Flowing out of the Ozark foothills in north central
Arkansas is the Strawberry River, a friendly stream good for family canoe trips. It begins
just a few miles west of Salem in Fulton County, and meanders in a southeasterly direction
for slightly over 100 miles before merging with the Black River. While it does not offer
the whitewater of the Mulberry or the bluffs of the Buffalo, the Strawberry has a lot
going for it: convenient access, interesting scenery, and a smallmouth bass fishery. In
fact, because of its fine qualities, the stream's upper section has been placed in
Arkansas's Natural and Scenic Rivers System.
SECTION DESCRIBED: Entire length, a distance of
approximately 109 miles.
The upper one-third of the Strawberry River is generally
too low for good floating, although wade fishing is a possibility for the die-hard. The
best bet for a good outing is in the river's middle third--the section between
the U.S. 167 crossing north of Evening Shade and the Ark. 115 bridge northeast of
The first float, a nine- to 10-mile journey, begins at Ark. 167 and concludes at a low-water bridge which is about two miles north off
Ark. 56 and roughly halfway between Evening Shade and Poughkeepsie. A second
float--also nine to 10 miles in length--begins at this same crossing and ends at
the next low-water bridge about two miles north of Poughkeepsie, just west of Ark. 58.
The third float is from this second low-water bridge to the Ark. 58 crossing, a
distance of about two-and-a-half miles.
These three floats offer certain similarities. They all
possess fine gravel bars, and something else not too common to Arkansas streams--sandy
beaches. In addition, these sections all include some very fishable waters, with bass
(smallmouth, largemouth, rock, and spotted) and sunfish receiving the most attention.
The Strawberry can also be floated from the Ark. 58
crossing on down to the 115 bridge near Jesup, but it's a lengthy trip (around 20
miles). Rather than floating the entire distance, some fishermen prefer to paddle (or
motor) upstream from either of these access points, and then leisurely fish their way back
down to the vehicles.
For family float trips, the time to visit the Strawberry is in the
spring of the year. The river is also a prime candidate for wade fishing when water levels
are too low for a successful boat trip.
Primary points of access include U.S. 167 near Evening
Shade; a low-water bridge north of Arkansas 56 and about halfway between Evening Shade and
Poughkeepsie; the Ark. 58 crossing; and the Ark. 115 crossing near Jesup. The
Sharp County General Highway Map helps in locating these and other put-in/take-out points.
The scenery, in a word, is attractive. The river itself
has easy rapids, deep pools, and good-looking water. In many places canoeists are
sheltered by over-hanging trees. And the surrounding country, while not wild, is quiet and
The gravel-bottomed Strawberry offers ideal habitat for
channel catfish, one of the primary sportfish found here. These sleek underwater bulldogs
usually lurk near rocks and downed timber out of strong current. Crayfish are their
primary forage and consequently the best bait, but channel cats will take a variety of
other offerings, including worms, minnows, catalpa worms, liver and stinkbaits. Flathead catfishing is also possible, as lunker flatheads haunt the Strawberry, offering heart-pounding thrills to
flathead catfishing enthusiasts in-the-know.
While catfish abound in the Strawberry, they are often
overlooked by anglers who usually come here to try their luck for spotted and smallmouth
bass. Wade fishing for bass is popular in the upper reaches where a fly rod and popping
bug can produce non-stop fishing entertainment. However, most bass are taken in the lower
two-thirds of the river using ultralight rods and reels equipped with small spinner-baits,
jigs, plastic worms or salamanders or crayfish-lookalike crank-baits. Other less
important, but often caught, fish include crappie, bluegills, saugers and warmouths.
Supplies can be obtained in the nearby communities of Ash
Flat, Evening Shade, or Cave City, but for those heading out for family float trips, bring your own boat since rentals are not available
locally. The nearest camping facilities are at Lake Charles State Park, located about 15
miles east of Jesup.
The Strawberry is another one of those streams receiving a
good deal of public recreational use for family canoe trips and friends’ float trips, despite the fact that there is little if any public
land along the river. Traditional access points may, in fact, be on private property.
Therefore visitors are encouraged to check with local residents concerning recommended
put-in and take-out locations.