Fly Fishing Arkansas
Where to Go Fly Fishing in Arkansas
The trout streams in Arkansas are all tailwater trout fisheries stocked regularly by the state year round. Though these streams are all tailwaters, each stream is unique in the opportunities available to anglers and the way in which they're managed. Several sections of the White River, the North Fork River/Norfork, the Little Red River, Spring River, Little Missouri River, and Ouachita River are all stocked with trout. The Little Missouri and Ouachita River are stocked seasonally during the cooler months of the year, while the other rivers are stocked consistently throughout the year. Wild brown trout can be found in both the White River and Little Red River systems where they can reach trophy sizes quickly as the streams have excellent insect populations as well as high protein stocked trout as forage items. Brook trout can also be found in these two rivers while the White River tailwater below the Bull Shoals Dam also boasts stocked cutthroat and tiger trout. You can learn more about Fly Fishing the White River in our American Trout Rivers. Another unique angling opportunity for young fly anglers can be found on Dry Run Creek.
Fly Fishing Dry Run Creek in Arkansas
Dry Run Creek can be found just below the Norfork Lake Dam on the Norfork tailwater and is managed as a catch and release only fishery for kids under the age of 16. For the lucky anglers who get to target the behemoth trout that crowd this small creek, a rewarding day is nearly guaranteed. Due to the skinny water, using more stealth while approaching the pools and deeper runs is important to having the best success. Dozens of trophy sized trout in the 20+ inch range are loaded in the creek. Learning how to play these big trout in skinny water is the toughest obstacle for young anglers to overcome. For visitors over 16, it is still interesting to walk this smaller stretch of creek wishing you were a few years younger.
Fly Fishing the Little Missouri River in Arkansas
The trout waters along the Little Missouri begin below the dam on Lake Greeson near Murfreesboro. This section of trout stream lasts for about six miles below the dam. From Highway 19 you can access all of the public land along the river. These sites are the Riverside Access just below the dam, River Ridge Access, Hinds Bluff Access, the Old Factory site, and the Low water bridge, which also serve as the location where trout are stocked throughout the year. Choosing fly patterns is relatively simple as the stocked trout tend to not be as selective as wild trout. Dry dropper rigs and indicator set ups are the easiest ways to come across numbers of trout. As the warmer months arrive, trout become very conditioned to the normal junk flies being thrown by the majority of anglers. Switching to natural imitations and stealthier approaches will land more trout after late spring. Getting your flies down to the bottom are the most important factor. Be sure to check the dam release schedule before visiting the Little Missouri River. Releases can be much more timely on the smaller water compared to the larger rivers further to the north.
Fly Fishing the Ouachita River in Arkansas
Trout are stocked each winter below the dams on Lake Ouachita, Lake Hamilton, and Lake Catherine along the Ouachita River. Fishing is similar to that of the Little Missouri River early in the season with junk flies being the most productive patterns along with striped wooly buggers. The fisheries are shorter lived than the Little Missouri though as trout are cleared out and scatter much earlier in the season. Wading is also more difficult at the public access locations below all three dams though not impossible. Better fly fishing can be had at the other trout fisheries in the state during the winter months.
Fly Fishing the Little Red River in Arkansas
Beginning below the Greers Ferry Dam, The Little Red River provides excellent trout habitat for 35 miles downstream. Known for being the previous brown trout world record holder, the trout on the Little Red can get big in hurry. The river is stocked with mostly rainbow trout throughout the year with an occasional mix of brook trout. Brown trout have naturally reproduced in the river and are no longer stocked by the state. The Little Red River is one of, if not the best place for wading anglers to fish in Arkansas. There are three public access locations where anglers can wade safely and explore the river beginning below the dam.
Little Red River Fishing Access
The first wadable area can be found just below the Greers Ferry Dam, at JFK Park Campground in Heber Springs. This is also where the state trout hatchery is located and the first location where trout stocking occurs. Fishing the shallow runs and raceway outlets can be a productive way to land plenty of stocked rainbows. You can wade nearly all the way to the dam and a few hundred feet downstream of the boat ramp comfortably. Moving further down river, Cow Shoals is the next location accessible to the public. This area is wadable upstream to a small island in the river and downstream to the intersection of Wilburn Creek. The long riffles and deeper seams provide excellent habitat for trout. Be observant during winter as trout spawn in the shallow runs in this stretch, so look for redds before wading through certain areas. The last piece of public access where fly anglers can wade is around the Wilburn Bridge at Barnett park. The west side of the river is more wade friendly here. Anglers can fish several hundred feet upstream of the bridge and wade down to another long island downstream before the river becomes too deep. This is the largest expanse of wadable water with public access on the river. The pools, slow runs, and riffles will all hold trout in these areas. Look for trout to hide and feed along the submerged vegetation found in this section. Two additional public access locations are Libby Shoals and Pangburn Bridge. Wading in these areas can be difficult as the river is much more channelized downstream of the Wilburn Road Access. There are also several more boat ramps available to the public where little wading opportunity is available.
Little Red River Brown Trout
The Brown trout of the Little Red River are the focal point for most visiting fly anglers on the river. These trout are cunning and a worthy adversary for any fly fisherman. Early in their life they feed on the insects and invertebrates found throughout the river system, but will begin seeking higher calorie meals once they've reached the lengths in the mid to upper teens. These trout will then move over to a piscivorous diet. Sculpins, shiners, and juvenile brown trout will be on the menu and help these fish grow big. Once they've reached the twenty inch mark, stocked trout will join the menu, and really help these fish put on some pounds. The bigger browns are elusive for most of the year but will begin to show up in the fall when they begin to move to and from the shoals they spawn around. Many trout will stage downstream before moving shallow for their yearly routine. Gluttonous rainbows and smaller browns will feed heavily on eggs during this time of year to pack on additional pounds for winter.
Best Fly Patterns for the Little Red River
The Little Red River sees some modest hatches throughout the year. One of the more common hatches you can find nearly year round is a midge hatch that occurs most evenings and during overcast days in the winter months. These hatches can be prolific and frustrating. Patterns smaller than size 20 are recommended with the smallest flies being the most productive. The midge hatches can occur throughout the river, but the best hatches occur in the evenings just below the dam. Once the hatch begins, its time to stop what your doing and switch over. Most trout will stop feeding on other food item during these times and focus on the tiny midges. Trophy size trout are not excluded from this activity. During late fall and late winter BWO hatches occur regularly and can pick up the action on slower days with overcast/dreary weather. As winter mover to spring march browns will become a staple for anglers on the water for several weeks. Late March and early April sees frequent caddis hatches that will reappear in mid October. When these hatches are thick, trout will begin to focus heavily on the surface. Following the caddis hatches in spring, sulphur hatches will run through May. Less consistent then the other hatches, the sulphur hatch can be patchy but still require anglers to carry some size 16-18 patterns in the box until summer. When the summer heat sets in many hatches begin occurring at night. Though not as abundant as the bigger hatches in the river some larger mayfly patterns and tiny tricos will begin to appear in the evenings.
Subsurface flies are staples on the Little Red River when the action is slow. Junk flies will always have success with recently stocked trout on the river. Once acclimated to their new home the natural flies such as hares ears, pheasant tails, and caddis imitations will produce more trout. Scud patterns are a must have on the Little Red. Millions of scuds find refuge in the submerged grass scoured throughout the river. These scuds allow trout in the river to get big in a hurry. Size 16-20 sow bugs or other scud patterns will always produce trout. During high water or stained water periods, it is tough to beat streamers. Black woolly buggers, or small sculpin patterns will elicit aggressive strikes from hungry rainbows and brown trout alike. Going to bigger patterns opens you up to a chance to see some truly large browns as they hunt for unsuspecting stocked trout and sculpin struggling during higher flows. The last technique that produces trout regularly on the Little Red is swinging soft hackles through shallow riffles. Aggressive trout will move into these shallow areas to feed and have a hard time passing on a swung fly.
Floating the Little Red River
A float down the Little Red is the best way to reach the trout that see far less pressure than the individuals located in the wadable section of river. You will have access to more undisturbed current seams and pools where trout are feeding more liberally. Floating is also the only way to fish the river when generation is occurring regularly in the spring. Wading is near impossible with all but the lowest levels of generation and is very limited in where you can go. During the highest levels of generation, even floating can be dangerous on the Little Red. When floating, key in on areas with heavy vegetation, braids and bends in the river, as well as sections where creek confluences enter the river. These areas will be productive for numbers and give you the best chance at bigger trout.
Fly Fishing the Spring River in Arkansas
Located near Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, the Spring River runs for 17 miles to the small town of Hardy. This is the only piece of trout water in the state that isn't solely a tailwater stream as it is entirely spring fed. However, several old hydropower dams are located on the river. The trout populations is strong within the first ten miles of river. The best wading opportunities for fly angling are located in the three miles from Mammoth Spring to Dam 3. Below this section, a small watercraft will serve as your best access as the banks are steep and inaccessible. Rainbow Trout with the occasional brown trout are the target of most anglers within the three mile stretch. Fishing below the riffles and plunges will produce the most trout. Mop jigs, squirmy worms, and egg patterns will catch the eye of any stockers around. Spring River is a good stop for anglers looking to spend a few hours on the water. For those looking to spend a full day or longer weekend on the water, the larger rivers will be a better bet.
Fly Fishing the Norfork River in Arkansas
The Norfork, short for North Fork of the White River, flows from below Norfork Lake, south of Mountain Home, Arkansas. A short offshoot of the White River, the tailwater lasts for 5 miles until its confluence with the main stem of the White. Limited wading access is available on the river when any generation is occurring as only a thousand feet or so of fishable water is located just below the confluence of Dry Run Creek. During low water in the summer and fall, the river can be very wadable and offer excellent trout fishing as the low water condenses the trout populations. A catch and release section from the Otter Creek confluence to the River Ridge Access provides the best opportunity for anglers. The Nortfork additionally gives anglers the only opportunity east of the Rockies to land a grand slam. Rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat are all available to anglers fishing the tailwater. Trophy trout are also no stranger to this section of river as many 24" plus browns are caught in this section each year. A heavy diet of stockers keeps these big brown trout fed and growing.
While generation is occurring, drift boats are the only way to be productive on the full stretch of river. Look for the long ridges, high spots and shorelines to fish best during generation. These feature slow the high flowing water and provide shelter for the trout. During the heavier generation is when the trophy browns become more aggressive and capitalize on the disadvantaged stocked trout. While nymphing is the go to for most anglers, swinging for the fence with big streamers may lead to a trout of a lifetime.
Arkansas Trout Fishing Rules and Regulations
Catch limits for trout in Arkansas are 5 fish with no more than 2 brown trout, 2 cutthroat trout, 2 brook trout in a daily bag.
Minimum size limits differ on individual rivers and river sections. Be sure to check the changing regulations on the Arkansas Game and Fisheries Commission site.