Arkansas offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
Summer is coming, and our wealth of lakes, rivers and streams, makes Arkansas the perfect choice for a family fishing vacation.
Our weather is mildly fantastic in May and June, and the fish are biting in every corner of the state and all points between. That combination attracts visitors from around the country, but it also makes it attractive for native Arkies to spend their time and money at home rather than blow it on an expensive outing to, say, the Gulf Coast.
And after your day on the water, there’s plenty for the entire family to enjoy at these great destinations.
At first glance, our capital city might seem an odd destination for a family searching for a fishing vacation, but a closer look reveals a wealth of fishing opportunities to complement a rich variety of off-water entertainment.
During the winter, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks a number of waters around central Arkansas with rainbow trout. All of those waters are open to the public and are family friendly because they are easily fished from the bank.
Of course, these fisheries are popular, so trout might be scarce. However, fishing pressure also abates quite a bit by May so it’s always possible to catch a few survivors that have had an extra three months to grow.
Waters stocked with rainbow trout include Rock Creek and Boyle Park Pond inside Boyle Park, the pond at MacArthur Park, and Fourche Creek in War Memorial Park. If trout don’t cooperate, you can catch warmouths, bream and bass in Rock Creek.
Boyle Park’s entrance is at Mississippi Street and Rodney Parham Road.
If you have a boat, excellent fishing is available in the Arkansas River for largemouth bass and white bass. The Little Rock Pool stretches from Murray Lock & Dam on Rebsamen Park Road to David Terry Lock & Dam. You can launch your boat across the river at the Verizon ramp, in the shadow of Verizon Arena.
Excellent fishing is available for crappie, bass, catfish and white bass below Murray Lock & Dam. There’s also a boat ramp at Two Rivers Park.
A short drive west on Highway 10 will bring you to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, where you’ll find plenty of family activities and great fishing at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. You can see the mountain from I-430 as you cross the Arkansas River. It towers above the landscape and looks like a volcano.
Within the park is the Little Maumelle River, which offers excellent fishing for bass, bream and catfish. In May, everything is biting, and fishing is popular. A canoe will enable you to get away from the crowds for better fishing.
You can catch trout in Sherwood at Cherrywood Lake and Sherwood Municipal City Pond, and at Maumelle at Lake Valencia. Lake Valencia, which has an excellent family-friendly fishing pier, offers fishing for bass, bream and hybrids, as well.
Along The Way
After fishing MacArthur Park, you can visit the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded American forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. The Arkansas Arts Center is nearby, and there’s always something interesting to see there.
Along with the fishing, War Memorial Park is home to the Little Rock Zoo and a wonderful 18-hole golf course.
About 15 minutes to the east is the Clinton Presidential Center, which also includes the Clinton Presidential Library. Fishing is available on the Arkansas River, and you can learn about hunting, fishing and wildlife at the Witt Stephens Central Arkansas Nature Center. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the Clinton Library.
The Murray Park Area is a very popular place for family relaxation. You can walk across the Arkansas River on the Big Dam Bridge, which spans Murray Lock & Dam, and you also can hike and bike in Two Rivers Park.
The Spa City is Arkansas’s premier tourist destination, but it also boasts some of the best fishing in the Southeast.
Lakes Hamilton and Catherine beckon anglers in the city, and Lake Ouachita offers world-class fishing. With lakes Ouachita and Hamilton nearby, the Spa City is one of America’s great fishing destinations. Both lakes have excellent fishing for largemouth bass, spotted bass, striped bass, white bass, hybrid stripers, walleyes, crappie, bream and catfish.
For bass fishing, Lake Hamilton is considered the weaker of the two, but Bobby Dennis of Hot Springs disagrees. Dennis, the lure designer for Luck-E-Strike, lives beside Lake Hamilton and said it is one of the nation’s finest big-bass lakes. By that, Dennis said he means bass in the 10-pound range.
Ouachita has excellent fishing for everything, but it’s also one of the prettiest lakes in America. It is user friendly, too, with a string of campgrounds from one end to the other on both sides of the lake.
The south-side campgrounds are better and offer a range of sites for RVs and car camping. They have water and electrical hookups, lavatories and boat ramps. All are near US-270, which makes it easy to reach Hot Springs.
Best of all, their shorelines offer generous bank fishing access.
In May, you can catch almost anything from the shore. Walleyes and stripers often come shallow and cruise the rocky points. Bass and bream are available almost any time.
For more excitement, lakes Hamilton and Ouachita support a thriving fishing guide industry that caters to all tastes. You can charter guided outings for stripers, largemouth bass and even crappie.
Along The Way
Hot Springs is famous for a range of restaurants to suit all tastes. Cajun Boilers is legendary for Louisiana-style seafood, including a great crawfish etoufee and alligator tails.
If you like barbecue, Chucks is a neat spot on US-270. They have a sandwich called the Rebel. One bite is a gastronomical mix of Memphis soul, Southern gospel and the Statler Brothers between two slices of bread.
Hot Springs has virtually any kind of nightlife you desire. There are also minitature golf courses and go-kart tracks, as well as a fantastic amusement park at Magic Springs. The Arkansas Alligator Farm is a traditional favorite.
The city has theaters, museums, bathhouses and a variety of shops offering goods that are hard to find anywhere else.
There are plenty of places to buy live and artificial bait, tackle, camping supplies and ethanol-free gasoline.
Activities closer to nature abound. The Ouachita Trail is nearby, as are trails at Lake Ouachita State Park. The state park also offers a selection of family-friendly activities. A hike through Garvan Woodland Memorial Gardens is always a treat.
Though on the outskirts of Arkadelphia, DeGray Lake is considered one of the Diamond Lakes that includes Ouachita, Hamilton and Catherine. An impoundment of the Caddo River, it is part of the Ouachita River watershed and resembles a smaller version of Lake Ouachita. It also has excellent fishing for bass, walleyes, white bass, hybrid stripers, crappie, bream and catfish.
Like Ouachita, DeGray Lake has a string of public campgrounds operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They are well kept and have the same facilities for RV and car camping, and boat ramps, too.
For anglers, Eureka Springs has a little bit of everything that matters. Beaver Lake is only about 15 minutes away. It is famous for its excellent fishing for striped bass, white bass and hybrids, but its bass fishing is in the national spotlight every year during an FLW Tour event. In fact, the bass fishing is so consistently good that Beaver Lake is the only annual stop on the FLW Tour.
While largemouth bass fishing is the main draw, Beaver Lake is becoming increasingly attractive for smallmouth bass. They were a sideshow in the middle part of the lake for many years, but the population hit critical mass about 10 years ago and mushroomed in terms of quantity and quality. Smallmouths in the 3- to 4-pound range are common, but bigger ones are available.
Bream, crappie and catfish are plentiful as well. The lake supports a healthy walleye population too.
The White River below Beaver Lake supports a popular and productive trout fishery.
For family fishing vacations, you can’t beat Beaver Lake. The Corps of Engineers maintains excellent campgrounds at Damsite, Lost Bridge, Rocky Branch, Monte Ne, Prairie Creek, Hickory Creek and others. They are largely geared toward RV camping, with water and electrical hookups. They also have swim beaches, and some have playgrounds.
All offer generous bank fishing access where youngsters can catch almost anything in the lake. Beaver Lake also supports a healthy fishing charter industry that caters to all tastes.
Along The Way
DeGray Lake State Park is a destination in its own right. It has an excellent golf course and five hiking trails in various ranges of ease. Visitors can also go on kayak lake tours and snorkeling tours. Horseback riding is available, as are arts and crafts workshops, jig-tying workshops, nocturnal wildlife safaris, “owl prowls” and square dancing.
Restaurants abound in Arkadelphia, and there’s one at the state park, too.
Similar in many respects to Hot Springs, Eureka Springs is an Ozark resort in the northwest section of the state that models itself after an alpine village.
Its steep, narrow streets are lined with all kinds of craft shops and restaurants. The Crescent Hotel is internationally famous for supposedly being haunted.
Another overlooked vacation spot is also a natural for family fishing vacations when you consider all of the opportunities to affords.
As at Little Rock, rainbow trout are available at Carol Ann Cross Park pond, and at Van Buren Municipal Park Pond in Van Buren, Fort Smith’s sister city next door.
The Arkansas River offers good fishing for largemouth bass and white bass, but there’s very good bass fishing at Lee Creek Lake and Sugarloaf Lake.
For a wilder fishing adventure, a number of remote creeks in the Ozark National Forest north of Van Buren offer excellent wade-fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, long-eared sunfish and warmouths. It’s even more fun if you fly-fish.
Along The Way
Off the water, Fort Smith and its surrounding area have a surprising diversity of family-friendly activities.
For history buffs, the Fort Smith National Historic Site is a favorite. It features “Hanging” Judge Parker’s courtroom and the gallows where many outlaws in the former pioneer outpost met their fates.
In fact, Fort Smith’s frontier heritage is so ubiquitous that True West magazine named Fort Smith its Top True Western Town in 2013.
Fort Smith has a vibrant and thriving downtown that supports a wide range of clubs, taverns and restaurants.