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The Backstage Pass

A Guide to Arkansas' Fly Fishing Seasons

May 03, 23

Words by Ben Woodard of Woodard Fly Fishing in Cotter, Arkansas.

Most folks know Arkansas as the state Bill Clinton hails from or that we might have banjos on the wall and fewer teeth than the rest. Maybe they know Walmart is headquartered here or that mountain biking is internationally a big deal in the Natural State. But they probably don’t know that Arkansas is also one of the best states to fly fish for trout and smallmouth bass! Our rivers have been producing big wild brown trout for decades, and the miles of smallmouth rivers are almost endless.

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Winter (December – March)

  • Our cold season isn’t like others. In north Arkansas, it is more likely to be above freezing than below. We are a true year-round fishery. And although it is still cold, in the winter months we still get to launch a boat and trout fish.
  • Peak winter season is February through the end of March, and it can be the best time to come if you want to throw streamers for brown trout on the White, Norfork, and Little Red River.
  • This time of the year is best known for big water, rods, flies, and fish. True predators and predator hunters are the only things on the water these months.
  • Fish are done with their spawn come February and looking to put weight back on.
  • Weather patterns at this time of the year fluctuate at night, usually dipping into the teens. The colder Bull Shoals Lake gets, the bigger the shad kill in the White River gets. High water output from the dam will result in a minnow feast, sometimes 30 river-miles long. Some of the most epic days on our calendar are during this time period between February and the end of March.

We recommend this to the angler that has trout fished before, is experienced with sinking lines, and doesn’t mind wearing a few layers.

Spring (April – June)

  • Our spring hatches usually start the 3rd week of April and are known as the best time to experience the White & Norfork Rivers for anglers of all skill levels.
  • The season starts with swarms of midges, mayflies, and caddis when the heat starts settling into the south, raising our water temperatures along with it. This will explode into a full-on caddis hatch in May, described as “apocalyptic” in some areas for up to 30 days in a row.
  • Medium to low water provides great approaches to some epic fishing with dry flies or indicators all day long.
  • June is quickly becoming the hottest time of the year to fish other than winter. A sulphur hatch has come to fruition for the past seven years, and with the increase in water flow in June, the fish are tight on the bank, making for some amazing sight-fishing with very hungry fish.
  • June is recommended for more experienced anglers.
  • The Kings River season kicks off in April as well, as water temps climb above 55 degrees, and we launch the drifters in pursuit of bronzebacks. The Kings is an experience like no other. A classic Ozark river characterized by old bluffs, rolling farmland, cold springs, and a hard-fighting river bass. Crawfish and baitfish are the name of the game this time of the year. This river is a great addition if you are planning to trout fish with us in the spring or if you want to experience something new.

Summer (July – September)

  • This is known as our guides’ favorite time of the year.
  • Big foam flies float down the banks to lurking mouths looking to take advantage of the opportunity. It is advertised in Arkansas as the best way to beat the heat, and we couldn’t agree more! The cold water radiates against the southern heat and creates a temperature zone on the river that is comfortable to fish in, no matter the Fahrenheit.
  • This is a great time of the year to come, especially if we get a lot of rain in the spring.
  • Recommended for both novice & experienced anglers or those wanting to learn how to hopper fish.
  • During this time on the Kings River, things are popping, and the low water offers some outstanding popper fishing. Smallmouths are eager to attack anything moving across their territory. We recommend the earlier days of summer for this.

Fall (October – November)
  • Our three trout tailwaters enter a stage of typically low water after flushing out the spring rains over the summer. We break out the drift boats, 4 weights, puffy jackets, waders, and enjoy the good weather.
  • Low water is known for catching high numbers of trout on our rivers, and the fall foliage is outstanding.
  • Brown trout during this time period are moving around for spawn, and if we do have extra water to get rid of or a cold snap, fishing can be red hot.
  • This season is best for families, beginners, and those looking to enjoy the water and scenery in the Natural State.

Arkansas should be on your shortlist if you’re looking for that next great freshwater fly fishing destination in the United States. The Natural State will keep you casting at fish for years to come and Yellow Dog Fly Fishing will get you there.

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