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Take your pick: Arkansas fishing vacation destinations are peerless

by Bryan Hendricks | April 8, 2021 at 2:13 a.m.
The cool waters of the White River offer comfortable respite from summer’s heat, as well as excellent trout fishing, making it an excellent destination for an Arkansas fishing vacation. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

Summer is coming, and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic make it as sensible as ever to take a fishing vacation in Arkansas.

Your destination depends on what kind of fishing you like to do. Arkansas has excellent options for bass anglers, trout anglers and striped bass enthusiasts, as well as for non-specialists that want to catch something from the bank in between doing other things. The following is a list of favorites to help get you on your way.

Buffalo National River

From now through October, America's first national river will be an outstanding destination for anglers and paddlers.

If you prefer solitude, the best time to go is before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. During the summer, the Buffalo River's cool water and majestic bluffs draw thousands of people from Arkansas and neighboring states.

For anglers, smallmouth bass are the main attraction. They inhabit the entire length of the river from Ponca to the White River. Increasingly, you'll also encounter Kentucky bass and even largemouth bass. Longear sunfish are always a colorful and willing opponent that can give a light fly fishing rig a workout.

Primitive car camping is available along the Buffalo National River at Steel Creek, Kyle's Landing, Mt. Hersey, Erbie, Carver, Pruitt, Tyler Bend, South Maumee, Spring Creek and Rush recreation areas.

Developed campsites with water and electricity hookups are available at Buffalo Point, which overlooks a very deep hole on a wide bend that's popular for swimming.

White/Norfork rivers

Arkansas is famous for its world-class trophy trout fishing, and two of the world's best streams are the White and North Fork of the White River, known simply as the Norfork.

The White River is equipped to welcome visitors with an array of accommodations to suit all tastes. White River State Park, in the shadow of Bull Shoals Dam, is very popular with anglers and contains RV sites with full hookups.

A short distance downstream is Gaston's White River Resort and its famous pink cabins. It has an airstrip for fly-in visitors and an acclaimed restaurant that overlooks the river.

Farther down are Stetson's Resort and Cranor's White River Lodge.

Cotter, America's self-proclaimed Trout Fishing Capital, has several motels that cater to anglers, but you can also find deluxe accommodations nearby at Cedarwood Lodge and White Buffalo Resort, which also has basic fishing cabins and an RV campground.

Bull Shoals Lake

The White River trout fishery exists because of the cold waters released into the tailwater for hydropower generation from the depths of Bull Shoals Lake, another outstanding destination for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, striped bass and walleyes.

Many guide services operate on the lake and offer full-day and half-day packages for your preferred quarry.

Tent and RV camping is available at seven Corps of Engineers parks in Arkansas, as well as three in Missouri. Facilities such as showers and swim beaches might be closed due to coronavirus concerns.

The White River below Beaver Dam near Eureka Springs is an overlooked trout stream that is very popular with anglers in Northwest Arkansas. Dam Site Campground has tent sites and RV sites on the riverbank with generous access to Parker Bend, a popular wade fishing site.

Fishing the Beaver tailwater comes with all kinds of other possibilities. You can visit the Pea Ridge National Battlefield or take a walking tour through Eureka Springs. Lodging options are vast, with a full range of amenities.

A number of cabins and homes are available for visitors through Airbnb.

Many of the lodges, such as Cranors, Gaston's and Stetson's, offer guide services separately or included with trip packages. The guides supply tackle, bait and, depending on the package, shore lunch.

The Norfork River is shorter and offers fewer options. RV camping is available at Dam Quarry Campground at the foot of Norfork Dam. One of its main attractions is Dry Run Creek, a trophy trout stream that's open only to children and disabled adults. It is adjacent to the Norfork National Fish Hatchery.

Little Red River

We in Central Arkansas are amused at how many trout anglers ignore the Little Red River and drive an extra 90 minutes to fish the White River. The Little Red River near Heber Springs is an outstanding trout stream that produced an all-tackle world-record brown trout in 1992 that stood for 20 years.

RV camping is available at John F. Kennedy Park below Greers Ferry Dam. The entire campground offers walk-in access to one of the most productive stretches of the river thanks to regular stockings from the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery next to the campground. A popular fishing spot is at the drainage pipes. You can also tour the hatchery, which contains a good number of exceptionally large brood trout that supply the eggs from which all those stocker rainbows originate.

Greers Ferry Lake

The Little Red River trout fishery exists because of the cold waters released into the tailwater for hydropower generation from the depths of Greers Ferry Lake. Like Bull Shoals, "Greers," as anglers call it, is another outstanding destination for anglers seeking largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass and walleyes.

RV and tent camping is available at 12 Corps of Engineers campgrounds that dot the lake shore. Amenities such as showers and swim beaches might be closed due to coronavirus precautions. Heber Springs contains motels, bed and breakfast inns and homes available for rent through Airbnb.

Greers Ferry is one of the prettiest lakes in Arkansas, and its clear waters are excellent for swimming as well as fishing.

Village Creek State Park

Because the mountain regions are so popular, Arkansans tend to overlook the outstanding vacation destinations in eastern Arkansas. One of my favorites is Village Creek State Park near Wynne. It covers 7,000 acres atop Crowley's Ridge and is convenient to lakes Austell and Dunn, two of the best small-acreage bass lakes in Arkansas. Lake Dunn produced a fish that would have set a new state record if the guy that caught it would have bought a fishing license first.

Village Creek Trail offers about 30 miles of hiking and biking opportunities, and there's also an excellent golf course.

An excellent campground facilitates tent and RV camping with water and electricity. An even more comfortable stay is available in the state park's cabins.

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