Fishing in Arkansas: The Top 10 Spots (Lakes, Rivers & More)

Arkansas is located in the southeast region of the United States and shares a border with several states, including Tennessee. Bordering the Mississippi River, Arkansas is well-known for its wilderness and park areas. Visitors come from around the world to marvel at the spectacular waterfalls, limestone caverns, and rugged mountain scenery, for fishing in Arkansas, and for the hot springs.

Lovers of the Great Outdoors can enjoy many activities, including hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, geocaching, and deer hunting (during the season).

And with 9,700 miles of fishable rivers and streams, 600,000 acres of lakes, and creeks and bayous too numerous to count, anglers have plenty of scope to catch some impressive specimens from a variety of freshwater fish species. Fish from the shoreline or the water – the choice is yours!

Arkansas offers you the opportunity to land a trophy game fish, with records having been set here in the past. Species you can find here include trout, bass, the common carp, pickerel, catfish, crappie, alligator gar, and many others.

For more information on forthcoming competitions and events, check out the Arkansas Game & Fishing Commission (AG&FC) website.


Fishing in Arkansas: Licenses

To preserve fish stocks, the AG&FC impose daily catch limits on most species. You can find full details on the AG&FC website at this link.

You must have a license to fish legally in publicly accessible waters in the State. Licenses can be purchased at many hunting and fishing supplies stores, boat docks, or from the AG&FC at this link.

  • A Resident Fisheries Conservation License ($35.50 per year) allows residents to fish the state’s public waters with sport fishing tackle (for trout fishing and some waters, special permits might be required)
  • A Resident 3-Day Trip Fishing License ($6.50) residents to fish Arkansas’ public waters with sport fishing tackle for 72 hours (for trout fishing and some waters, special permits might be required)
  • The Trout Permit ($10 for residents and $20 for non-residents) enables permit holders to retain trout or cast a line in certain waters (not required if you already own a Lifetime Resident Hunting and Fishing Sportsman’s Permit or a 65-Plus Lifetime License and Trout Permit)
  • A Nonresident Annual Fishing License ($50) allows non-residents to fish the state’s public waters with sport fishing tackle
  • A Nonresident 3-Day Trip Fishing License ($16) allows non-residents to fish the state’s public waters with sport fishing tackle for up to 72 hours
  • A Nonresident 7-Day Trip Fishing License ($25.00) allows non-residents to fish the state’s public waters with sport fishing tackle for up to 7 days.

You can order a license by phone before your trip – call 800-364-4263. Be sure to have your driver’s license and credit card on hand when you call.

Top Fishing Locations

There are a number of excellent fishing locations in the state of Arkansas to choose from, so narrowing down to our 10 favorites has been a real challenge.  No matter what type of fish you are out looking for, there’s likely to be a lake that suits the types of fishing you want to do.

Here’s our list of 10 of the most popular fishing locations that are boasted by this outdoorsman’s heaven. Most of these locations are situated in peaceful, wilderness settings, but camping and RVs are permitted where there are no cabins.

1. The White River

Arkansas White River

The White River flows through the Ozark Mountains in the northwest of the State for 722 miles from its source in the Boston Mountains, meandering through Arkansas into Missouri and back again. Located here, between the towns of Jacksonville and Darcy, the White River is a Mecca for dedicated trout fishermen.

The White River is an ideal spot for trout. The terrain of the riverbed makes the clear water shallow enough for you to see the trout swimming right under you.

Fish species you’ll find in abundance here include:

  • Brown trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Bluegill
  • Redear sunfish
  • Rock bass
  • Catfish
  • Walleye

Colossal trophy trout are caught regularly here. The northern State’s mild winters coupled with the pristine, cold waters create a year-round growing season for trout. Part of the White River is a tailwater issuing from a large hydroelectric dam. This tailwater keeps the water temperature stable, creating ideal trout habitat. However, wading fly-fishermen should be aware that stream levels can fluctuate according to the dam’s turbine operations.

2. Little Red River

Rainbow Trout on Little Red River

If you’re onto fly-fishing for trout, you must visit the Little Red River!

This watercourse is a world-renowned tailwater trout stream, which is stocked with hundreds of thousands of rainbow trout every year. Brown trout are periodically released here too, helping to create an excellent fishery for that species.

You’ll find the Little Red River in north-central Arkansas. Enjoy fishing in this stunning location surrounded by scenic hardwood hillsides, which you’ll share with otters, ducks, eagles, deer, and raccoons.

The best spot for trout fishing extends for 29 miles from Greers Ferry Dam to Pangburn, where you can expect to find rainbows, browns, and cutthroats in abundance. The best time to visit this prime trout fishing location is from mid-October through November when the brown trout spawning run takes place. Note that the current 40lb 4oz world record wild brown trout was caught in these waters!

Try using night-crawlers, cheese, sowbugs, wooly buggers, and emergers to have the best chance of landing a monster!

Note that night fishing is not permitted at this location, and there are stringent regulations placed on the bait that you can use here. Chumming is not allowed. This location operates a catch-and-release policy for trout.

3. Lake DeGray

Lake DeGray

Located near Arkadelphia, Lake DeGray is a man-made body of water that forms a stunning 13,800-acre watersport and fishing playground. You’ll find the DeGray fishing resort is located just south of the town of Hot Springs in south-central Arkansas.

The numerous islands, wooded pockets, and coves make DeGray Lake ideal for bass fishing.

Species you can expect to catch here include:

  • Blue catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Crappie
  • Black bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Hybrid stripers
  • Striped bass

Lake DeGray was recognized in 2012 by Bassmaster Magazine as one the country’s Top 100 Bass Lakes. You’ll find good sport in the mixed schools of white bass and hybrid stripers that run together, feeding on schools of shad.

For the best of the action, come fishing here in the summertime and try your luck around dawn and dusk. The islands between DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge and Iron Mountain often host schools of fish, thrashing the water’s surface. Use topwater lures for hybrids and spoons or crankbaits for other species.

Note that there are regulations in place for catching bass. Largemouth black bass must exceed 13 inches, and smallmouths must exceed 12 inches. There are no limits for spotted bass. Your daily bag limit for all species of bass is six fish combined.

4. Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita is located close to Hot Springs in the west-central area of the State and is the largest lake within Arkansas State borders. The Lake is known locally as one of five “Diamond Lakes,” so named because of the outstanding clarity and purity of the water.

The lake is a man-made reservoir that was created between 1948 and 1953 by the US Army Corps of Engineers by damming the Ouachita River with the Blakely Mountain Dam. The Lake averages a depth of 50 feet, plunging to 200 feet in its deepest area (which may require a fish finder to successfully find fish), and it boasts over 40,000 acres of water.

The Lake is stocked annually with several different species of fish, so the fishing is always good here. Species you can expect to find here include:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Brim
  • Catfish
  • Cool water walleye
  • Rainbow trout
  • Crappie
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Bream

When fishing here, be mindful that the lake still contains the remnant of a drowned forest and look out for tree tops and shallow water markers. Ouachita is one of the most popular locations for scuba diving, especially during the spearfishing season, and you may find that you have competition at these times of the year.

5. Bull Shoals Lake

Bull Shoals Lake

Located in the Ozarks Mountains, Bull Shoals Lake in north Arkansas is home to some of the biggest bass fishing that the US has to offer the keen angler. In fact, 2016 saw the Bassmasters’ Elite tournament take place here.

The still, deep waters are home to the following species:

The resort has plenty of places to stay, including cabins and campgrounds. You can rent boats here, and there is a well-stocked tackle and equipment store on-site where you can obtain fishing guides for the area or for any other fishing gear you may have left at home.

6. Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake Arkansas

Beaver Lake is a 28,000-acre man-made reservoir, located in the Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas, straddling Benton and Carroll counties. The Lake was created by the damming of the White River and offers some 487 miles of shoreline from which you can fish.

The Lake has offered up several State record stripers of 40-pounds plus. One particular hotspot for big bass encompasses the huge flats close to the convergence point of the White River, War Eagle, and the upper portion of the Lake. In this area, the main river channel is around 65-feet deep, with flats of 10 to 30-feet in depth. The best and biggest spring stripers are found in this area.

Species you can find here include:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Striped bass
  • Crappie
  • Bream
  • White bassf
  • Spoonbill catfish (very rare)
  • Channel catfish
  • Hybrid striped bass

The best time of year to go in pursuit of striped and hybrid striped bass is in November when you can enjoy some royal battles with these hard-hitting sportfish. The north end of the Lake offers clear-water fishing and dingey-water fishing to the south in the inflowing tributaries. Catch the level rises right, and you can enjoy some outstanding shallow-water angling in the Lake’s mid-section.

During the summer months, the Lake’s creek mouths are some of the best places to catch stripers, especially around Ford’s Creek, Cedar Creek, and War Eagle Creek.

7. Arkansas River

Arkansas River

The Arkansas River (not the one in Coloradocrosses the central area of the State from West to East, creating 50-mile long Lake Dardanelle as it does so. The Arkansas River presents superb angling opportunities with the following startling array of fish species making the River their home:

  • Crappie
  • Brown trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Blue catfish
  • Channel catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Sauger (not walleye)
  • Largemouth bass
  • Hybrid striped bass
  • White bass
  • Spotted sunfish
  • Striped sunfish
  • Bluegill
  • Redear sunfish

Access to the River’s prized trout fishing spots is excellent, and it’s considered good angling etiquette to allow your fellow anglers at least a few hundred yards of clear water when casting a line here. Brown trout are well-versed in the art of escaping capture and will quickly disappear if their feeding is disturbed.

You’ll catch stripers anywhere along the entire 328-mile length of the Arkansas River, from the river mouth in Desha Country through to Fort Smith on the border between Oklahoma and Arkansas. In the springtime, check out the tailwaters below river dams. Fish during slack-water periods when there are no gates open, using medium-weight tackle and live minnows.

8. Buffalo River

Buffalo River Arkansas

The 153-mile long Buffalo River is located in northwest Arkansas and is the first national river to be designated in the US in 1972. This unique status sees the River protected from commercial and residential development, as well as other potentially destructive work such as gravel mining and damming.

Canoeing or fishing the deep, clear waters surrounded by the area’s towering bluffs and teeming wildlife is a day not to be missed.  You can spend more than a day out here in the wilderness, so be sure to bring your favorite shades when you hit the lake.

The Buffalo River’s clear, fast-flowing waters are rich in oxygen, making it the perfect environment for smallmouth bass. Here you’ll also find other species that thrive in the cool, clean waters, including:

  • Channel catfish
  • Green sunfish
  • Longear sunfish
  • Spotted bass

You can rent lodges and cabins, and there’s RV parking here too for those who want to extend their visit.

9. Lakes Dunn and Austell

Lake Dunn Arksansas
By Thomas R Machnitzki [GFDL or CC BY 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Lakes Dunn and Austell are located in the Village Creek State Park and have been delighting fishermen since the late 1970s. You’ll find these twin lakes located between Wynne and Forrest City and of the two, Lake Dunn is the smallest.

You’ll find an abundance of catfish, crappie, and bass here, especially Florida-strain largemouth bass. Since 1987, dozens of bass weighing in at over eight pounds have been landed here.

There’s plenty to do here for all the family. In addition to fishing, there are cabins and camping, lots of hiking trails, a recreational field, a boat dock, a sandy beach, and nature programs. And when you’re all fished-out, you might fancy a round or two at the resort’s very own golf course!

10. Norfolk Lake

Norfolk Dam
Antares573 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Norfolk Lake is located in the north of Arkansas. At 22,000-acres, it’s the seventh-largest lake in the State.

The area around Norfolk Lake provides lots of scope for camping and for those who want to have fun on the water. Commercial docks located on the Lake offer boats and guides to help you get the most from your fishing trip.

The Lake is home to almost every variety of freshwater game fish that are found in the State’s waters. Species that about in the Lake include:

  • White bass
  • Black bass
  • Stripers
  • Bream
  • Walleye
  • Crappie
  • Catfish
  • Trout

Norfolk Lake contains one the very best striped bass fisheries in the State and is stocked annually. Stripers over 40-pounds are commonly taken, and many 30-pounders are caught on a regular basis, thanks to the plentiful shad in the lake.

From September through May, black bass fishing is at its best. Also, you might want to get in on the increasingly popular night fishing action when white bass and crappie are caught using lights.

The prime time for crappie is November when the fish are attracted to the bundled brush of the Christmas tree fish attractors that are placed in the Lake to provide shelter for young fish, shad, and minnows. The attractors are clearly marked with blue and white shoreline signs. Just steer your boat 20 to 30-feet out from the sign, and cast a four-pound test line with a 1/16-ounce jig head toward the fish attractor.

Trout are also found in the trout fishing stream below the dam. Take a tour around the Norfolk National Fish Hatchery, which ensures a perpetual supply of trout for the North Fork and other trout streams in the area.

Parting Thoughts:

Arkansas offers plenty of inland fishing opportunities for both the leisure angler and serious bass enthusiast. You can fish from the shoreline, a boat or kayak, or spend an idyllic day fly-fishing in the chilly shallows of one of the well-stocked rivers, surrounded by glorious scenery and abundant wildlife.

For family members who may not be massively into fishing, there are plenty of other activities to keep them happy, including mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and wildlife watching.

A vacation to the world-renowned fishing spots of Arkansas will not leave you disappointed!

This post was first published on July 16th, 2017, and was last updated in July 2020. 

The Out sider

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