Catfish, trout, hybrid stripers and walleyes — if these fish are among those you love to catch, listen up. Before you kick the bucket and go to that great fishing hole in the sky, you’ll want to plan a trip to these extraordinary Arkansas hot spots where you can get a real taste of heaven on Earth. On these world-renowned fishing waters, the catching should be as good as the fishing whenever you choose to visit.
If the fish of your dreams sports long whiskers and baby-smooth skin, then the Mighty Mississippi, which produced a 200-pound catfish for Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, surely must be on your bucket list. No body of water in North America has this river’s potential for producing supersize catfish, and Twain’s books aren’t the only source of evidence. For example, a 103-pound blue cat weighed in on Day 1 of a Memphis, Tenn., tournament was not heavy enough to take big-fish honors. A 108-pounder caught during Day 2 claimed that title. And even these giants don’t truly exemplify all the possibilities here. Last year, television personality Bill Dance caught and released a 110-pounder in the river north of Memphis.
The fact is, more than a dozen blues over the century mark have been hoisted from the Father of Waters’ muddy depths during the past decade, including an all-tackle world record caught at West Memphis that weighed 116.75 pounds. Huge flatheads and channel cats swim here, too, and there are tons of them. Catching 150 to 300 pounds of catfish daily (or nightly) isn’t unusual.
There’s plenty of great fishing water on this 2,300-mile-long river, but the best of the best for trophy whiskerfish runs along the border between Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, with the Memphis area topping the list of hawg producers. For info, contact the Mississippi River Guide Service at (901) 383-8674 or www.bigcatfish.com, or the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce at (901) 543-3500 or www.memphischamber.com.
“Paradise in the Ozarks” — that’s how many describe Arkansas’ upper White River, a crystal-clear stream coursing through some of the world’s most scenic trout-fishing country. Some say it’s America’s best trout river by the number and size of the fish it produces, and there’s no lack of variety, either. Millions of rainbows are stocked annually, and at times, nearly every cast
garners a 9- to 16-inch fish. The White produced the current state record — a 19-pound, 1-ounce rainbow caught in 1981.
Big cutthroats and brook trout also swim here. Arkansas’ record cutthroat — a mammoth 9-pound, 9-ounce beauty — was caught in the White in 1985, and the 5-pound record brook trout was taken in the North Fork of the White River in 2002.
There’s no better brown-trout fishing found anywhere on the planet. Three- to 5-pounders are common in the White, and several world records have been caught here, including some pushing 40 pounds. In 1988, Huey Manley of North Little Rock landed a 41-inch-long former world-record brown trout that weighed 38 pounds, 9 ounces.
Two popular sections are the 8-mile-long Beaver Dam tailwater near Eureka Springs and the Bull Shoals tailwater, a 100-mile stretch from Bull Shoals Dam to near Mountain View. Some stretches are ideal for wading and fly-fishing. But for a real taste of local flavor, try a float-fishing excursion in one of the long, lean johnboats for which the river is famous. Resorts are everywhere, each staffed by knowledgeable guides. The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism ((800) NATURAL, www.arkansas.com) has everything for planning your visit.
Greers Ferry hybrid stripers and walleyes
Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs was the focus of nationwide attention when Jerald Shaum caught a world-record hybrid striper there in 1997. A large percentage of the hybrids stocked each year in Arkansas are released in this 31,500-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment in the Ozarks, and since the stocking program began in the 1970s, Greers Ferry — along with DeGray Lake — has always been considered one of Arkansas’ two best hybrid lakes.
Smart anglers always set the drag on their reel properly to avoid big-fish break-offs. Five- to 8-pound hybrids frequently fall to Greers Ferry anglers, but all fishermen here are keenly aware that another world-record-class fish is always a possibility. Healthy numbers of 15- to 20-pounders lurk in this Ozark impoundment’s cool, clear waters.
Greers Ferry is also considered hallowed water by the world’s large walleye-fishing fraternity. It was here, on March 14, 1982, that Al Nelson caught the all-tackle world record recognized by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, a gigantic 22-pound, 11-ounce fish. State fisheries biologists give reliable reports of walleyes nearing, and perhaps exceeding, this benchmark that have been captured and released during Greers Ferry walleye studies in recent decades.
Greers Ferry and its tributaries probably have produced more 20-pound-plus walleyes than any other bodies of water. Nelson’s gargantuan fish topped a 21-pound, 9-ounce state-record walleye caught by Ed Claiborn in March 1979. The record prior to that was Neva Walters’ 20-pound, 6-ounce Greers Ferry walleye caught in November 1979. Another extraordinary fish was a 20-pound, 9-ounce walleye caught by Thomas Evans on Feb. 10, 1989. That walleye, caught in the Devil’s Fork of the Little Red River just above the lake, is the 20-pound world line-class record listed by the International Game Fish Association.
To put all this in perspective, consider the fact that 20-pound-plus walleyes have been reported from only a handful of states other than Arkansas — Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee among them. But no other state can boast the number of giants taken from Greers Ferry in years past.
For information about accommodations, guided fishing and area attractions, contact the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce at (501) 362-2444 or www.heber-springs.com.