back upstream if they choose to and fish the low water conditions again.
i've said it here before and i'll say it again: check with mountain river fly shop (gassville, ar), rim shoals resort/fly shop (cotter, ar), and blue ribbon fly shop (mountain home, ar) to get the 411. they'll sell you the right map dirt cheap and explain the whole process to you in full detail for free.
and due to the fact that i am coming out of retirement and returning to the ranks of professional outdoor journalists and adventure guides, i won't be posting this sort of info on other folks' websites for free much anymore. so you'll have to visit my sites if you want my unbiased opinions and unrestricted info on great fishing destinations and affordable gear.
It's best to check how to fish these waters with the local flyshops. It would also be wise to get the number for the White/Norfork river generator predicted flows for that morning or that day. I'm new to these waters and fish with some old pros who've been here for the last 10 yrs. We will check that number in the morning to get ideas of dam generation and plan our day. We've waded the White on several occasions and I've never heard the horn but watched the water rise quickly (which is why you really need to stay updated) and don't want to be too far away from shore. I've been told to notice water marks to determine rising water which I do but diligence will be your lifesaver. We've also canoed down the Norfork with success from the dam and fished clear to the Handicapped area. These are good waters with some healthy cutts, browns, rainbows and I've even spotted a brookie or two. It is an impressive area to find trout so far away from my native waters in the Rockies. I wish you good luck and safe passage.
PS. It wouldn't hurt you to carry a good wading staff, a cell phone and if you get bolder an inflatable life jacket.
PS. I should mention that the last time I fished the White, I landed a 14" Rainbow that had teeth marks on his left side and lacerations on the left from another larger trout predator. I proceeded to catch trout in the 14-22" size from that tailwater throughout the day. Impressive size, stamina and jumping prowess-in short a great day of trout fishing so far away from the rockies ; ^ ) Try it sometime and you will be surprised.