Best Fishing Rivers and Lakes in Arkansas

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Fishing at Lake Catherine
Fishing at Lake Catherine

When it comes to fishing in Arkansas, “The Land of Opportunity,” a former state motto, remains an apt description. The state’s more than 600,000 acres of lakes and 90,000 miles of rivers and streams offer anglers numerous chances to land a trophy or catch a limit from a variety of freshwater species.

To augment those opportunities in what is now touted as “The Natural State,” nature gets a helping hand at keeping Arkansas’s waters alive with fish. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission operates one of the largest state-owned, warm-water hatchery systems in the world. In addition, three trout hatcheries are also located within the state.

Anglers fishing for trout on the North Fork of the White River

Trout

Today, more than 1.5 million trout are stocked annually in Arkansas’s waters. In addition to the Spring, Norfork, Bull Shoals and Greers Ferry sites, trout are stocked into the Beaver Dam tailwaters on the upper White River, into three tailwater sites on the Ouachita River near Hot Springs and into two parts of the Little Missouri River in western Arkansas. The Little Missouri and Ouachita rivers offer cool-season trout fishing only.

Arkansas’s trout streams and lakes are all located among the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, which offer four seasons of natural beauty to complement the attraction of the state’s trout species. Streamside resorts and fishing guide services are common along the White, the North Fork and the Little Red.

While Arkansas’s trout fisheries grab most of the headlines, the state offers a wide range of fishing opportunities, both in species and environmental settings.

An angler catches a big striper on Lake Ouachita

Lake Fishing

Among Arkansas’s big-lake fishing, Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs ranks high. Corps of Engineer dams on the White, Ouachita, Little Missouri, Caddo and Cossatot Rivers have produced almost a dozen large lakes known for their bass, crappie, bream and catfish.

Millwood Lake, a 29,500-acre reservoir located in southwest Arkansas, has produced many trophy largemouth bass exceeding 10 pounds and four-to-five-pound fish are common.

One of Arkansas’s most popular fishing lakes is the state’s largest, the 48,300-acre Lake Ouachita. Bass, crappie, bream and catfish abound in the lake.

Beaver, DeGray and Greeson are other sizable reservoirs where the fishing action draws anglers by the score.

Big-river fishing is available on both the Arkansas River, which traverses the state from west to east, creating 50-mile-long Lake Dardanelle in the process, and on the Mississippi River, which forms the state’s eastern border. Both rivers and their backwater areas offer excellent angling for a variety of bass and catfish species as well as crappie.

Tournament fishing is popular on Beaver Lake, Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River between Pine Bluff and Dumas has achieved fame for producing winning stringers when professional bass tournaments are held on the lower Arkansas.

The Mississippi is known for its catfish. It produced in 2001 the state-record blue catfish (once recognized as the world record for the species as well), weighing in at 116 lbs., 12 oz.

The 156,000-acre White River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas is home to a host of small, timber-filled lakes that offer perhaps the best crappie and bream fishing in the state. Located in the floodplain of the lower White River, the lakes are bountifully restocked with each winter’s floods.

Fly fishing for smallmouth on the Buffalo National River

Streams and Rivers

Notable small streams offering opportunities for smallmouth bass action are Crooked Creek, the Caddo, the forks of the upper Little Red and Saline Rivers, the upper Cossatot, and America’s first national river, the Buffalo.

Hatcheries and the AGFC

Just as it does for trout, the AGFC aids in the propagation of other species found in Arkansas’s waters by operating four warm-water fish hatcheries. In the combined 394 acres of ponds at the hatcheries, raised for stocking are largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass; blue, channel and flathead catfish; black and white crappie; bluegill; redear sunfish; and walleye.

The AGFC publishes an annual summary of state fishing regulations which details state limits and specific site regulations such as restricted length limits and catch-and-release designations. In addition, the booklet contains information on state boating laws, gamefish records and an order form for publications concerning Arkansas fishing and wildlife. Visit agfc.com.

Many of Arkansas’s state parks also provide excellent fishing opportunities. More information on the parks and Arkansas accommodations and attractions can be found here.

More than fishing

Homegrown anglers know well that going fishing is frequently about more than the fish.

It can be just as much about watching an osprey plunge feet first into the water and soar away with its prey, or experiencing a fiery sunset framed by Delta bald cypress. Or floating on the clear waters of an Ozark Mountain stream beneath a towering, lichen-covered limestone bluff, or enjoying the turning leaves of autumn reflected in the still waters of a quiet cove.

Fall fishing on the White River
Fall fishing on the White River
Fishing on Lake Enterprise
Fishing on Lake Enterprise