In the middle of the winter, there is no better way to spend a few days than on a fishing trip in Arkansas on the White River. Wanting to escape the snow and winter boredom, we booked a fly fishing trip with Northern Drifters Guide Service in Cotter, AR, “Trout Capital, USA”
We flew into Little Rock on a Saturday and rented a Jeep to start our adventure to Cotter, which is about 3 hours from the Little Rock Airport. We immediately noticed the unique signage, the flea markets that were on every corner, and the abundance of churches along the way. We stopped at a small roadside bakery in Leslie, AR, and enjoyed a sourdough fruit pastry for brunch. I highly recommend the Serenity Farm Bread.
We arrived in Cotter a little early so we took some time to get to know the town, have some lunch and visit the local fly shop. We also met a few people on shore fishing the White River by the Cotter Bridge. They were catching stocked rainbow trout with lures to take home for dinner. They were very friendly and let us know they were hoping to visit Colorado to pan for gold.
Note: The Cotter Bridge was built in 1930 to allow access to this area of the Ozarks previously undiscovered by motorists. Previously, the area was only accessible by ferry.
The White River is 720 miles of beauty through the Ozarks and a has a stretch of the best trout fishing in the world. The river also holds other species of fish besides trout including bass, sunfish, walleye, and catfish. You can read about the fishing regulations on the Arkansas Fish & Game Commission website and this is also where you can conveniently buy your fishing license.
There are several guides and lodges up and down the river who will take you either fly fishing or bait fishing. As always, you may want to call for a reservation. We hear they book up quickly. There are also several public access walk-in areas for fishing from the shore.
Note: Check out this website , Explore the Ozarks – White River, for more information on water conditions, daily fishing report and guides.
Our guide, Erik Peterson, with whom we fished in Arkansas, is a true fly fishing pro. He targeted the areas along the shore for the biggest trout, stripping streamers in the toughest spots, while floating and back rowing down the river in a drift boat. This is not for fly fishing weenies. This is hard core large streamer stripping.
We were also joined by a couple of guys from Michigan and Colorado who fished with one of the other guides, Tanner. The men were experienced fly fisherman who have been all over the world fishing. It was fun to hear about their trips and also find out about some new places to try and fish here in Colorado. One of the guys, Sam, makes custom fly fishing landing nets. Check out his website, flyfishingnets.net
We fished with Erik for three days in hopes of catching a mountable brown trout (at least 5 lbs.), stripping streamers for several hours a day, trying not to let the shoulder, arm pain and line burns distract us from catching fish. We fished hard every day so luckily we were treated to fancy meals and a comfortable bed at the end of the day.
We had wonderful accommodations in this beautiful home on the river. They fed us gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We did not go hungry and they made us feel at home. They also had help from a friend, Alex, who assisted with food and transportation. It was a well-run operation.
On the first day of fly fishing for brown trout, I got lucky and caught a nice 18″ fish at the end of the day. It was from either luck or the many prayers said on the boat.
On the second day we drifted and fished for several hours in the morning with no bites, maybe a few follows. We stopped for lunch at the house and took a short break to allow for the water levels to stabilize. The water levels really make a big difference on how the fish bite in this river, so we relied on our guide to determine the best times to go fishing.
We just didn’t have any luck fishing streamers that day. We also went night fishing when the water is low and when the browns aggressively feed. Greg caught a couple of 18″ browns. Sorry, no pictures. It was great to have a little fishing action and excitement. We had never night fished before, so it was a good and challenging experience.
On the third day, we fished hard and I mean we all, including our guide, tried so hard to get us on the big brown trout. I was not sure if my arm was going to make it, but I fished my heart out. I wanted to catch a big brown or anything big or small at this point. I did not catch a brown, but had a few follows. However, I did catch a nice rainbow trout and a cutthroat trout!
Greg and I are looking forward to returning to this area in the near future to try different methods of fishing for these trophy brown trout. We learned a lot about the area and the fishing possibilities. There are many tailwater rivers in this area for trout fishing including the Norfork River, Spring River, Little Red River, Collins Creek and Little Missouri River.
Many of the other river that are not tailwaters are world class smallmouth bass fisheries. One of the most famous rivers in the are is the Buffalo National River, the first river to be designated as a National River and managed by the National Park Service.