Arkansas offers some of the best trout fishing in some of the most centrally located rivers in America, and it has produced some of the biggest trout in the world.
This article will show you the state’s best trout fishing opportunities, from famous but challenging streams to seasonally productive tailwaters to tiny streams and ponds perfect for beginners.
Whatever type of trout fishing you like to do, you’ll find it in Arkansas.
The Natural State has several species of trout for anglers to target, but rainbow and brown trout are the two most commonly caught at most locations.
We’ll tell you more about the state’s trout species and how to catch them in a bit, but first, let’s look at those incredible trout waters. You can always use the table of contents to jump to what you want to read first.
Top Fly Fishing Trout Rivers in Arkansas
Arkansas’s rivers and streams provide some of the best fly fishing opportunities in the nation.
From stocked rainbow trout to wild brown, brook, and cutthroat trout, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to land loads of trout.
These top rivers are primarily located in the mountains of northern Arkansas, where the cool, rich waters teem with big trout.
If there’s one stream in Arkansas that is known among the nation’s best for incredible trout fishing, it’s the White River.
Fly fishermen and women can land giant rainbow, big brown, brook, and cutthroat trout while fishing the White River.
Caddis flies work best in late March and April, while mayfly nymph imitations work great in May and June. Midges work well year-round.
If you want to target big trout, try visiting mid-summer or mid-winter, when the fewest people are on the water.
A cold water tributary that flows into the White River, the lower Norfork River is a just a few miles long but home to some of the world’s biggest trout and the widest variety of trout species in Arkansas.
If you plan to wade fish, it’s best to do it when they’re not generating power, as the water level will be high. Using a drift boat or kayak is best when they’re generating power.
The Norfork National Fish Hatchery is located just below Norfork Lake Dam in north-central Arkansas. Sections of this river are catch-and-release only, which means there are plenty of fish to be caught.
Because the river has a high number of sowbugs and scuds, this is the trout’s primary food source, so matching your flies accordingly is best.
The Spring River originates from the Mammoth Spring just south of the Missouri border and offers anglers 12 miles of trout fishing bliss for rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and brookies.
The Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery is located near dam #3 off Arkansas State Highway 342, a couple miles downstream from Mammoth Spring.
Scuds, blue-winged olives, and sowbugs are what most trout eat in this section of the river, so matching your flies with those species in mind is best.
This stream also harbors some of Arkansas’ better river fishing for walleye.
Little Red River
The Little Red River trout fishery stretches about 30 miles below the Greers Ferry Lake dam. Fly anglers can catch brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout in this section of the river.
It’s best known for the 40-pound-plus one-time world record brown trout (still the state record) caught here in 1992, so don’t be surprised to land some big fish.
The flies that work best in most Arkansas rivers work well here, too; scuds, midges, sculpin, and caddis are some to test while visiting.
There are several public access sites along this 30 miles stretch of river near Heber Springs.
Best Tailwater Trout Fishing
It this section, we’ll show you some of the best tailwater trout fisheries in Arkansas.
Tailwater fisheries exist because Arkansas’ massive reservoirs release cool water over time, keeping temperatures within the ideal range for cold-loving trout for much of the year.
Many of these areas are stocked with trout during the prime seasons, which are the cooler months beginning in the fall and continuing into spring.
Lake Ouachita Tailwaters
Just northwest of Hot Springs, the Ouachita River below Lake Ouachita is stocked with rainbow trout from November through April.
The lake itself was stocked with rainbow trout starting in the 1960s. However, they were nearly impossible to catch, and walleyes and stripers ate most of them anyway. Therefore, the AGFC stopped stocking the lake.
The river can be accessed from the bank or boat at Avery Recreation Area and by the bank only at Stephens Park for anglers to try their hand at trout fishing.
The easiest way to catch hatchery trout is often with bait like PowerBait. Hatchery trout are used to eating human-made food instead of hunting.
However, even hatchery-reared trout still operate from instinct and will begin to target natural foods and lures that imitate them.
So, there are opportunities for experienced anglers to land trout on artificial lures and flies.
The river above the reservoir is better fished for bass.
Lake Hamilton Tailwaters
Located south of Hot Springs, the waters below Carpenter Dam are stocked with rainbow trout by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Head down Entrance Road off State Highway 128 just below the dam to access the boat ramp and bank fishing area along the Ouachita River.
This is another location where spinning rods and reels will shine; however, the experienced fly angler should find plenty of opportunities to land a few rainbow trout.
Small spoons, PowerBait, and artificial salmon eggs will all work well below Lake Hamilton. The best lure or bait can change by the day, depending partly on the weather conditions and time of day, so be sure to bring a few options.
Lake Catherine Tailwaters
Southeast of Hot Springs, you’ll find Lake Catherine.
To access the boat ramp and bank fishing area below Remmel Dam, turn off US Highway 270 onto Remmel Dam Road, which will turn into Mcguire Road shortly before you reach the Ouachita River.
This slow-moving stretch of river offers fly anglers and spinning reel anglers plenty of spots to test their skills at catching stocked rainbow trout from November through April.
Since they’re stocked fish, artificial baits and corn will often work very well. So will small spoons and flies.
Trout will most often hang out in deeper holes, although that’s relative. You’ll often find them holding in five to 10 feet depths.
Bull Shoals Lake Tailwaters
The AGFC manages a long section of the White River from Bull Shoals Dam to Arkansas Highway 58 bridge at Guion for trout fisheries.
However, we’ve already told you about the main White River above. In this section, we’re focusing solely on the river reach immediately below the dam that holds back Bull Shoals Lake.
This stretch of the White River is one of Arkansas’s most popular trout fishing destinations. If you’re new to trout fishing, there are several guides you can hire to teach you the ropes.
There is plenty of bank fishing opportunities within the Bull Shoals-White River State Park.
Because this dam is a hydroelectric power-generating dam, you’ll need to be extra cautious while fishing and listen for the warning that water is about to be released.
If you don’t happen to hear it but notice the water rising, you should exit the river immediately. I’ve found that trout quit biting while the water rises and the current grows stronger.
Fly fishing and spinning reel fishing will work well here if you’re comfortable fishing around other anglers.
Beaver Lake Tailwaters
Rainbow trout are stocked in the Beaver Lake tailwaters near Eureka Springs. There is a public boat ramp on the White River below the dam, and you can fish from the bank or a boat.
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to wade and fish here; however, be aware that this is a hydroelectric power-generating dam, so they regularly release water.
While brown trout are not stocked often, you still have a chance of landing one because they can reproduce in the river.
Either style of trout fishing works in the White River below Beaver Lake. So whether you’re a spinning rod & reel angler or a fly angler, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself.
Before fishing here, you must check the AGFC regulations because a portion of the river has special trout fishing regulations.
Greers Ferry Lake Tailwaters
Greers Ferry Lake tailwaters near Heber Springs are regularly stocked with rainbow trout and were once stocked with brown trout that now have a self-sustaining population.
Several short sections of the Little Red River are catch-and-release only, so read the regulations before heading out to fish.
This is one of the best places to trout fish because the Greers Ferry National Trout Hatchery is here. So thousands of trout are released here every year.
There is also a boat ramp and handicap-accessible dock near the trout hatchery.
Above the dam, Greers Ferry Lake offers a variety of fishing options, including one of Arkansas’s top crappie fisheries.
Lake Greeson (Narrows) Tailwaters
Located in southwestern Arkansas, the Little Missouri River below the Narrows Dam to the low-water bridge at Muddy Fork Road is stocked with rainbow trout.
There are several access points for anglers in this several-mile section of river. Try Riverside Access, River Ridge Access, Hinds Bluff, Old Factory Site Access, and Low-Water Bridge Access.
However, special catch-and-release-only sections are scattered throughout this stretch, so be sure you understand where you’re fishing.
You’ll find handicap-friendly access at the Riverside Access and a boat ramp at the Old Factory Site Access.
No matter which style of trout fishing you like, it will work here, whether you’re a fly angler or spinning reel enthusiast.
Easy Trout Fishing in Arkansas
MacArthur Park Pond
Several Arkansas city ponds are stocked with trout, allowing anglers of all ages to catch trout without traveling too far.
Located in Little Rock, we’ll call special attention to Macarthur Park Pond as one of the most popular trout fishing locations. It’s in the heart of the city.
AGFC stocks the pond from about November to February when cool conditions allow trout to survive long enough for anglers to catch them.
Whether you’re a fly-fishing fanatic or just bought your first spinning reel, you can catch a few trout to bring home for dinner.
Trout patrol the middle of the pond, or they’ll find the best structure and cover. That might be a brush pile, rock pile, or under a dock.
Live worms, corn, and PowerBait are all excellent trout baits for ponds.
Dry Run Creek (Kids Only)
Finally, the good news is that Dry Run Creek (a.k.a. Dry Creek) might just be the best quarter-mile of trout fishing in the world. However, kids ages 16 and under and people with disabilities (and the appropriate license) are the only ones allowed to fish it.
The small creek runs alongside the Norfork National Fish Hatchery and is home to giant rainbow and brown trout.
Midges, sowbugs, scuds, and wooly buggers are some of the best flies to try on this small creek.
This hatchery fishing hole is right next to the Norfork River, which we’ve covered above as one of the state’s premier trout fisheries, so the adults reading this can get their fill of nearby trout fishing.
Arkansas Trout Species
Arkansas is home to several trout species. You’ll primarily catch rainbow or brown trout throughout the state. However, you might also encounter brook, cutthroat, golden rainbow, and tiger trout.
Identifying the differences can be tricky because species like the rainbow and cutthroat trout look very similar. In contrast, other species are easily identifiable.
Below you’ll find a few sure-fire ways to identify each species in Arkansas.
Rainbows are most often dark along their back with silvery sides. Sometimes they’ll have speckles along their sides.
They get their name from the rainbow coloring on their sides; some trout have a more distinctive rainbow coloration than others.
This species is the most abundant in Arkansas and the one most often produced in hatcheries, so when you catch a trout, it will probably be a rainbow trout.
Brown trout have a dark green back that fades to light, sometimes pinkish sides, and a yellow belly.
They have dark spots down their side, unlike brook trout, which have light spots. The spots extend to the top portion of their tail but rarely much lower.
Brookies are a dark greenish-brown color that slowly fades to their light belly. They can be misidentified as brown trout if you don’t know what characteristics to look for in each species.
Brook trout are light-colored with a few reddish-pink spots along their sides. The red spots will sometimes have a blue-colored halo around them. Their tail will also have spots and splotches all over it.
They’re typically found in small creeks and beaver ponds with a bit of current moving through.
Brooks are much rarer than rainbows in Arkansas, but they’re known to inhabit a few different locations across the state.
Cutthroat trout have a similar appearance to rainbow trout, except they are either green or tan-colored. They have dark spots along their side and covering their tail.
They get their name from the dark red color under their gills that looks like their throat has been cut.
They’re native to the West; however, they’ve been transplanted and now live in a few Arkansas waterways.
Golden Rainbow Trout
A golden rainbow is easy to identify, even in the water. Their bright yellow-orange back is a dead giveaway.
They have a pink stripe from their gills to their tail.
Golden rainbow trout are not natural fish; they have been selectively bred and introduced into specific areas for anglers.
Tiger trout have one of the most remarkable patterns of any trout species. They’re a cross between a female brown and a male brook trout.
Their pattern is squiggly lines resembling tiger markings or a topography map. It’s stockier and more aggressive than either of its parents.
Though they’re not common, they have been introduced at times in Arkansas trout fisheries.
How To Catch Trout
Catching trout is fun and fairly easy if you learn a few tips.
There are a few different ways to catch trout, not just the fly rod and reel that you might see portrayed in many trout fishing descriptions.
While I must admit, it’s fun to catch them on a fly; it’s also a lot of fun catching them with a spinning rod & reel.
Let’s walk through each way so you can decide which one you want to pursue.
Don’t worry; you can be like my dad, who doesn’t know which one he likes better, so he switches between the two styles.
If you want to catch a lot of trout, I recommend starting out with a spinning rod and reel.
It doesn’t require learning a new complicated technique or expensive gear.
Rod & Reel Setup
I prefer to fish with an ultralight setup. I have a few different rods, but I prefer a 5- to 6-foot ultralight rod so that I can feel even the slightest nibble.
I also go with an ultralight reel with a 4- to 6-pound test line.
This is the same setup I use most often for crappie fishing. So if you have to buy a new rod, don’t think it’s only for trout fishing.
If you already have a spinning rod & reel, don’t think you need to go out and buy a new one, but using a light line is critical.
I like to have a variety of lures when trout fishing with a spinning reel. If you open my tackle box, you’ll see Super Dupers, Rooster Tails, PowerBait, small plastic worms, fake salmon eggs, and a few crappie jigs.
I’ve caught trout using all these lures, but I have my favorites.
I typically reach for a Super Duper, PowerBait, or a plastic worm.
If trout are active, the Super Duper is tough to beat, whereas, when they’re more reluctant to bite, the PowerBait and plastic worm are a much more subtle presentation that gets them to bite.
Where to Trout Fish with a Spinning Reel
The spinning reel has the advantage over a fly rod because it’s easier to cast in close quarters.
A spinning reel can be used anywhere it’s deemed legal. I’ve used them on small creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds.
The most famous way to catch trout is using a fly rod and reel. Some anglers will say this is the only way to trout fish.
While I disagree with them, there is something special about fly fishing, especially when you have a solid fly fishing rod and reel setup.
Rod & Reel Setup
If you plan to trout fish, you’ll need a 4- or 5-weight rod. Most fly reels are disc drag systems with weight-forward (WF) tapered lines.
You’ll need an 8-pound or lighter leader with a 6-pound or lighter tippet. The leader should be 6 to 9 feet long, and the tippet should be 3 to 7 feet long.
Fly fishing requires a little gear to do it right.
Waders are a must, as well as a net and a fly box full of caddis, scuds, midges, sow bugs, and wooly bugger patterns to cover your bases in Arkansas waters.
Where to Trout Fish with a Fly Rod
There are a few locations across the state where only fly fishing is allowed.
You’ll see fly fishermen in rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes because fly fishing is effective in these locations.
It’s best to fish in a deep pool just below rapids or ripples. Trout will hang out behind current breaks, so presenting your fly near these areas will often lead to a strike.
The Best Time to Catch Trout
Trout fishing is prevalent throughout much of the year, depending on location, because they’re cool-water fish.
So, during the summer, the tailwaters of many lakes offer anglers excellent opportunities. While during the winter, the state will stock other waterways that won’t support trout during the warmer months.
Regarding the best time of day, I prefer to trout fish in the morning or evening during the summer. However, I’ve also caught trout in the middle of the day during the summer.
Trout fishing during the winter isn’t much different, except I’m not as set on getting to the water as quickly in the morning to let the sun come up and warm everything up a little, which can spur a cold-weather bite.
Catch More Trout
Be sure to check out our complete guide to trout fishing tips, techniques, baits, lures and more.