By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
When it comes to fishing in Arkansas, "The Land of Opportunity" -- a former
state motto -- remains an apt description. The state's more than
600,000 acres of lakes and 9,700 miles of streams offer anglers
numerous chances to land a trophy or catch a limit from a variety of
|Lake Greeson Bass Fishing
To augment those opportunities
in what is now touted as "The Natural State," nature gets a helping
hand at keeping Arkansas's waters alive with fish.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AG&FC) operates one of the
largest state-owned, warm-water hatchery systems in the world. In
addition, three trout hatcheries are also located within the state.
Even though Arkansas has produced two current world-record fish with
a third pending completion of certification, its homegrown anglers
know well that a fishing outing in their state is frequently about
more than the fish.
It can be just as much about watching an osprey plunge feet first
into the water and soar away with its prey, or experiencing a fiery
sunset framed by Delta cypresses. Or floating on the clear waters of
an Ozark Mountain stream beneath a towering, lichen-covered
limestone bluff, or enjoying the turning leaves of autumn reflected
in the still waters of a quiet cove.
When it comes to fish, Arkansas is most famous beyond its borders
for the outstanding trout fisheries that have been developed over
the last five decades by the AG&FC with help from two federal trout
Prior to 1950, Arkansas trout fishing was basically limited to the
state's only major cold-water stream, the Spring River. The Spring
begins as the 58-degree, 9-million-gallons-an-hour flow of Mammoth
Spring, which is located in Arkansas at the Missouri state line.
Rainbow trout were first stocked on the Spring around the turn of
With the completion of Norfork Dam on the North Fork of the White
River in 1944 and Bull Shoals Dam on the White River in 1951, the
groundwork was laid for major expansions of the state's trout
Faced with the devastation of significant stretches of habitat for
warm-water fish species, the AG&FC decided to introduce trout into
the combined 97 miles of oxygen-rich, cold-water races below the
dams. Cooperating with federal officials, they placed 39,216 rainbow
trout into the streams in 1951.
Stocking efforts received a boost in 1957 when, as mitigation for
the loss of warm-water habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
opened the Norfork National Fish Hatchery near Norfork.
Rainbows from the hatchery grew phenomenally well in the White and
North Fork and soon the two streams were among the country's finest
destinations for trophy trout. Catches of 5-to-7-pound rainbows were
common and the state-record rainbow (19 pounds, 1 ounce) was caught
in 1981 by Jim Miller of Memphis on the White River.
In the past two decades, increased fishing pressure on the White and
North Fork has mostly limited catches of trophy rainbows to
catch-and-release areas (though overall catch rates remain among the
That is true in part because natural reproduction of rainbows in
Arkansas streams accounts for less than one percent of the state's
annual rainbow population.
Such is not the case, however, with brown trout. Browns were stocked
early in the AG&FC stocking program but were discontinued in the
1960s and 1970s. While the White produced North American-record
browns in 1972 (31.5 pounds) and again in 1977 (33.5 pounds),
another development was being noted.
By the late 1970s, it was clear that, with only a jump start from
AG&FC, the brown trout had succeeded in developing its own wild
population. Brown trout too small to have been among those released
earlier were showing up on stringers.
Arkansas tailwaters now contain a significant number of browns
exceeding 30 pounds and fish in the five-to-10-pound range are
common. The current world record for a brown (40 pounds, 4 ounces)
was set in May, 1992, on the Little Red River, 29 miles of which had
become suitable trout habitat with the completion of the Greers
Ferry Dam in the early 1960s.
As mitigation for the dam's impact on the Little Red, the Greers
Ferry National Fish Hatchery opened in 1965. In 1985, the AG&FC came
into possession of its own trout hatchery, a donation from the
Kroger Co. of Cincinnati. The Spring River State Fish Hatchery
enables the AG&FC to raise its own trout year-round and has
increased opportunities for widening species diversity in Arkansas's
In 1983, the AG&FC made an initial release of cutthroat trout on the
White and North Fork and the new species adapted well. The current
state record (9 pounds, 9 ounces) was caught on the White in
October, 1985. Regular stockings of cutthroat were begun early this
decade and today cutthroats in the 2-to-3-pound range are common.
After a test stocking of brook trout in the 1980s, the AG&FC began
stocking them in the Spring River and three tailwater sites in 1995.
Studies show that brookies in the North Fork can reach 19 inches and
three pounds in only two years, while in their native ranges they
seldom exceed one pound.
Today, more than 2.5 million trout are stocked annually in
Arkansas's waters. In addition to the Spring, Norfork, Bull Shoals
and Greers Ferry sites, trout are stocked into the Beaver Dam
tailwaters on the upper White River, into two tailwater sites on the
Ouachita River near Hot Springs and into two parts of the Little
Missouri River in western Arkansas. The Little Missouri offers
cool-season trout fishing only.
Trout are also stocked in Lakes Ouachita, Hamilton, Catherine and
The 153 miles of trout streams and 95,000 acres of lakes stocked
with trout have resulted in a $134-million-a-year business that has
provided a tourism bonanza. More than half those who fish for
Arkansas trout come from out of state.
Arkansas's trout streams and lakes are all located among the Ozark
and Ouachita Mountains, which offer four seasons of natural beauty
to complement the attraction of the state's four trout species.
Streamside resorts and fishing guide services are common along the
White, the North Fork and the Little Red. For information contact
the chambers of commerce in Mountain Home (800-822-3536) or Mountain
For information on accommodations and fishing services on the Little
Red, contact the Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce (800-77-HEBER).
While Arkansas's trout fisheries grab most of the headlines, the
state offers a wide range of fishing opportunities, both in species
and environmental settings.
Among Arkansas's big-lake fishing, Greers Ferry Lake near Heber
Springs ranks high. Greers Ferry has the world-record walleye and a
pending world-record hybrid striped bass to its credit. The
22-pound, 11-ounce walleye was caught in March, 1982, and the
27-pound, 5-ounce bass was landed in April, 1997.
Corps of Engineer dams on the White, Ouachita, Little Missouri,
Caddo and Cossatot Rivers have produced almost a dozen large lakes
known for their bass, crappie, bream and catfish.
Millwood Lake, a 29,500-acre reservoir located in southwest
Arkansas, has produced many trophy largemouth bass exceeding 10
pounds and four-to-five-pound fish are common. Millwood State Park
offers camping and a full-service marina with boats available for
rent. The park may be reached at 501-898-2800.
One of Arkansas's most popular fishing lakes is the state's largest,
the 48,300-acre Lake Ouachita. Bass, crappie, bream and catfish
abound in the lake, which is also stocked with rainbow trout,
northern pike and ocean stripers.
Lake Ouachita State Park offers camping, cabins and a full-service
marina. Contact the park at 501-767-9366.
The lake -- which also features outstanding private lodging and
fishing facilities -- is located just minutes west of the resort
city of Hot Springs, where one can enjoy a relaxing thermal bath and
massage to cap off a hard day of fishing. For details on
accommodations and attractions in Hot Springs, call 800-SPA-CITY.
Beaver, DeGray and Greeson are other sizable reservoirs where the
fishing action draws anglers by the score.
Big-river fishing is available on both the Arkansas River, which
traverses the state from west to east, creating 50-mile-long Lake
Dardanelle in the process, and on the Mississippi River, which forms
the state's eastern border. Both rivers and their backwater areas
offer excellent angling for a variety of bass and catfish species as
well as crappie.
The Arkansas River between Pine Bluff and Dumas has achieved fame
for producing winning stringers when professional bass tournaments
are held on the lower Arkansas, while the Mississippi produced in
1989 the state-record blue catfish at an even 96 pounds.
Crappie are so abundant in the Mississippi and its backwaters that
the state limit inside the river levees is 50 a day.
Notable small streams offering opportunities for smallmouth bass
action are Crooked Creek, the Caddo, the forks of the upper Little
Red and Saline Rivers, the upper Cossatot, and America's first
National River, the Buffalo.
The 156,000-acre White River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern
Arkansas is home to a host of small, timber-filled lakes that offer
perhaps the best crappie and bream fishing in the state. Located in
the floodplain of the lower White River, the lakes are bountifully
restocked with each winter's floods.
The refuge offers primitive camping and portions of it are open for
fishing from March 1 to November 30 only. For a refuge brochure
including a map and fishing and hunting regulations, call
870-946-1469 or write White River National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box
308, DeWitt, AR 72042.
In addition to fishing, the refuge offers great opportunities for
wildlife observation, including brown bears.
Just as it does for trout, the AG&FC aids in the propagation of
other species found in Arkansas's waters by operating four
warm-water fish hatcheries. In the combined 394 acres of ponds at
the hatcheries, raised for stocking are largemouth, smallmouth,
spotted, striped and hybrid bass; blue, channel and flathead
catfish; black and white crappie; bluegill; redear sunfish; and
Including trout, more than 20 million fish a year are stocked into
Arkansas's waters. In addition to the Mammoth Spring facility, the
state's fish hatcheries, which are open for public tours, are
located at Lonoke, Hot Springs, Centerton and Corning.
The AG&FC publishes an annual summary of state fishing regulations
which details state limits and specific site regulations such as
restricted limits, slots, and catch-and-release designations. In
addition, the booklet contains information on state boating laws,
game-fish records and an order form for publications concerning
Arkansas fishing and wildlife.
Perhaps the most useful of the publications offered is the Arkansas
Outdoor Atlas, which contains detailed maps of Arkansas's 75
counties along with a brief narrative outlining the fishing
highlights of each. The atlas costs $18 (shipping and handling
included) and is available by phone at 800-364-GAME or by mail at:
Publication Sales, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 2 Natural
Resources Drive, Little Rock AR 72205.
A nonresident Arkansas fishing license, valid for one year beginning
the date of purchase, costs $30. Nonresident fishing trip licenses
cost $10 for three days, $15 for 7 days and $20 for 14 days. To fish
in trout waters, an additional $7.50 nonresident trout permit is
Licenses may be purchased at boat docks, many locations selling
hunting and fishing supplies, some discount chains or directly from
the Game and Fish Commission. They may be ordered by phone at
800-364-4263. Have your credit card and driver's license ready when
Many of Arkansas's 50 state parks provide excellent fishing
opportunities. More information on the parks and on Arkansas
accommodations and attractions is included in the Arkansas Vacation
Planning Kit available by calling 800-NATURAL.