Winter Action: Little Red River, Arkansas

On The Fly Freshwater

Featured photo courtesy of Greg Seaton.

by Tim Mead

Phil Bloom’s strike indicator drifted with the current, made a subtle twitch.  Phil lifted his rod sharply. Game on. After a spirited battle, Greg Seaton, our guide, dipped the rainbow trout.

The Little Red River in Central Arkansas where Phil and I fished is a tailwater fishery like many of North America’s finest trout waters. Cold water from the lower levels of Greers Ferry Lake keeps the water temperature hovering between 50ᵒ and 60ᵒ year-round. Christy Graham, Trout Management Supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said, “The number of fish per hour (of electrofishing) typically varies from very high in the upper 10 miles of the fishery to low in the lower 10 miles. For example, in 2017, we collected trout at a rate of 405 fish per hour in the Jon’s Pocket area, while we only collected trout at a rate of 68 per hour near Ramsey.”  Rainbow trout are the principal fish. The rainbows are stocked, approximately 15,000 per month averaging 11 inches long.

A rainbow the author has hooked takes to the air. Photo courtesy of Greg Seaton.

There are plenty of brown trout, as well. Graham said, “In many areas, the number of brown trout is equal to or exceeds the number of rainbow trout we collect when electrofishing.”  Browns reproduce naturally. No brown trout have been stocked in the Little Red since the early 1980s. Prospects for a monster brown from the Little Red River are probably as good as anywhere in the country. In 1992, Howard “Rip” Collins caught a 40 pound, four-ounce world record brown, a standard that stood until 2009. I’ve seen a fiberglass replica of Collins’ catch. A monster. We only caught one brown trout, a nice 16-inch fish I caught.

The author and the only brown trout of the day. Photo courtesy of Greg Seaton.

Greg rigged us with tandem flies under an indicator. On Phil’s rod, the upper fly was a 1/124-ounce jig Greg ties himself. He calls it Greg’s Folly and he ties it in varied colors. He started with a pink one. Below the jig, Greg rigged Phil with a fiber pink egg .On my rod, Greg rigged a San Juan Worm and below it a No. 22 Sow Bug. Greg said, “In the spring mayflies and caddis are more productive, but in the winter sow bugs are about 60 per cent of the trout diet in the Little Red. We catch a lot of trout on them. If they’re not biting on the No. 22, they’re not biting. Once we get on the water, we’ll see what works and make changes as needed.”

On the right is the Yarn Egg pattern, next to a No. 22 Sow Bug. Photo by Tim Mead.

As Greg eased his boat off the ramp at Lobo Landing, he said, “We’ll be fishing just ahead of the discharge from the dam. We’ll move down the river and stay ahead of the rising water. The trout know what’s coming, even before it gets there. We’ll be catching them along the weeds. You can see the patches of weeds. We’ll drift flies over or adjacent to the weeds.” Tailwaters often are weedy and such spots usually hold trout.

Most of the trout we caught were either just ahead of, on the top of, or just below rocky shoals, covered with scattered weed beds. My notes claim two thirds of the fish we got were from such spots.  Long, slow, deep holes were not as productive. Once as we pulled up to a likely spot Greg said, “When I stop the boat, my job is done. I took you to where the trout were. Now it’s up to you.” That was not quite true as Greg manipulated his wireless trolling motor to put Phil and me into position to cast to likely spots. And he offered periodic suggestions of useful spots to cast or indicated to cast river left or river right.

Three areas of the Little Red River are catch-and-release only, JFK, Cow Shoals and Mossy. All are marked by huge signs at the upper and lower ends of the sections. The purpose of the catch-and-release portions is to protect trout from harvest and to yield larger trout. Outside the catch-and-release areas, anglers may keep five trout under 16 inches or four trout under 16 inches and one above 16 inches.

Phil Bloom and a Little Red River rainbow. Photo courtesy of Greg Seaton.

Phil’s first trout was one of 25 or 30 we caught in a half day’s fishing on Arkansas’ Little Red River. Had we stayed the full day, no doubt we would have brought 50 or so to Greg’s net. Phil and I, however, had a meeting of the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors in Little Rock and had to cut short our trip.

The Greg’s Folly fly is actually a 1/124-ounce jig. Photo by Tim Mead.

The Little Red River runs through hardwood forests, periodically marked by year-round or vacation homes. In dead of winter when Phil and I were there, mistletoe was obvious on many trees. Deer, ducks, river otters, eagles and other birds abound. We saw four tundra swans fly by as we fished. The portion of the River Phil and I visited varied between 40 and 100 feet wide. The water is clear. World class trout fishing. I plan to hit it again.

As a destination, the Little Red River is within reach of trout anglers throughout the southeast. And while you may not make it to the Little Red, the approaches we used there are useful on the dozen or more tailrace trout fisheries scattered throughout North America.

Phil and I stayed at the Doubletree Inn in downtown Little Rock and drove to the Little Red River. The Doubletree offers lodging and excellent meals. Greg Seaton can be reached at (501) 690-9166 or greg.seaton@littleredflyfishingtrips.com.

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