Photo by Barry & Cathy Beck.
If the mighty White River’s 100 miles of trout water are too big, and the North Fork’s four and a half miles too small, the Little Red River is just right for most Arkansas trout fans. For 30 or so miles from Greers Ferry Dam in Cleburne County to the state Route 305 bridge in northern White County, it teems with stocked rainbow trout, a self-sustaining population of wild browns and a sprinkling of colorful brook and cutthroat trout.
The Little Red and its little sister, Collins Creek, are also our most accommodating trout fisheries. Whether you fish with bait, lures or flies, and whether you cast from shore, a boat or wheelchair, there’s a comfortable place for you here. Following is your guide to fishing the Little Red and Collins Creek, including strategies for dealing with rising and falling water and a review of the most popular public accesses.
THE TAILWATER TALE
Because it’s a tailwater below Greers Ferry Dam, which controls floodwaters in Greers Ferry Lake and generates hydroelectric power through two turbines, the Little Red rises and falls unpredictably. Before heading toward Heber Springs, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (501) 362-5150 and the Southwestern Power Administration at 1-866-494-1993 for recorded information about water releases.
Trout feed heavily on rising or stable water, but action tapers as water levels fall after the generators shut down. In low water, wade anglers safely stalk the shallows and cast lures and flies to every honeyhole, while boaters may scrape over shoals. When both generators run, the river rises several feet and boaters easily drift bait or cast jerkbaits to the edges for giant brown trout, while the fly-fishermen adjourn for coffee and tall tales at area fly shops.
Because it takes a few hours for water to move downstream, waders extend their fishing time by moving downstream when high water runs them off the shoals. Conversely, boaters hopscotch to upstream ramps to ride the rise and enjoy the outstanding action that goes with it.
JOHN F. KENNEDY PARK
Known mostly as “JFK Park,” this uppermost access, off state Route 25 on the east side of Greers Ferry Dam, is one of our busiest recreation areas. Expect to find plenty of like-minded companions in the park, though the coldest water near the dam holds numerous 11-inch stocker rainbows and most of the Little Red’s sporty brook trout. Five-trout daily limits are common. The AGFC enforces a 16-to-24-inch slot limit on all four trout species, and you may keep only one fish over 24 inches long per day.
Catches increase as you wander from the busy concrete boat ramp and wheelchair-accessible fishing platform that overlooks it into the park. Upstream, cast to tubes that flush water and crumbs of trout chow into the river from the nearby federal fish hatchery. You can also boat or follow well-worn trails on the bank downstream to productive riffles and holes.
JFK’s trout relish worms, corn or paste baits, and those who cast flies or lures must approach with stealth. Midge hatches are common late in the day, when flyfishermen succeed with Brassies, emergers or tiny soft hackle flies on 12-foot leaders with spidery 6X tippets.
River mile 5.5 marks the legendary shoal in which the Arkansas Fly Fishers club, with permission from a skeptical Arkansas Game and Fish Commission director, planted the first brown trout eggs in the mid-1970s. Those fish are the foundation of today’s thriving population, and the heaviest spawning activity still occurs here each fall. Fishing pressure can be intense on weekends, but weekday anglers occasionally find the gravel parking lot off state Route 210 empty.
Fly-fishers are in the majority here, because the most easily accessed water is knee-deep or less during low water, and the narrow channel and high water velocity when the generators are running make other methods difficult. Seasonal regulations protect spawning browns; see the 2008 edition of the AGFC’s Trout Fishing Guidebook, free at fly and bait shops.
River veterans still call this area “Swinging Bridge” after the suspension bridge that attracted tourists until it collapsed in 1989, killing five people. At Winkley Shoal, at river mile 10 by the Route 110 bridge, you’ll find a resort, restaurant, dock and fly shop. All types of anglers fish here. Flyfishermen wade in on either side, while boaters and bank-casters use the AGFC ramp and parking lot on the east side.
A large hole with generous vegetation is prime territory for taking freshly stocked rainbows — and the huge browns that stalk them — with bait, spinners, jigs and spoons. Boaters head upstream to deeper pools; it’s two miles to the log at which the late Howard “Rip” Collins caught the 40-pound, 4-ounce world-record brown trout in 1992.
Fly-fishers roam the 900-foot shoal casting red- or orange-bodied soft hackle flies (sizes 12-16) and black or olive Woolly Buggers in sizes 10-12. Most correctly perceive the Little Red as a superior nymph-fishing river owing to its forage base of the tiny crustaceans called “sow bugs,” but dry-fly fishing with an Adams, Blue-Winged Olive or Elk Hair Caddis in sizes 14-20 can be spectacular, too.
Off state Route 337 (also known as Libby Road) 15 miles below the dam, Libby is a short shoal with pools on either side that provide limited wading. Long-casters who deliver flies or miniature crawfish crankbaits to boat docks across the river score here.
There’s no ramp, but expect plenty of boat traffic during warm weather. When mayflies or caddis dance atop the water here, the surface erupts as trout gorge on the hapless insects.
Two miles farther downstream, off Route 337, you’ll find an AGFC-maintained ramp and a private resort with a dock, restaurant, cabins and bait shop at Lobo Landing. Fly-fishers generally leave this deep spot to boaters.
Sculpins, a bottom-lurking baitfish found in Ozarks streams, were illegally stocked in the Little Red a few years ago. If you can catch some with bits of worm on tiny hooks, they’re excellent brown trout bait here and in other deep areas.
At the state Route 110 bridge 24 miles downstream, the Pangburn access has no boat ramp, but it’s comfortable for folks who
like to wade or fish from its sandy banks. It features the old highway bridge with the center removed, providing a generous fishing platform on each side of the river with dramatic views into the water. Room is limited, but so is the fishing pressure; rainbows are larger than average here.
Trout patrol woody debris around the pilings and take bait fished from above. This is a perfect place for practicing with streamers. Instead of dead-drifting nymphs, cast Woolly Buggers or Clouser Minnows upstream and strip them back, or cast down and across and let them swing in the current.
Literature and advice on flies, water conditions and bait are available at area fly and tackle shops.
If you know Dry Run Creek on the North Fork River, Collins Creek is the Little Red’s downsized equivalent. This scenic, manmade stream follows a natural creek bed and empties into the river. It opened in 2004.
According to AGFC fisheries biologist Tom Bly, the creek holds a good trout population, and rainbows, browns and cutts spawn there. However, because it’s fed by river water pumped from the dam — in contrast to Dry Run Creek, which receives fertile effluent from a fish hatchery — Collins Creek doesn’t have the same potential to grow lunkers.
Anglers under 16 years old may fish the entire creek, and below the wooden vehicle bridge in the park, licensed anglers over 16, including those with physical challenges, may fish — but only while they’re with an angler who’s under 16. Three wheelchair-accessible fishing platforms overlook the lower creek.
Collins Creek is open from sunrise to sunset year ’round for catch-and-release fishing. Only artificial lures or flies with single barbless hooks, fished on one rod per person, are legal. You can always “match the hatch” with a sow bug fly in sizes 14-20. Black, olive or white marabou micro-jigs, drifted under small casting bubbles, work on light spin gear.
Tailwaters are outstanding fisheries for wading anglers, but they’re also treacherous. Enjoy them safely with a few common-sense habits such as monitoring immovable objects to detect rising water. For more hints, call the AGFC at 1-800-364-4263 for a free “Wading Safety” brochure.