Arkansas is full of diverse fisheries. The highland waterways with their trout-filled tailwaters and bass-filled deepwater lakes grab most of the attention. You can catch a lot of bass and crappie in the eastern region of Arkansas, too. But if you prefer a tussle with more brutish creatures—those with wide shoulders and whiskered chins or even armor-plated relics weighing more than a human—there are three major river systems that stand out: the Lower White River, the Lower Arkansas River, and the Mississippi River. And all three meander through the heritage-rich Arkansas Delta.
The Lower White River
The lower White River is renowned for its abundance of wildlife. Ultimately merging with the Mississippi, it winds through some of Arkansas’ wildest lands in the Dale Bumpers/White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is home to 160,000 acres of swamp, alligators, huge whitetail deer, remnants of Arkansas’ native black bears, and the state’s largest (and likely oldest) bald cypress tree. There’s also lots of fish. Largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, bream, and various sunfish call these waters home. However, the Lower White River’s claim to fame might be its population of Arkansas’s state fish and the largest freshwater fish found in the Southeastern U.S.—the alligator gar.
Regularly growing in excess of 6 feet and 100 pounds (the state record weighed 215 pounds) and sporting a mouth full of stilettos, alligator gar are a fearsome sight but a welcome predator in Arkansas waters. They pose no threat at all to humans but are vital to controlling populations of other fish including invasives such as carp. You’ll need a permit from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to pursue these relics, but that’s a small effort for the opportunity of a big memory.
The Lower Arkansas River
Wide and lazy and crammed full of catfish: that’s the lower Arkansas River. Anglers can expect hookups with channels, blues, and even flatheads. If you’re a numbers angler, dunk smelly concoctions for channel cats. If you’d prefer quality over quantity, thread some shad strips on a hook for big blues or fish live bait for monstrous predatory flatheads.
Largemouth bass, crappie, and white bass are found in abundance here. But it’s tough to stay away from those feisty and tasty catfish.
The Mighty Mississippi
Fishing in the Mississippi River is characterized by its vastness. They don’t call it Big Muddy for nothing. You get everything offered on the lower White and Arkansas Rivers—whopper fish and incredible wild beauty—but in spades. Beyond its role as a fishing paradise, the Mississippi River holds a significant place in the Arkansas Delta’s cultural and economic history, having played a crucial role in transportation, trade, and the development of river communities.
You can spend the day or night yanking in “fiddler” size channel cats like Huck Finn, probing deep river holes for massive catfish, or searching the brown currents for a true leviathan like the alligator gar. And you can do it on three iconic southern Rivers offering endless numbers of Southern River adventures right here in Arkansas.
Visit Arkansas Tourism to plan your trip.