Top Ozark Tailwaters

Little Red River
Page 4 of 4   |  
Little Red River Practicalities

Species: The state stocks rainbow trout (as nine-inch and twelve-inch plantings) and cutthroats. Amazingly, browns are not stocked in the river and reproduce in great numbers naturally.

Gear: Fly fishers should bring an 8- to 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight outfit. A 6-weight won't be too heavy for some of these monsters and the high, fast water. Both 4X or 5X leaders will work in most conditions, and only in low water will you have to switch to 6X or 7X. For night fishing, 3X leaders are best. Guides recommend weight-forward floating lines with a five-foot sink tip. Spincasters find that an ultralight spinning rod with 48 pound test line will work for the average rainbow trout you're likely to catch, but if you are looking to land lunkers, move up to a bassin' outfit set up with 1020 pound test line. You'll want to bring along neoprene waders for the colder months, and breathables for the warmer ones. Felt soles are needed to keep from slipping on the slick rocks. Polarized sunglasses are a must.

Flies & lures: Your fly box should contain Sowbugs, Scuds, Sculpin, Woolly Buggers, San Juan worms, and Crayfish to imitate the forage fish and crustaceans. Unlike western rivers, insect hatches are secondary food sources for these trout. Standard mayfly and caddis patterns will cover all the insect imitations you will need. Bring dry, emerger and nymph patterns. Beadhead Sowbugs are deadly. Other popular patterns include Prince Nymph and March Brown Nymph, Red Brassie, and Red Ass. On each of these tailwaters, when the water is down, midge fishing is highly successful. The number-one fly that will put you into fish is the Red Fox Squirrel nymph. Dropper rigs are deadly, usually set up with a Sowbug on the bottom; try them in orange, gray and tan. Lures run the gamut, depending on who you talk to, and include gold and bright green Little Cleos, Bomber Long A's, Rattlin' Rogues, small black or white jigs, Rapalas and crawdad lures.

Fly shops, lodges & guides: Tom Hawthorne's The Ozark Angler, Heber Springs, (501) 362-3597; Red River Trout Dock, Heber Springs, (501) 362-2197; Duane Hada's The Woodsman, Fort Smith, (501) 452-3559; Lindsey's Rainbow Resort, Heber Springs, (501) 362-3139; Lobo Landing, Heber Springs, (501) 362-5802.

Directions: Take US-67 North towards Memphis. Stay on US 67 to Heber Springs turnoff near Cabot. Travel north on Highway 5 heading north for nearly 40 miles until you curve right on Highway 16/25 and cruise right into Heber Springs.

Lodging: There are no big cities to call home for an extended stay in the Ozarks, but here are some of the more established and reliable digs, all either on the river or within a short drive to any of the rivers. Cotter and Mountain Home are the best bets for White and North Fork, Heber Springs for Little Red. Anglers can fly into Little Rock and rent a car for a short drive of less than two hours.

Government agencies: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Little Rock, (501) 223-6300; Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock, (800) 644-4833. To order licenses by phone, call (800) 364-GAME. For current water conditions: Little Red River, (501) 362-5150; White River, (501) 431-5311.


The White River isn't the only fishery capable of coughing up huge trout. Just a few years ago, the Little Red River relinquished a 40-pound, 4-ounce brown trout to a spin fisherman, setting a new world record.

One of the best-kept trout fishing secrets in the South, the Little Red, which flows from Greers Gerry Dam near Heber Springs, offers 30 miles of trout water from the dam. Angler can fish for big rainbows pushing fifteen-pounds, and colorful browns of titanic proportions.

Hatchery cutthroat were introduced in the early 1990s, and preliminary results show that these planted trout are thriving. Brook trout are now part of the regular catch, too. The river has islands, swift shoals, and big boulders, making for a variety of trout habitats.

There are all kinds of holding water along the Little Red, and the best way to try them all is to float this clear, blue-ribbon fishery from a boat, usually a johnboat — a long, narrow, shallow fiberglass or aluminum boat, the traditional craft on these waters.

Fish above the moss beds, under overhanging limbs, by submerged timber, to drop-offs, to the banks, to logjams, and to the heads and tails of pools. You'll probably hear that the Little Red has little or no dry-fly fishing, but don't believe it. Caddis flies hatch most of the warm months, stones come off in spring, and attractor patterns seem to work most of the summer.

Nocturnal Angling

The fall trout spawn has for years been the most popular time to be on the Little Red and White Rivers, but the guides and shops finally began to realize that fishing over spawning trout is detrimental to the continued health of the fishery. As such, the guides and shops, for the most part, have recently emphasized catch-and-release angling and discourage their clients from fishing for spawners.

So if you want to catch big trout in the White River system, and wish to avoid fishing the fall brown trout run, when thousands of anglers descend on the tailwater like so many ducks, consider hunting for these giants under the cover of darkness.

Night fishing is popular on these rivers and with good reason. The big trout tend to leave safe lies and feed under cover of dark. Anglers also need to fish with underwater flies such as egg patterns, big streamers and sculpin patterns. Stripping in big streamers with a responsive hand is a must to consistently catch nighttime trout on the White River system.

Guides and locals claim that if the moon is high and the starry night cloudless, you might as well stay at the lodge and turn in early. I recommend going out at night with a guide or only after you have fished the area during the day for a safer nighttime outing.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »