November 02, 2023
Arkansas is no stranger to big trout, like the 40-pound, 4-ounce former International Game Fish Association world-record brown trout caught in the Little Red River in May 1992. The Natural State had a near-miss with another record trout in recent days, this time a possible state-record brook trout caught on the same river that the late Collins made famous.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, fly angler Megan Gray landed a huge brookie that was approximately 17.4 inches in length, 15.3 inches in girth and an estimated weight of more than five pounds. Landed in the catch-and-release area of the Little Red River below Greer's Ferry Dam, Gray couldn't weigh the fish, so she had a few other nearby anglers take a few photos of the fish with her fly rod alongside it.
After that, she let the huge brookie swim away to fight another day, a fish that was potentially as big or even bigger than the current Arkansas state-record brook trout. That record is a 5-pound specimen landed from the North Fork River near Mountain Home by Billy J. Meeks of Wylie, Texas, on June 3, 2002.
While Gray couldn't claim the state's brook trout state record, she will receive a Master Angler Award from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It’s not the first time she has received such an award; she also has a 15-pound brown trout to her credit from the Little Red. Not bad for a freshman point guard for Hendrix College in nearby Conway, who was enjoying a day on the water with her boyfriend Oliver.
"I was struggling a bit, and Oliver was catching them pretty good, so I was thinking I’d have to start hearing about him finally outfishing me,” said Gray in an AGFC news release. “That’s when we both noticed the large trout in the clear water. We thought it might be a brook trout, but we’d never seen one that big.”
Gray laid an orange egg pattern fly well ahead of the fish, then managed the drift to fool the huge brookie into biting.
“When I lifted up to hook the fish, he took off on a good run and then another,” Gray said. “All I could think was, ‘Please let me catch this fish!’”
After another good run, Gray steered it to the landing net manned by Oliver and she had one of her best memories from being a fly angler since she was 4 or 5.
The catch drew the attention of famed artist and Rivertown Gallery owner Duane Hada, who happened to be on the Little Red last Saturday when the big brookie was caught by Gray. In fact, he was staying with his friend Gregg Patterson—who took the famous photo of Rip Collins' world-record brown—and Patterson snapped a few photos of this enormous brook trout.
“This is the biggest brook trout I’ve ever seen caught in Arkansas,” he said. “I know the state record was 5 pounds, 18 inches long and had an 18-inch girth. I’ve done replicas of trout that were longer than 18 inches but didn’t have the weight of this fish. This one had a big hump back and was really big around. And it was marked up beautifully. It’s truly the fish of a lifetime.”
While Arkansas is better known for browns and rainbows, AGFC trout program coordinator Christy Graham says that brookies have been periodically stocked in the Little Red River since 1984. Intermittenly stocked from 1994 through 2007, more than 1,600 were stocked in 2021 and 7,000+ were stocked earlier this year.