Did you ever see a place where it's a joy to be on the water just because it
looks "fishy"? Arkansas's Little Red River is one of those.
Created in the early sixties with the closing of the Greers Ferry Dam, the
Little Red was carefully engineered to provide great trout fishing under
federal mitigation orders. After gathering elodea, commonly called
coontail, from the nearby Spring River, Arkansas Game and Fish biologists
rolled the big round bales off the launch ramp below the dam, followed the
next year with scuds from the same source. After all this effort the first
rainbow trout from the Greers Ferry National Hatchery, just below the dam,
were stocked in '65.
As in any new fishery, the fish grew quickly and by the time I arrived in
1970, rainbows were so well established that we laughed at folks who had to
measure their trout instead of weighing them. It took a rainbow of 4-5 lbs.
to get any attention and the river record quickly shot up to 16.9 lbs.
There's always those who can't be satisfied! Many fly fishermen wanted brown
trout as well but the Game and Fish guys, who stocked browns in Arkansas's
White River in the middle '40s, nixed the idea. Brown trout, after all,
eat lots of those 75¢ federal trout from the hatchery. Not to be deterred,
those wily fly fishermen ( who shall remain nameless) bought brown trout fry
from an unknown source and placed them in the Little Red under the cover of
darkness one summer night in 1973, following that stocking the next year
with several Vibert hatching boxes full of fertilized brown trout eggs.
Since that time, regulations have been instituted that prohibit such
activity but the Little Red has blossomed into the most phenomenal brown
trout fishery on the planet with the IGFA world record brown to its credit.
This huge female that probably weighed 43-44 lbs. when caught was certified
at 40 lbs. + when it was officially weighed about three days after it was
landed in 1993. Rip Collins, the lucky angler, was out trying to get his
outboard to run when he spotted the huge trout out cruising in the daylight.
He happened to have an ultra-light spinning rod rigged with a 1/64th ounce
green marabou jig and 4 lb. test line. The record brown took on the first
cast and Rip spent the next 40 minutes following her around, trying not to
make her mad!! After getting the fish into his live well, he took it back
across the river to his dock and secured her to his dock with a piece of
clothesline while he called frantically around the nation trying to find
someone with an aquarium suitable to keep the fish alive. Not having any
success, he finally gave up and removed the fish from the water for weighing.
A scale sample revealed that the fish was 17 years old when caught, putting
it in the first age class in the river.
Naturally, there's another world's record brown, weighing probably 50 lbs.,
living under the same undercut bank that yielded the world's record.
Sightings of 20-30 lb. browns are fairly common in the clear tailwaters of
the Little Red but few fish of this size are landed for reasons any
experienced brown trout angler knows. Great underwater visibility (up to 125 feet in
the upper river) coupled with their tremendous eyesight and a propensity
for nocturnal activity are the norm for trout of this size and with the
fishing pressure on the Little Red, these individuals are the ones that
reach the size we're discussing. Catches of 4-5 lb. browns are fairly common
on hard plastic crank baits fished at night and would be more common by
fly fishermen if they were equipped correctly and fished at night from a boat
in the deeper holes in the coontail.
The local fly fishing guides discourage night fishing because in the summer
months the river (at 47degrees from under Greers Ferry Dam) creates a fog
cover so heavy that it's hard to breathe, let alone try to find a way to
place your casts effectively. Also, the bigger browns are the brood stock
for the river as no brown trout stockings are likely. The more responsible
of these guides even refuse to fish the spawning shoals when the browns are
Let's not neglect the still thriving rainbow fishery on the Little Red.
While the brown trout are the stars many more rainbows are actually caught,
especially by fly fishermen. Hatches of caddis, blue winged olives and other
mayfly patterns, midges in the winter and huge populations of sowbugs
(scuds), freshwater shrimp , small leaches and snails provide most of the
Rainbow forage in the river.
If anyone can come up with an effective snail pattern, send me an email!!
[Publishers Note: try this one:
As in any river, the anglers with the most skill catch the largest rainbows
but with a combination of federal and state stockings providing between
175,000 to 200,000 fish per year over 45 miles of water, there are rainbows
anyone can catch! Bring the kids---it's a great place to teach fly fishing!
While the fly fishing shoals can become crowded on the weekends when the
weather is nice, there's plenty of room after the brown trout spawn is
completed in late November and early December. Also at the end of the
spawn, when the female browns are no longer on the redds, there are plenty
of unprotected, unhatched eggs floating around and the rainbows move into
the shallow water, one of the few times of the year that the larger rainbows
can be hooked without fighting the moss!
Arkansas' mild climate and year-round trout season attract many out-of-state
anglers. In the winter and spring months, prepare for wet weather but snow
has become a rarity in recent years. It can get a little cool on the river
in late December and January, but by February we have days in the high
sixties. These are the days when the midges pile up in the eddies! At these
times, a 1-3 weight rod, 7x or 8x tippet and 20-22 size brown, green or black
midge pattern become valuable and provide the fastest dry-fly fishing of
the year. Most of the fly fishing done on the river uses pretty standard
stuff, a 5-6 weight rod, 5x tippet and 14-18 size flies. Popular patterns
include sowbug (scud) patterns, with and without bead heads), Gold Ribbed
Hare's Ear, Red Ass, San Juan Worm, Blue Wing Olive, Elk-Hair Caddis,
various soft-hackle varieties, etc.
I usually guide out of Lindsey's Resort located about 2.5 miles below the Dam,
(www.lindseysresort.com). Another worthwhile web address is
www.greersferrylake.org which will take you to the Greers Ferry Lake and
Little Red River Association's site which contains a ton of information
about the area. ~ Richard Crawford