One form of fishing in Arkansas is something of a love-hate situation. You tend to like it, even love it, or you tend to sneer at and steer well away from it.
We’re talking about trout fishing.
Much of the uneasiness or dislike of trout fishing stems from it being different and large numbers of anglers who don’t know how to fish for trout. They are used to working the water for bass, bream, crappie and catfish. Trout are different, but when you come down to the basics, it’s all fishing.
A seminar at Little Rock a few days ago attempted to pass along information and shed light on this pastime called trout fishing.
Trout are not native to Arkansas. They were imported beginning in the 1950s when the building of dams on several rivers left areas where no fish lived. Cold water released from the bottom of the dams made downstream stretches too chilly for native bass, bream, crappie and catfish to live.
But trout are cold-water fish. They were brought in from northern sources, released into the below-dam areas called tailwaters, and a new form of fishing was born. So was a new economic activity.
Resorts that focused on trout fishing developed on the middle White River below Bull Shoals Dam, the Little Red River below Greers Ferry Dam, the North Fork River below Norfolk Dam, Spring River and the upper White River below Beaver Dam. There is also trout fishing in several other streams and a few lakes.
Over the years, trout fishing on the White River became a major activity, known far and wide. A world-record brown trout was caught on the North Fork River, then a few years later replaced by one taken on the Little Red River. This one fell last September to a Michigan fish.
Many Arkansans today fish for trout, but many don’t.
The number of trout fishermen in the state is likely increasing at least a little through the Community Fishing Program of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
A couple of dozen small bodies of water in several cities, mostly public-park ponds, are stocked with trout in colder times of the year and with channel catfish in warmer months.
The idea is to give kids a place to fish that’s close to home. Now the program has been widened to let senior citizens fish the ponds as well.
Trout come into Arkansas waters by two basic routes plus some natural reproduction, mostly with brown trout in the Little Red River and to a lesser extent in the White River.
Trout are raised at two federal hatcheries in the state. These came as part of mitigation by the federal government for wiping out native fish in steams with the building of dams. Trout are also grown at the AGFC’s Jim Hinkle Spring River coldwater hatchery at Mammoth Spring and trucked to rivers around the state.
Commonly, Mammoth Spring trout are grown to an 11-inch average length, making them keeper size when released. The federal hatchery products usually go into the rivers at a smaller size.
One factor that makes trout fishing different from fishing for native warmwater species is the temperature of the water. Most rivers and lakes fluctuate with air and seasonal temperatures. The trout streams are nearly the same temperature year-round.
As a result, there is trout fishing in January, and there is trout fishing in July in Arkansas. Some of the same baits and lures may be used at both times by anglers.
Right along with that love-hate attitude toward trout fishing in Arkansas is the difference of opinions on their quality on the dinner table. Some Arkansans love to eat trout. Some don’t.
The meat is mild in taste, soft in texture but adaptable to several forms of cooking in addition to the Arkansas signature of rolling in corn meal and frying in hot oil.
We will look at techniques for trout fishing in another article.
(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.)