Years ago, some buddies from work who knew I enjoyed fly fishing invited me to travel to Arkansas with them for 4 days.
That first trip was AWESOME and since then I’ve traveled back to Arkansas 3 times. I love exploring new waters, but “finding” fishy water can yield fishless days. If you were to ask me where I could GUARANTEE catching trout on a fly rod I would send you to Arkansas.
Something to point out is that the state of Arkansas has excellent public access. Most of the places I’ve listed below have public parking and cater to the fly fisher.
11 Best Places to Fly Fish in Arkansas
1. White River Tailwaters below Bull Shoals Dam
Before 2011, this water was best fished by wading. You could park along Powerhouse Road which runs along the south side of the White River. Then walk along the road until you saw promising water and scramble down the bank. The concern fishing this way was that, when power was needed the generators were kicked in and the water levels could rise by 10 feet in a matter of minutes.
Since then the state has stepped in to regulate water levels and temperature. This regulation has turned the tailwater into a large river requiring a boat, but it also created the perfect environment for the fly fisher. +100 fish days on a fly rod are achievable with brown trout extending 20 inches a regularity.
How to Plan a Fly Fishing Trip to Arkansas
I’ve flown into Little Rock Airport and drive north on I65 for 3 hours. I like staying at Gaston’s White River Resort (link) which is right on the river. Gaston’s rents houses which works great for a group. The property has a decent restaurant and rents boats.
I have gotten into the habit of FedExing my gear. I’ll also Pre-pay for return shipping and toss the labels in the box. Carrying rods, waders and flies can be a hassle. You can carry all this onto the plan, but it delays check in and usually requires a visit to the airport “special” baggage claim area. It does cost a little more, but for me it’s worth it. The folks at Gaston’s will hold onto your gear and arrange for pickup.
Where to Fly Fish on the White River
PRO TIP – Call over to Bull Shoals -White River State Park, they have 20 ft boats to rent which are a little cheaper than Gaston’s and include free gas all day. Quantities are limited so plan ahead. The marina is closer to the dam than Gaston’s so you’ll have more time to fish instead of motoring.
How to Fly Fish the White River Tailwater
Two methods work best for Fly Fishing on the White River.
One of the most effective way to catch large numbers is to dead drift streamers that imitate the threadfin shad deep through the runs. A great setup is a 12 to 15-foot 4X leader with an indicator that can easily vary the fly depth.
As you drift downstream the idea is to drift the fly through the likely spots without the boat drifting through the run first. Long distance casts aren’t needed, just good handling technique. Three fly fishers in the boat works great. Two fishing and one manning the boat motor, then alternate who is on the tiller.
The next technique is to swing streamers deep. A long two-handed spey rod with heavy Skagit head is perfect for this water. To get a nice action fly action you need to slow the boat drift ever so slightly to work the fly well. This becomes a delicate dance between the man on the motor or oars and the fly fisher. This technique usually limits the boat to one line in the water per drift.
When to Fly Fish the White River
Early March is about perfect for me, just before steelhead start to really get going in my home state of Michigan. The temperatures in Bull Shoals can still be cool, but compared to a Michigan winter it’s like a heat wave.
From December to April the White River gets a shad kill. Basically, schools of shad are looking for warmer water and get sucked into the turbines which are active generating heat to warm houses. This either kills, cripples or stuns the shad making them an easy target. This sets off a feeding frenzy with the brown trout which are looking to feed since they have just exited the spawning season.
A 9-foot, 6 weight with a weight forward floating line is a great setup. Drifting down river with a deep nymph setup is most effective.
Experiencing a shad kill event is incredible, the only way I can describe this is to think about those TV shows with crews of people chumming for sharks. Seriously, hundreds of trout will attack these balls of shad as they drift down the river.
What Flies to use on the White River
If you’ve ever wanted to experiment with big flies the White River is perfect. Big streamers will attract monster trout. In fact, large hook sizes (6/0) are a good idea because it stops those hundreds of smaller trout from getting hooked.
- Silver Shad Streamers tied with a jig head are great.
- White Wooly Buggers are easy to tie and are super effective.
- Setup a size 14 black midge below a large floating foam shad
2. The Little Red River below Greers Ferry Dam
The Little Red River was the local fly fisherman’s secret for years. Less populated and smaller than the Norfolk and White rivers. You had a chance to get away from the crowds and enjoy fishing and the rivers beauty.
Then a world record +40 pound brown trout was landed and the word got out about this river./https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/state-records/
Located just below the dam is Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery pumps highly oxygenated protein rich water into the river. This water is like feeding steroids to a big-time wrestler for trout. The trout grow fast and thick.
To plan a trip to the Little Red River you need to understand the power generation schedule. This is best done by calling the Army Corp of Engineers Little Rock Data System and hearing the Greers Ferry Dam generation schedule. Or use this link https://www.swpa.gov/gen/sun.htm
If the generation schedule yields low water, light and long leaders might be required.
Where to Fly Fish on the Little Red River
A quick tip, low water can make wading a great option, but to effectively fish this water think about a drift boat or Jon boat that can be anchored above likely holes and runs.
What flies to Use on the Little Red River
This river is what I call a meat and potato river. Those common sub-surface flies are perfect.
- Wooly Buggers in a variety of colors size 8
- Midges in a size 14 are great
- San Juan Worms are a mainstay after a rain
- Sowbugs in size 14, dead drifted close to the bottom
3. Norfolk River Tailwater Below Norfolk Lake
The 5 miles or so below Norfolk Dam are a trout fisherman’s paradise. A constant flow of cold water 47 to 54 degrees is optimal for trout. Great sub-surface bug activity provides a stable food base to grow each of the 4 different trout ( brown, rainbows, brook and cutthroat) that can be found in these waters.
Like most tailwater fisheries understanding the power generation activities is essential for the wading fly fisherman. But the high waters that run-off the wading folks are a boon for folks with a boat.
A canoe, Jon boat or drift boat expands the fly fishing opportunities exponentially. Folks wearing waders are limited to three easy to access areas.
Where to Fly Fish on the Norfolk River
For the wading fisherman – CALL or log onto https://swpa.gov/generationschedules.aspx to understand the gen schedule. Nobody wants to show -up river side only to find the water isn’t safe.
If you have a boat or can rent one the Norfolk will not disappoint. Below is a spot that has consistently yielded fish for years.
How to Plan a Fly Fishing trip to the Norfolk?
Do yourself a favor and get a room and boat package from Gene’s Trout Fishing Resort. Great prices, great hospitality and serious trout fishing outside your back door. Here’s a link to Gene’s Trout Fishing Resort. https://www.genestroutfishingresort.com/
What Flies to Use on the Norfolk River
For the streamer fly fisher
- Sculpins size 4-8
- Crawfish 6-10
- Minnows with a silver and red
If you want lots of fish – nymphing
- Sowbugs – with a light grey translucent size 12
- Dark Midges, I like going small like size 16 tied on behind a bead head san juan worm
- Scuds in a grey/brown size 12-16
4. Spring River – the New Secret Fly Fishing Spot?
Spring river is definitely getting some notoriety. The river isn’t influenced as much by rain and high water so this river is a great back-up if the White or Norfolk are suffering a high-water event.
A great place to fly fish is below the dam in Mammoth Springs at the RV park or as an alternate check out the access at Riverview Drive. Parking and a boat launch are available.
The river is easily waded so dry fly fishing and dead drifting nymphs can be productive. I know I’ve said use a scud above, but they work. A Pheasant Tail Nymph size 12 to 18 can also be productive.
5. Crooked Creek Fly Fishing
It’s time to switch up a little and go on the hunt for Smallmouth Bass. The starts in the Ozarks and travels through mostly private property for 75 miles. Best fished between March and October when the water temperature rises above 52 degrees with things really turning on in 55 to 58-degree water.
Crooked Creek can be accessed at Kelly’s Slab Access with parking along the east and west sides of the river. This is catch and release water so you’ve got to toss it back, but tossing back a trophy always seems to make the smallies bigger when you tell the story.
6. Dry Creek a Fly Fishers Dream – Reserved for Those Under 16
What could be better than taking your child to a river and having them hook into a fish of a lifetime? Dry Creek is that kind of water. Born from cold water springs alongside the Norfolk National Hatchery this intimate river only needs a short cast (think how perfect that is for a beginner). Sight fishing to trophies with undercut banks to hide monsters, the struggle and thrill is the fight. But netting a huge trout and having your child pose with a huge grin is the reward.
7. Lake Greeson Tailwater of the Little Missouri River for the Fly Fisher
Below the Narrows Dam is another tailwater fisher worth noting. Easily waded with plenty of public access the Little Missouri is a favorite among locals. A popular spot is a half mile or so below the dam at Riverside Picnic area. This is a smaller river so don’t plan on a big group fishing together. Fly Rods in the 2 to 4 weight class are perfect and you can improve your dry fly game in this river.
Popular dry flies are Adams in a size 12 to 18. Elk Hair Caddis in a similar size. Don’t forget those nymphs like a pheasant tail and a March Brown Nymph in size 12.
8. Ouachita River Tailwater
Trout are stocked in the Ouachita River below three of the dams (Blakely, Carpenter and Remmel). The best season for the trout and the fly fisher is November through April.
Only 10 miles west of Hot Springs AR is a promising spot with great public access is just below Blakely Dam. Wading and drifting in a canoe is a perfect way to fish this river. Bring you’re a 9 foot 5 weight fly rod and you’ll be all set for the winter trout fishing and the summer smallmouth bass.
9. The Little Brother to Bull Shoals – Beaver Dam Lake Tailwater
The Beaver Dam Tailwater isn’t as well known as the Bull Shoals fishery, but those same productive waters grow massive trout here as well. Back in 2011 the state launched an intensive program to stabilize the water levels and temperatures.
This river is best known for the heavily stocked rainbow trout which can be caught in respectable numbers. Lately the trend is shifting to Brown Trout taken on streamers. You can find access at to the north side of the river at Dam Site Park a nice gravely bank allows streamers to be swung through a picture-perfect run downstream to Riverview Campground.
I’ve wanted to spend more time on this section of the White River, it provides the solitude often wanted while fly fishing. The thought of camping riverside and rising early to chase these trout on a fly really appeals to me.
10. Caddo River Beauty and Bass Combined
To change things up a little and combine casting to smallmouth bass and a nice family float I highly recommend the Caddo River. Just west of Hot Springs canoes can be rented at one of the many liveries from Caddo Gap to Glenwood.
The gravel bars are nice place stop and wet wade to cool off a bit and even take a swim. The kids will enjoy a pleasant day on the water to splash around.
Take a heavier fly rod like a 7 or 8 weight to toss those typical smallmouth top-water poppers in size 6. Whites and reds with rubber legs are a favorite.
11. MacArthur Park Pond in Little Rock
Are you looking for a quick evening out at a local fishing hole? A little-known spot is MacArthur Pond. Stocked with trout and catfish the cute pond is a perfect evening getaway. With a chance to improve your fly casting while enjoying a resource close to home (if you live in Little Rock).
Clear shorelines help your back cast and the deep water can yield a surprise if you can present your fly appropriately.
Recommended Fly-Fishing Gear for Arkansas
Wow the rivers and lakes above define a variety of waters. From a 7 and a half foot 2 weight fly rod on the Little Missouri below Greeson Lake to an 8 weight for smallmouth bass. If I had to choose only one fly rod – (this seems so cliché) I’d recommend a 9-Foot, 5 weight fly rod like the Temple Fork BVK.
The BVK is a fast fly rod and I like overlining it to a 6 weight forward floating line. Many of the newer high-end fly lines are actually adding ½ line weight to the fly lines to help match the faster fly rods being sold.
Official Arkansas Fly Fishing References
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) has a great website. With directions to 355 public Access areas. Check out the website HERE – > https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/where-fish/public-fishing-areas/
The AGFC also stocks hundreds of Trout and Catfish at 40 locations around the state. Unfortunately you only hear about the stocking “after” it’s taken place. Read about where the fish are stocked here – Family and Community Fishing Stocking https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/where-fish/family-and-community/stocking/
For years I’ve wanted to go to the SOWBUG ROUND-UP hosted by the Northern Arkansas Fly Fishers. Read about the roundup here http://www.sowbugroundup.org/
Arkansas Fly Fishing Guides and Shops
- Scott Branyan has been helping AR fly fishers for years. His website and guide service is a Arkansas mainstay. Check him out here http://www.flyflinger.com
- Two Rivers Fly Shop in Norfolk has all the gear, guides and cottages to make your Arkansas Fly Fishing adventure productive. Website https://tworiversfly.com/shop/home/
- Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher has an amazing website with timely fishing reports and insider information. Check it out here https://theozarkflyfisher.com/