When most people think of fishing Arkansas, they think deep, clear, tough lakes. Yes, we do have plenty of deep, clear lakes that are difficult to fish, but we always have a plethora of lakes that are full of aquatic grass and lily pads. What is commonly overlooked is the diversity of the fisheries across Arkansas. In almost all of the lakes in Arkansas, you can expect to catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. This always makes for a fun trip.
Without a doubt, the most famous waterways in Arkansas are those which hold our brown trout. Three of the best trout fishing rivers in the state have all held the world record brown trout at some point in time. The Arkansas record and previous world record of 40.1-pounds was broken in New Zealand in 2013, by a 42.1-pound brown trout.
The trout fishing here in Arkansas is a very special treat and is not taken advantage of enough, in my opinion. Even if you have never caught a trout, you would love the beauty that these rivers hold.
Fishing Arkansas: Trout Fishing
Fishing Arkansas: The Little Red River
My personal favorite and without a doubt, the most famous body of water for trout fishing is the Little Red River in Heber Springs, Arkansas. It held the world record German brown trout for almost 16-years! I was fortunate to grow up 15-minutes away from here!
As a kid, almost all of my summer afternoons were spent wading along some stretch of the 32-miles of trout waters that this river provides. Photo Credit: Onlyinark.com
The Little Red River is the tributary of Greer’s Ferry Lake. Most of the river is wadeable from several different public access points. Some of the most notable areas to fish are Swinging Bridge/Barnett Access, JFK Access, and Cow Shoals Access.
The best months to fish here are November-January. This is during the brown trout spawn. It is truly an unbelievable sight to see so many fish swarm the shallow shoals. An added bonus is that this is in the middle of the winter when bass fishing is on the back burner of most people’s minds! Come give it a try and come check out this beautiful area of Arkansas. I promise it won’t disappoint!
Fishing Arkansas: The White River
The White River in Mountain Home, Arkansas, also held the world record brown trout for many years and regularly kicks out a 30-pound brown every few years.
The White River is much bigger than the Little Red River. Its trout waters below Bull Shoals Lake run over 100-miles long! It is much wider than the Little Red River as well and can be a little more difficult to fish on your own due to the sheer size of the river. I would recommend finding a guide out of Cotter Access or Gaston’s Resort for your first day on the river.
The winter months are by far the best for fishing but check regulations, as much of the river near the dam is closed during the spawning season. It’s been this way for a few seasons now and it has tremendously helped the fishery. Opening day up there is insanely crowded but totally worth going. One thing that is very special about the White River is the number of hay fields around the lower part of the river. These fields hold an enormous amount of grasshoppers and this makes the river notorious for an unbelievable “hopper” bite in October. It is not out of the ordinary to catch 100 brown trout this time of the year.
Even though I have spent way more time fishing the Little Red River, my largest catches have actually come from the White River.
Fishing Arkansas: The Norfork River
If I could trout fish one river in Arkansas for the rest of my life it would be the Norfork. The crazy part about it is that it’s only 5-miles long from the Norfork dam until it dumps into the White River.
The Norfork River, just like the White River and Little Red River, has also held the world record brown trout! It still baffles me that people travel all across the world to chase record size browns and we have 3 rivers in Arkansas within 2 hours of each other that ALL have produced world record size trout.
What I love most about the Norfork is how easily you can catch the “grand slam” in a single day. Photo Credit: tworiversfly.com
The “grand slam” is landing a brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout all in a single day.
The Norfork is also very wadeable and that makes for epic fly fishing throughout the 5-miles of trout waters. You can learn this river very quickly without hiring a guide!
Fishing Arkansas: Bass Fishing
Fishing Arkansas: Lake Columbia
Lake Columbia in Magnolia, Arkansas, is said to hold the next state record largemouth bass and I absolutely believe that to be true. I’ve personally only been on the lake about a dozen times but have seen bass pushing 13-pounds on two different occasions.
The lake does get a lot of pressure but it is as healthy as any lake I’ve been to across the country. Columbia is loaded with cover for monster bass, something much of the state lakes lack. There is aquatic vegetation that runs close to 15-feet deep most years and the water is gin clear.
If you can find yourself on this lake around the spawn in April, you are in for a treat! You may not catch a double-digit bass but I can almost guarantee that you’ll see one if you look long enough.
Fishing Arkansas: The Buffalo River
The Buffalo River in St. Joe, Arkansas, was the first-ever “National River”. This occurred in 1972 to protect the river from plans to dam up sections for power.
Today, it is a Blue Ribbon smallmouth stream because of this act of Congress made back in 1972. Photo Credit: buffaloriver.org
The river stretches 152-miles. Over 100-miles of the Buffalo River is floatable and loaded with smallmouth bass. What I appreciate so much about this area of Arkansas is the sheer beauty that surrounds you. Caves, bluff walls, bike and hiking trails, all surround this famous river.
There are tons of public access points along the river but I will share my favorite stretch of the river. Ponca-Pruitt is a fantastic stretch, even in low water months, Ponca-Pruitt still makes for a good float without dragging your canoe or kayak. The Buffalo River is a destination that you can take your whole family on and spend several days. It is the heart of why Arkansas is called “The Natural State”.