Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Seventy-six

The Little Red River, Arkansas

By Richard Crawford

Did you ever see a place where it's a joy to be on the water just because it looks "fishy"? Arkansas's Little Red River is one of those.

Arkansas Little Red

Created in the early sixties with the closing of the Greers Ferry Dam, the Little Red was carefully engineered to provide great trout fishing under federal mitigation orders. After gathering elodea, commonly called coontail, from the nearby Spring River, Arkansas Game and Fish biologists rolled the big round bales off the launch ramp below the dam, followed the next year with scuds from the same source. After all this effort the first rainbow trout from the Greers Ferry National Hatchery, just below the dam, were stocked in '65.

As in any new fishery, the fish grew quickly and by the time I arrived in 1970, rainbows were so well established that we laughed at folks who had to measure their trout instead of weighing them. It took a rainbow of 4-5 lbs. to get any attention and the river record quickly shot up to 16.9 lbs.

Little Red Brown Trout

There's always those who can't be satisfied! Many fly fishermen wanted brown trout as well but the Game and Fish guys, who stocked browns in Arkansas's White River in the middle '40s, nixed the idea. Brown trout, after all, eat lots of those 75 federal trout from the hatchery. Not to be deterred, those wily fly fishermen ( who shall remain nameless) bought brown trout fry from an unknown source and placed them in the Little Red under the cover of darkness one summer night in 1973, following that stocking the next year with several Vibert hatching boxes full of fertilized brown trout eggs.

Since that time, regulations have been instituted that prohibit such activity but the Little Red has blossomed into the most phenomenal brown trout fishery on the planet with the IGFA world record brown to its credit.

World Record Brown This huge female that probably weighed 43-44 lbs. when caught was certified at 40 lbs. + when it was officially weighed about three days after it was landed in 1993. Rip Collins, the lucky angler, was out trying to get his outboard to run when he spotted the huge trout out cruising in the daylight. He happened to have an ultra-light spinning rod rigged with a 1/64th ounce green marabou jig and 4 lb. test line. The record brown took on the first cast and Rip spent the next 40 minutes following her around, trying not to make her mad!! After getting the fish into his live well, he took it back across the river to his dock and secured her to his dock with a piece of clothesline while he called frantically around the nation trying to find someone with an aquarium suitable to keep the fish alive. Not having any success, he finally gave up and removed the fish from the water for weighing. A scale sample revealed that the fish was 17 years old when caught, putting it in the first age class in the river.

Naturally, there's another world's record brown, weighing probably 50 lbs., living under the same undercut bank that yielded the world's record. Sightings of 20-30 lb. browns are fairly common in the clear tailwaters of the Little Red but few fish of this size are landed for reasons any experienced brown trout angler knows. Great underwater visibility (up to 125 feet in the upper river) coupled with their tremendous eyesight and a propensity for nocturnal activity are the norm for trout of this size and with the fishing pressure on the Little Red, these individuals are the ones that reach the size we're discussing. Catches of 4-5 lb. browns are fairly common on hard plastic crank baits fished at night and would be more common by fly fishermen if they were equipped correctly and fished at night from a boat in the deeper holes in the coontail.

Proud angler

The local fly fishing guides discourage night fishing because in the summer months the river (at 47degrees from under Greers Ferry Dam) creates a fog cover so heavy that it's hard to breathe, let alone try to find a way to place your casts effectively. Also, the bigger browns are the brood stock for the river as no brown trout stockings are likely. The more responsible of these guides even refuse to fish the spawning shoals when the browns are on them.

Let's not neglect the still thriving rainbow fishery on the Little Red. While the brown trout are the stars many more rainbows are actually caught, especially by fly fishermen. Hatches of caddis, blue winged olives and other mayfly patterns, midges in the winter and huge populations of sowbugs (scuds), freshwater shrimp , small leaches and snails provide most of the Rainbow forage in the river.

If anyone can come up with an effective snail pattern, send me an email!! [Publishers Note: try this one: Rainy's Snail.]

As in any river, the anglers with the most skill catch the largest rainbows but with a combination of federal and state stockings providing between 175,000 to 200,000 fish per year over 45 miles of water, there are rainbows anyone can catch! Bring the kids---it's a great place to teach fly fishing!

While the fly fishing shoals can become crowded on the weekends when the weather is nice, there's plenty of room after the brown trout spawn is completed in late November and early December. Also at the end of the spawn, when the female browns are no longer on the redds, there are plenty of unprotected, unhatched eggs floating around and the rainbows move into the shallow water, one of the few times of the year that the larger rainbows can be hooked without fighting the moss!

Want to catch this one?

Arkansas' mild climate and year-round trout season attract many out-of-state anglers. In the winter and spring months, prepare for wet weather but snow has become a rarity in recent years. It can get a little cool on the river in late December and January, but by February we have days in the high sixties. These are the days when the midges pile up in the eddies! At these times, a 1-3 weight rod, 7x or 8x tippet and 20-22 size brown, green or black midge pattern become valuable and provide the fastest dry-fly fishing of the year. Most of the fly fishing done on the river uses pretty standard stuff, a 5-6 weight rod, 5x tippet and 14-18 size flies. Popular patterns include sowbug (scud) patterns, with and without bead heads), Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear, Red Ass, San Juan Worm, Blue Wing Olive, Elk-Hair Caddis, various soft-hackle varieties, etc.

Regional Map

I usually guide out of Lindsey's Resort located about 2.5 miles below the Dam, (www.lindseysresort.com). Another worthwhile web address is www.greersferrylake.org which will take you to the Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River Association's site which contains a ton of information about the area. ~ Richard Crawford

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