Where the Trout Are
Arkansas is home to some of the best fly fishing on the planet
By Chad Kneeland
Living in Arkansas, we are lucky to have some of the most famous fly fishing water in the world. The Little Red River, White River, Norfork River and the Spring River are our four rivers that produce amazingly beautiful trout year round. All of these rivers are located in northern Arkansas with The Little Red River in Heber Springs being the closest to central Arkansas. During late fall and winter those living in Little Rock, Maumelle, Hot Springs and Conway are able to fly fish in town due to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocking local creeks, ponds and lakes. Near Hot Springs there are also two tailwaters from the Ouachita River and The Little Missouri in west Arkansas is stocked with trout during cooler months.
Our largest rivers in the state are tailwater rivers, meaning that the water from the rivers are controlled by dams and the Army Corp of Engineers. When talking about our streams it is always a good idea to know how much water is being released from the dams to determine fishing conditions and most importantly water safety. Talking to specialists at local fly shops is the best way to know what’s currently happening on our rivers and the best way to be successful on your fishing trip.
Most of the fishermen and women on our rivers are wading into the river using public or private access. This is a very brief breakdown of our main trout rivers in the state. For more in-depth knowledge you can talk to any of the professionals in our local fly shops.
Most of the trout caught in our rivers are the rainbow trout, which are stocked regularly. Our most coveted trout and largest in our rivers are the brown trout. The “browns” caught on the rivers are truly wild trout.
Arkansas is a magnificent trout destination. “Streamer” fishing, “nymphing,” “dry fly” and “soft hackle” fly fishing all can be very successful depending on time of year and water conditions. More information is always available at no cost from any of the experts at our local fly shops.
The Little Red River
The Little Red River is known for the previous world-record brown trout caught by “Rip” Collins in 1992. This trout weighed 40 pounds and 4 ounces. The record stood for more than seven years. The Little Red River is 35 miles of trout water ranging from deep pools to classic riffles. The Little Red River is located in Heber Springs, just 60 miles north of Little Rock and is the result of the Greers Ferry Dam. You can find rainbow, brown, cutthroat trout and a few brook trout in this river. The most popular walk-in public access points are at the dam at JFK Park, Cow Shoals, Swinging Bridge, Libby Shoals, Pangburn Bridge and a small access at many of the boat ramps located throughout the river.
The Norfork River
The Norfork River is only 5 river miles of trout water but it is a gem in our state. The river is a tailwater with Norfork Lake being its source. The Norfork River also held the brown trout record in 1988 with a weight of 39 pounds. The Norfork also offers a chance to catch four species of trout with the rainbow being the most common in the river. Walk–in access points include Quarry Park right below the dam, River Ridge Access (handicap accessible). And Baxter Road runs parallel to the river offering some access to the river.
Dry Run Creek
One special stretch of water that cannot be missed when visiting the Norfork River is Dry Run Creek. This is a unique creek and a true gem in our state. This is strictly catch-and-release water. The only people who can fish in the creek are kids under 16 and people who are disabled. Everyone should walk along the creek and see the amazing trout that live in the small stream.
The White River (Bull Shoals)
The White River is a very large river compared to all others on this list. The White River boasts more than 100 miles of trout water. There are a tremendous number of access points on the river. The best thing to do before going the first time is to call the local fly shops and pick a small part of the river to fish. The White River differs from the other trout rivers in Arkansas on how much water can go through the river.
The Little Red River and The Norfork River have two generators that can release water but the White River has eight generators. Some of the more famous walk-in points are Wildcat Shoal, Roundhouse Shoal and Rim Shoals. I think the best way to enjoy and cover more water is by boat. The White is a fantastic streamer river and the best hopper river in the state. If big water is what you are after this is the river for you.
The Spring River
The Spring River is located on the Missouri border in north Arkansas near Mammoth Springs. It is your best chance to fish when there is flooding at the other major rivers in the state. The top part of the Spring River gives the best opportunity for fly fishermen and women hunting for trout. The best trout water only lasts around 10 miles. Favorite places to walk-in are from Mammoth Spring to Dam 3. You can rent a canoe, and boat fishing is best after this dam.