World Record Trout in Arkansas
When it comes to fish, Arkansas is most famous beyond its borders for the outstanding trout fisheries that have been developed over the last five decades by the AG&FC with help from two federal trout hatcheries. The popularity of Arkansas fishing has grown in recent years due in part to a number of world record trout catches. Most notable are the world record brown trout and state record rainbow trout catches that have occurred in Arkansas's lakes and streams.
Arkansas Trout Fishing
Prior to 1950, Arkansas trout fishing was basically limited to the state's only major cold-water stream, the Spring River. The Spring begins as the 58-degree, 9-million-gallons-an-hour flow of Mammoth Spring, which is located in Arkansas at the Missouri state line. Rainbow trout were first stocked on the Spring around the turn of the century.
With the completion of Norfork Dam on the North Fork of the White River in 1944 and Bull Shoals Dam on the White River in 1951, the groundwork was laid for major expansions of the state's trout fisheries.
Faced with the devastation of significant stretches of habitat for warm-water fish species, the AG&FC decided to introduce trout into the combined 97 miles of oxygen-rich, cold-water races below the dams. Cooperating with federal officials, they placed 39,216 rainbow trout into the streams in 1951.
Stocking efforts received a boost in 1957 when, as mitigation for the loss of warm-water habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened the Norfork National Fish Hatchery near Norfork.
State Record Rainbow Trout
Rainbows from the hatchery grew phenomenally well in the White and North Fork and soon the two streams were among the country's finest destinations for trophy trout. Catches of 5-to-7-pound rainbows were common and the state record rainbow trout (19 pounds, 1 ounce) was caught in 1981 by Jim Miller of Memphis on the White River.
In the past two decades, increased fishing pressure on the White and North Fork has mostly limited catches of trophy rainbows to catch-and-release areas (though overall catch rates remain among the nation's highest).
That is true in part because natural reproduction of rainbows in Arkansas streams accounts for less than one percent of the state's annual rainbow population.
American-Record Brown Trout
Such is not the case, however, with brown trout. Browns were stocked early in the AG&FC stocking program but were discontinued in the 1960s and 1970s. While the White produced North American-record brown trout in 1972 (31.5 pounds) and again in 1977 (33.5 pounds), another development was being noted.
By the late 1970s, it was clear that, with only a jump start from AG&FC, the brown trout had succeeded in developing its own wild population. Brown trout too small to have been among those released earlier were showing up on stringers.
World Record Brown Trout
Arkansas tailwaters now contain a significant number of browns exceeding 30 pounds and fish in the five-to-10-pound range are common. The world record for a brown trout (40 pounds, 4 ounces) was set in May 1992 on the Little Red River, 29 miles of which had become suitable trout habitat with the completion of the Greers Ferry Dam in the early 1960s. This record stood until it was surpassed in 2009.
As mitigation for the dam's impact on the Little Red, the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery opened in 1965. In 1985, the AG&FC came into possession of its own trout hatchery, a donation from the Kroger Co. of Cincinnati. The Spring River State Fish Hatchery enables the AG&FC to raise its own trout year-round and has increased opportunities for widening species diversity in Arkansas's trout waters.
In 1983, the AG&FC made an initial release of cutthroat trout on the White and North Fork and the new species adapted well. The current state record (9 pounds, 9 ounces) was caught on the White in October, 1985. Regular stockings of cutthroat were begun early this decade and today cutthroats in the 2-to-3-pound range are common.
After a test stocking of brook trout in the 1980s, the AG&FC began stocking them in the Spring River and three tailwater sites in 1995. Studies show that brookies in the North Fork can reach 19 inches and three pounds in only two years, while in their native ranges they seldom exceed one pound.
Trout Rivers: Little Red River (Greers Ferry Tailwater), White River (Bull Shoals Tailwater), White River (Beaver Tailwater), Spring River, North Fork River (Norfork Tailwater), Ouachita and Little Missouri rivers.