Arkansas’ Little Red River is a premier trout fishing stream, a fishery with an international reputation.
Its birth, though, was an amazing episode featuring a biologist who did some thinking outside the box and a transplanted Texan trying to get a resort business up and running.
We’re talking about the river as a trout stream, and this came about some 45 years ago. The two fellows responsible for this trout beginning were the late Jim Collins of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the late Bill Lindsey of Lindsey’s Rainbow Resort near Heber Springs.
Greers Ferry Dam was completed on the Little Red River in October 1963, and its dedication was highlighted by the key speaker — President John F. Kennedy — just a few weeks before his assassination.
Trout was on everyone’s mind for the tailwaters below the dam, and Arkansas had a proven track record on this topic with successes on the White River below Bull Shoals Dam and the nearby North Fork River below Norfolk Dam.
Greers Ferry Dam’s cold water release wiped out the native smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and other popular game species. Stock it with trout instead. That’ll work.
But Collins discovered an unwelcome fly in this ointment.
The Little Red River downstream from the dam had become a fish desert. Concrete and other materials from the dam’s construction were prevalent in the dam, and vegetation was nearly absent. Vegetation is a prime ingredient in the fish chain, furnishing cover and food for several levels of insects and other aquatic life. If the plant life wasn’t in the river, there was nothing for trout to feed on.
Collins was familiar with the Spring River in northeastern Arkansas where trout were doing well. The Spring River had abundant coontail moss and other vegetation.
Could some of this be transplanted to the Little Red? Collins thought it was worth a try and sold Lindsey on the innovative idea.
The two obtained use of some flatbed trucks, drove to the Hardy and Mammoth Spring area and pulled up vegetation from the Spring River. It had to be kept wet, so they wrapped the plants and hightailed it for the Little Red River.
"Jim and Dad sprigged the moss from just below the dam all the way down to the Swinging Bridge area, about 10 miles," said Billy Lindsey, Bill’s son. "They planted it along both banks. This was in 1966. They began stocking rainbow trout in the river in the fall of 1967, and Jim Collins said the moss they brought in gave a jump start to the river."
For Bill Lindsey, the timing was fortunate. He had taken a chance and moved with wife Mavis and kids Billy and Terri to open Bill Lindsey’s Rainbow Resort and Trout Deck. Trouble was, there weren’t any rainbows except maybe after a summer thunderstorm. The resort was a five-boat slip dock, a small office and two cabins.
"Dad was a metal worker with experience in heating and air conditioning, and he had to take jobs to make ends meet. He worked on a major project at Memphis State University, but there were some lean times until the trout got going," Billy Lindsey said.
There were no other fishing facilities on this stretch of the Little Red. The next trout operation came along eight years later.
Billy Lindsey said, "You look up and down the river today, and you see houses everywhere. Back then, though, there wasn’t anybody living along the river between Heber Springs and Searcy. All that was in the flood plain."
Collins had another strategy along with the vegetation. He convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who operated Greers Ferry Dam, to open its gates and release water to flush out the chemicals and other undesirable material from the waters that were meant for trout.
Like the other federal dams in Arkansas, Greers Ferry was built for the purposes of flood control and power generation. Fishing and recreation weren’t in the congressionally authorized game plan.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.