Arkansas Trout On A Missouri River

The Little Missouri River in southwest Arkansas boasts a fine trout fishery. (May 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Trout fishing in north Arkansas has a big reputation: Tailwaters gush from hydroelectric dams on reservoirs of 30,000 to 45,000 acres and flow for many miles, producing rainbows that occasionally weigh in the teens and brown trout that snack on fish you'd be happy to put on a stringer. It's world-class fishing -- but the sheer size of the rivers and the force of their changing water levels can overwhelm and even intimidate anglers.

Fortunately, there's excellent fishing on a smaller scale and a more relaxing pace on the Little Missouri River in southwest Arkansas. Jeff Guerin of Murfreesboro has fished the Little Mo for three decades and is the river's sole full-time guide. He and his customers use fly-fishing gear exclusively, but all anglers can benefit from his detailed observations about the river. And if you happen to be a fly-fishing purist, he delivered an exciting revelation during his interview with Arkansas Sportsman when he declared: "I'm going out on a limb, but I'll say it's the best dry-fly stream in the state!"

Here's your guide to catching the feisty rainbows in southwest Arkansas' scenic jewel, the Little Missouri River.

LITTLE MO INFO

After it rises near the Big Fork community in Polk County, the Little Missouri covers 29 rough-and-tumble miles, dropping 35 feet per mile as it flows into Lake Greeson. Part of the steep upper portion is classified as a wild river, which means that only experienced kayakers who can rescue themselves have any business there during high water in the spring. In the summer, these uppermost reaches are often too low for navigation, but hikers and waders tussle with smallmouths, sunfish and catfish in pools, and they may even encounter a few trout. Fishing is popular year 'round in the Albert Pike Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest, off state Highway 369 about six miles north of Langley in Pike County.

Rainbows are the only trout stocked here, but those that survive for a few months develop especially feisty attitudes and fight much harder than their hatchery cousins to the north. "The condition the fish are in is incredible," Guerin said. "You'll have a fish that takes off on a 15-yard run that'll turn out to be 11 or 12 inches long."

WHERE THE TROUT ARE

The Little Mo's prime trout waters are in the first six and three-tenths miles below Narrows Dam, which impounds 7,000-acre Lake Greeson six miles north of Murfreesboro and creates hydroelectric power from its three generators. Trout stocking began there in the 1950s to mitigate the loss of native warmwater species that couldn't tolerate the cold tailwater. Fishing is best when the water is low and the dam's generators are idle. "It's the last dam to go online," Guerin said. "When everybody else is running water (in the upper White River system of hydroelectric dams and tailwaters), you have a reasonable chance (of finding fishable water) here. But if it's 100 degrees in Mount Pleasant, Texas, you don't have much of chance, because the generators will be running."

The AGFC stocks about 87,000 10- to 11-inch rainbows per year at the river's five public access areas. For example, between Nov. 1 and the end of last year, the agency was scheduled to stock 1,855 trout at Riverside Access at Narrows Dam, 2040 trout at River Ridge Access a mile and a half below the dam, 3385 rainbows at Hinds Bluff about two miles below the dam, 3,775 fish at the Old Factory site five miles downstream and 3,385 at the low water bridge six and three-tenths miles downstream, which marks the end of the stocked waters. You can reach each of these public accesses off state Highway 19, which roughly parallels this portion of the river between Lake Greeson and the city of Murfreesboro.

SLY TROUT ON THE FLY

Anglers sometimes claim that they caught 50 to 100 or more trout per day on the Little Missouri. Such eye-catching reports show up on Web sites during the winter after a lucky angler arrives on the heels of a hatchery truck that's just coughed up a couple of thousand naïve rainbows that'll strike anything on the water.

"I kinda smile when folks from Texas say they caught 100 or 150," Guerin said. "But they come back in the summer, and they're lucky to get a hit. By that time of year, there are no 'freshmen' out there. The trout have become educated."

Guerin studies the river's insect populations and tracks seasonal hatches, and then matches the hatch, often with flies of his own design. For example, his Long Creek pattern (his favorite fly) imitates Light Cahill and March Brown nymphs, which are among the most common food forms in the river. His Smidge and Smudge soft-hackle patterns mimic insects emerging toward the surface. Mayflies too are common, and you can expect topwater action on grasshopper patterns in September and October, he said. Longtime favorites such as pheasant-tail nymphs, Wooly Buggers and midge patterns also work.

FLY-FISHING GEAR

Although Guerin's personal gear includes a 2-weight rod, which is at the ultralight end of the fly-fishing scale, he recommends a 9-foot 3- or 4-weight rod with a matching reel and floating fly line. "In summer, when the river clears up, it's crystal-clear 8 to 9 feet deep," he explained. "You're usually fishing in shallow water-from 1 foot to ankle deep-in summer, so I go to a 10- to 12-foot leader with 3 to 4 feet of tippet. We're fishing 7X and 8X tippets and fluorocarbon (the lightest, lowest-visibility line available) and getting refusals. These fish know what a leader is."

Lengthy leaders maximize stealth, but such terminal tackle demands precision casting. Form a tight loop with a crisp backcast; then, stop the rod tip sharply in your forward cast and allow the line and leader to unfurl and settle gently to the water. Long leaders can tempt you to overpower your cast, so try to slow down your casting stroke and let the rod do its share of the work. Sloppy casts still draw strikes in the fall and winter, but the Little Missouri demands your best efforts at this time of year.

"The people who straighten out their casts are the ones who get the strikes," Guerin said.

LURES AND BAIT

Those who haven't yet caught the fly-fishing bug should approach the Little Mo's spooky summertime rainbows with ultralight spinning or spincasting gear, 2- to 4-pound-test line and small lures. Inline spinners no larger than 1/8 ounce, downsized crankbaits such as the Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish, tiny marabou jigs suspended under the smallest casting bubble you can find, and minuscule minnow imitations are all popular artificials.

All the usual trout enticements will work here: red worms, salmon eggs, marshmallows, canned corn (dye it with a few drops of red food color for a change

of pace), waxworms, balls of bread or cheese, crickets or any of the prepared baits, such as Berkley PowerBait. Fish baits on short-shanked hooks with just enough weight to keep them on the bottom or slowly rolling downstream when the river is flowing. Some folks inject air into worms or add marshmallows to float their baits just off the bottom.

Wading boots and lightweight waders, polarized sunglasses, a hat with a brim and a vest or chest pack to carry lures or flies and extra terminal tackle complete your gear. Sunscreen is a must at this time of year for everyone, regardless of skin color. Trout anglers must carry a fishing license and $5 trout stamp, available at AGFC offices and tackle dealers statewide.

FISHING WITHIN THE LAW

From 100 yards below Narrows Dam on Lake Greeson to the state Highway 27 bridge, anglers may use no more than two rods. From the dam to the upstream end of Riverside Park, you may fish only with artificial lures with a single barbless hook, and all fish must be released immediately. Chumming is forbidden in this area, too. From May 1 through October, the same rules apply from the upstream end of Riverside Park to the gas line that crosses the River Ridge pool.

An old guide's trick for ensuring that your barbless flies and lures will pass muster with enforcement officers is to push the point through your shirt. If you can back the hook out cleanly, consider the hook barbless. If it hangs up on the way back out, mash down the remaining barb with pliers and repeat the test until the hook is truly barbless.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

The best source of up-to-date information on the Little Missouri is guide Jeff Guerin's Web site, LittleMissouriFlyfishing.com It includes a forum, catch and release tips and information on how to arrange casting lessons or fishing trips with Guerin. He also describes fishing trips with his customers and makes day-to-day observations about the river and its trout-invaluable information that will help all anglers enjoy this very special river.

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