Little Red River is a Draw in Every Season

By Jill M. Rohrbach, Ark. Dept. of Parks and Tourism

First posted on 04-28-2011

On a recent beautiful March day, I headed out on the Little Red River in north-central Arkansas with my co-worker and photographer, Chuck Haralson, and Buddy Pate, our guide from Lindsey’s Resort in Heber Springs. As we boarded the johnboat and began to back out of the slip, Pate commented that an eagle had been flying up the river every morning, usually around that time. As if on cue, the eagle came into sight. It proved to be a good omen for the day.

Pate guided us to one of his favorite fishing holes, and set us up with wax worms and marshmallows. It wasn’t long before I had a fish on my line, quickly followed by several more. The men added a couple catches to the tally before the bites slowed and eventually Pate opted to move to another spot.

He had us working moss beds or structure, and at each hole we would go on a bit of a run. Often two of us would have a fish on at the same time. It didn’t take long for the jabbing to start in regard to who was catching the most fish (me!), the biggest or who missed the most bites or failed to get a fish to the boat.

This river is home to rainbows, browns, cutthroat and brook trout. “There are a few tiger browns,” Pate said. A tiger is a cross between a brook and brown. “I’ve only caught two of those in 35 years, so I’d say they’re pretty rare.”

The Little Red River is a world-class trout stream. Twenty-nine miles of it became suitable as a trout habitat after the completion of the Greers Ferry Dam in the early 1960s. Hatchery-raised rainbows provide the bulk of the Little Red River’s fish population, but there are wild fish too. Pate said about 400,000 fish are stocked in the river each year.

While our total for the day was 39, catching 70, 100 or even 150 fish a day is not uncommon. “The average size is around one pound, but two and three pound are not unusual,” he said. “And trophy trout are all around.”

The world record for a brown trout (40 pounds, 4 ounces) was set in May 1992 on the Little Red River by Howard “Rip” Collins. This record stood until it was surpassed in 2009.

“We’re known for big trout in Arkansas,” said Pate. Bigger trophy fish are often caught between November and the first of the year when brown trout are spawning.

“All the seasons have their draws,” Pate explained. In the winter there is also less competition from other anglers. In the spring and summer fish are easier to catch because they are stocked. Fall offers the added beauty of fiery foliage.

“The fish are healthy and robust,” Pate added. “The wildlife speaks for itself.”

For the latter reason, my favorite area was fishing near Beach Island. Four gobblers with long beards flew from bank to bank in front of us. They landed on the steep hillside within a stone’s throw from us before loudly dispersing again. Two Canada geese flew over our heads, then one returned flying about six feet away and level with my head. Later a mink played hide and seek with us from behind a boulder before scampering up the rocky, timbered shore and disappearing. I also caught a cutbow here, a cross between a cutthroat and a rainbow. We spotted an otter earlier in the trip.

“We’re so spoiled here,” Pate said.