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Big Fun With 'Little' Trout

Big Fun With 'Little' Trout

There's really nothing "little" about the trout-fishing action at Arkansas' Little Red and Little Missouri rivers this month. (May 2010)

The Little Red and Little Missouri rivers can't match the mighty White for sheer size, but they more than make up for it with bragging-sized catches of trout.

For 17 years, the Little Red held the brown trout world record until a Michigan river yielded a 41-pound, 7-ounce behemoth that bested the late Howard "Rip" Collins' legendary lunker by 3 ounces. Nevertheless, the Little Red continues to display trophy potential.

In contrast, fishermen on the Little Mo' frequently tangle with 50 or more robust rainbows per day, a feat that's easier in winter, but entirely possible at this time of year with some finesse.

Public accesses on both these Arkansas rivers feature an accommodating mix of boat ramps and shorelines for armchair anglers and waders. The Little Red and Missouri flow below hydroelectric dams on reservoirs, and so they rise and fall in rhythms set by the electrical grid or by floodwaters. Wading anglers with fly rods or spinning gear covet low water, but boaters can ride the rising water that triggers heavy feeding when the generators go online. Johnboats are fine on most sections of the Little Red, but canoes are best for navigating the Little Mo', where motors are banned above State Route 27 to protect drinking water.

Whether you're bound toward north-central Arkansas and the Little Red or on a southwesterly course to the Little Missouri, we know you'll have a big time on these fisherman-friendly trout streams.

Heber Springs, the Cleburne County seat, is the general base of operations for catching stocked rainbows and wild brown trout in the Little Red. It's just over an hour's drive from Little Rock and a great alternative for north Arkansas fishermen when conditions on the White are tough. Before you go, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (501) 362-5150 and Southwestern Power Administration at 1-866-494-1993 for recordings about water releases.


Excellent fishing begins below Greers Ferry Dam in John F. Kennedy Park, off State Route 25 northeast of Heber Springs. The sweet spot is upstream, where effluent from a federal fish hatchery empties into the river -- but everyone between Memphis and Muskogee knows about it.

Instead of elbowing your way into the campground crowd near the handicapped-accessible fishing platform, park at the ramp and take the well-beaten trail to non-crowded water downstream. Or wait until sunset, when hungry campers depart to cook their day's catch. Cast softly with light line and your tiniest lures when you see trout puckering the surface as dusk nears. Boaters float downstream, casting jerkbaits to logs and weedbeds or drifting red worms, corn or other bait near the bottom.

About 5.5 miles downstream off State Route 210 is the famous Cow Shoals access, where the Arkansas Fly Fishers Club of Little Rock planted the seeds of the river's thriving brown trout population in the 1970s. At river mile 10 on State Route 110, the Barnett Access (Swinging Bridge to most folks) features a huge hole bracketed by deep pools and riffles that accommodate every type angler. Boaters head upstream, while shorebound bait-anglers cast corn, worms and marshmallows into the hole, and flyfishermen wade shallow runs downstream.

Additional ramps are at the Lobo Access 17 miles downstream on State Route 337, Dripping Springs at Pangburn off State Route 110, and the Ramsey Access off State Route 305, which marks the end of the regulated trout waters, 29 miles below the dam. Waders and bank-fishermen also use Libby Shoal (on Route 337) and the old Pangburn Bridge on Route 110. The daily limit is five trout, and you must release all 16- to 24-inch fish; you can keep one over 24 inches. See Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations for additional rules.

Above Lake Greeson in southwest Arkansas, the Little Missouri's steep gradient makes it too wild for relaxed float-fishing, but the AGFC does stock 10,000 rainbows a year at the Albert Pike Recreation Area. It's on State Route 369 within the Ouachita National Forest in southwestern Montgomery County, six miles north of Langley. If the water's too high or low for easy paddling, bank- and wade-fishing are possible in spots. This is an outstanding place to cast a Rebel Teeny Craw for a mixed bag of rainbows, smallmouths and sunfish.

The fishing gets serious below Greeson, starting at Narrows Dam on State Route 19 in western Pike County. The AGFC stocks more than 75,000 11-inch rainbows there each year, mostly from October to March, but hatchery trucks release trout through June when the water and weather cooperate. There's also an ongoing and "limited" brown trout experiment, but those fish are strictly catch-and-release.

Below the dam, you'll find the Riverside access (signs mark the top of the nearby summer catch-and-release area), followed downstream by the River Ridge and Hinds Bluff accesses along Route 19. The Factory Site is west off the highway near Mount Moriah, five miles downstream from the dam. The official trout waters end at river mile 6, at the low water bridge on Muddy Fork Road (also off Route 19). Paddlers or those willing to hike the river between accesses can have productive stretches to themselves, especially on weekdays.

Jeff Guerin, the river's sole full-time fly-fishing guide designs special Little Mo' flies and plays a mean blues guitar, too. He warns that stocked rainbows become stronger and more cautious the longer they're in the river. By summer, their skittish nature requires patience and ultralight gear. He uses fly rods only, but spinning anglers can apply his suggestions this way: Switch to 2-pound mono on limber rods, use spinning reels with good drag systems and cast sinking flies or tiny marabou jigs (1/50- to 1/100-ounce) under small, clear casting bubbles.

Where legal, lob worms, PowerBait and other groceries gently, fishing them on the bottom with minimal weight. Guide tiny crankbaits, spinners and spoons through holes and structure, limit noise and avoid casting shadows in the direction you're fishing. The daily trout limit is five; see the AGFC's Trout Fishing Guidebook for catch-and-release areas and other rules. For past and estimated future generation schedules on the Little Missouri, check

We enjoy weekly fishing reports from the Little Red Fly Shop ( and recommend a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site, www.swl-wc.usace., for past, present and predicted flows on the Little Red and other waters.

For the best and most current information on the Little Missouri, rely on fly-fishing guide and instructor

Jeff Guerin's Web site, or call (870) 210-3681 to set up guided fishing trips.

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