The Saline River maintains the intangible quality of
timelessness. Born of the rivulets that flow out of the eastern foothills of the rugged
Ouachita Mountains, its three major divisions--Middle, Alum and North Forks--merge
above Benton. Below this point the river flattens out to begin its long journey through
Grant, Cleveland, Bradley and Ashley counties to its confluence with the Ouachita River in
the heart of Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.
The Saline River is the last major undammed stream in the
entire Ouachita Mountain drainage, and its watershed contains some of the finest deer,
turkey and squirrel hunting in Arkansas. That, combined with the excellent fishing (smallmouth and rock bass fishing, with some of the best walleye fishing in the state),
scenery and backcountry floating that the river produces, makes it no wonder that
Arkansans who know it regard the river with an almost fanatical devotion.
SECTION DESCRIBED: Source to Ouachita River, a
distance of 204 river miles.
The upper portion of the Saline, above Benton, is
characterized as a clear, cold-water section with a series of fast-running shoals
interspersed with short, quiet pools. The middle section of the river (Benton to Warren)
contains long pools and few riffles with clear to murky water. The river's lower
section below Warren has sluggish current with slightly murky water. The Saline is one of
only a few rivers that has a gravel bottom throughout its entire length.
The Saline is a good year-round float stream except in the
Access to the Saline is generally at state highway
crossings, county road crossings and numerous little-known fords and ferry sites. The Arkansas Game
and Fish Commission has developed several access points along the river, including
(working downstream): a boat ramp adjacent to Hwy. 229 between Traskwood and
Poyen; Lee's Ferry Access from Highway 35; Pool access at Highway 79; Mt. Elba off
Highway 35; Highway 4 out of Warren; at Longview off Highway 189 between Fountain Hill and
Johnsville; and Stillions at the mouth of the canal right below Lake Georgia Pacific.
There is also access in Grant County at Jenkins' Ferry Historical Monument between
Sheridan and Leola. Local inquiry will generally uncover others on or near forest roads.
The Saline remains relatively unspoiled by man and creates
an illusion of wilderness along much of its length. Dense forests line the river banks.
Visitors may be treated to the sight of deer, mink, otters, beaver, muskrats and a variety
of bird species.
The Saline is one of the most underrated fishing rivers in
Arkansas. Smallmouth and rock bass fishing is plentiful in the upper reaches; largemouth bass occupy the lower
reaches; and the intermediate water between has a healthy population of spotted bass that
overlaps into both areas. The warmouth, longear, and green sunfish top the panfish
offering, with some bluegills and crappie. The river also has some of the best walleye fishing in Arkansas and
channel catfish are common. Smallmouth and rock bass fishing can be found in association with smallmouth bass on the
upper third of the river.
Fishing during much of the year is a "wade a little,
fish a little" proposition, and for this reason, canoes are much preferred over the
traditional flatbottom johnboat. A motor is normally more trouble than it's worth on
headwater float trips, though a light electric trolling motor can be a real boon at times.
Gas, groceries, restaurants and overnight accommodations
are available in nearby communities. Picnicking and swimming are available at the
Jenkins' Ferry Historical Monument south of Sheridan.
The best time to float the Saline is when it's low
and clear. When the current is swift, logjams, brushpiles and uprooted trees can make
travel difficult in some areas.