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Caddo River

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Flowing out of the Ouachita Mountains in west central Arkansas is one of the state's most underappreciated streams--the Caddo River. Those that know it, however, describe the Caddo as among the best "family outing" type streams in the state.

It begins in southwestern Montgomery County, and flows near or through the communities of Black Springs, Norman, Caddo Gap, Glenwood, and Amity before entering the backwaters of DeGray Lake. In fact, throughout this 40-mile journey, the Caddo River is never very far from civilization. Railroad tracks parallel the stream for several miles, a few houses can be spotted from the river, and cattle frequently gaze down at passing floaters. This surrounding landscape may not be original wilderness, but it sure is peaceful.

The Caddo itself is also peaceful-- at least in most places. But to prevent paddlers from becoming too complacent, a handful of faster rapids (class I/class II) have been strategically placed in the stream. The river also features some top-notch gravel bars--ideal places to stop, lean back, and contemplate the mysteries of moving water.

SECTION DESCRIBED: Source to DeGray Lake, a stretch about 40 miles in length.

Characteristics

While the Caddo River is "floatable" above Norman (the water has to be high, and it's a very fast float), most float trips on the stream's upper reaches begin at the southwest edge of this small town. The eight-mile float down to Caddo Gap is scenic, but is possible only after extended periods of rainfall.

Probably the most popular Caddo River canoe is the six-mile journey from Caddo Gap to Glenwood. One highlight is a swinging footbridge over the river at the put-in (the low-water bridge west of the Caddo Gap community) which, for safety's sake, should be appreciated from below. Rock gardens are common along this stretch and can cause consternation when the water's low. The actual "gap" for the Caddo occurs about a mile and a half into the float trip (just above the Arkansas 240 bridge). At this point the river passes through a narrow opening between the ridges, and so do Arkansas 8 and the railroad--all three bunched closely together. The gap is also the site of a geological oddity: some hot springs bubble up into the streambed here (for those wishing to experience these thermal waters, here are some rough directions: go upstream 200-300 yards from the old low-water bridge; springs will be on the west bank, and are usually at or below the river's surface; barefoot waders will have no trouble recognizing the spot!). Two-and-a-half miles later, the Caddo's South Fork enters from the west. Small rapids, long gravel bars, and an occasional willow thicket characterize the stream as it approaches Glenwood.

The Caddo River canoe trip from Glenwood to Amity is a slower version of the upper sections. Pools are longer, and the rapids lose some of their intensity. Yet it's a fine, float trip, perfectly suited for those wishing to gain encouraging experience in a canoe.

Seasons

Like most of Arkansas's canoeing streams, the Caddo usually gets too low in the summer and early fall for good float trips. The best months for successful Caddo River canoe trips are March through June.

Access Points

The Caddo River is an easy stream to get to. Access points are numerous, and the shuttle routes are almost always along paved roads. Traditional put-in and take-out points include: the bridge immediately west of Norman; the low-water bridge west of Caddo Gap; the old low-water bridge on Arkansas 182 north of Amity; and the Arkansas 84 bridge northeast of Amity.

Scenery

The Caddo may lack dramatic views, but it has plenty of good scenery. The floater often travels next to forested hillsides and past rocky outcrops. In several places the stream flows under a green canopy of overhanging hardwoods.

Fishing

The Caddo is one of the most underrated and overlooked cold-water fishing streams in Arkansas. That's unfortunate, for this small river offers excellent fishing in a peaceful setting that's ideal for a weekend family "getaway."

Smallmouth bass and spotted bass are the most notable sportfish inhabiting the Caddo. The most productive bass angling begins near Caddo Gap and ends below Amity. During low water periods, portions from Caddo Gap to Glenwood can be floated. Longear and green sunfish are often caught in this stretch as well.

This is one of the few cold-water streams where white bass are an important species. These scrappy fighters migrate upstream from DeGray Lake during their spring spawning runs and are taken by boaters and bankfishermen alike using live minnows, jigs, spinners and minnow-replica crank-baits. Hybrid bass and walleyes are also occasionally taken during their spring spawning runs.

Services Available

Most of the communities along the Caddo River include gas stations and grocery stores. Glenwood, by far the largest town along the route, also features several restaurants and at least four motels, one of them within sight of the river, plus a "bed and breakfast" just a few miles upstream.

Other Information

Because nearly every acre along the Caddo River is privately owned, floaters need to be particularly careful not to aggravate local landowners. Camping sites are available at the Crystal Recreation Area north of Norman off Forest Road 177.

Also, the Caddo can be floated below DeGray Lake to its confluence with the Ouachita River. This short stretch is one of the most convenient in the state, crossed by I-30, US 67, and Arkansas 7.