Spring is a great time to trout fish on the Little Red River. The trout haven’t been pressured by anglers over the winter months, hatches are abundant making trout active, some “leftover” browns from the fall make their way back to their home water and the beauty of everything blooming along the river banks makes it a great time to shake off the winter’s cold. However, there are times that spring fishing conditions on the Little Red River can be frustrating or challenging at best. It’s not so much about the “fishing”…. it has more to do with water release from the Greers Ferry Dam in Heber Springs. The dam was constructed in 1965 by the Army Corps of Engineers for two purposes: flood control and power generation. The Corps of Engineers regulates flood control downstream with the dam by holding or releasing water and the Southwest Power Administration regulates the two hydropower generators to produce electricity for Arkansas and the surrounding states when needed. With the storm systems and the rain that frequent Arkansas in the spring, flood control becomes a priority. It’s a balance between the lake level and releasing water into the Little Red as to not flood the farm land downstream. Most of the water release is determined by a formula that is based on historical analysis, weather forecasts and current conditions. Unfortunately, trout fishing is not part of the formula when it comes to how much and when water is released.
The Southwest Power Administration will post a predicted water release schedule after 3pm for the following day (weekend scheduled release is provided on Friday). Even though this information is helpful, it makes it difficult to determine if water conditions are going to be favorable two, three or more days ahead. The water release schedule can, and sometimes does, change from day-to-day and week–to-week. For those of us that spend time on the river, we can normally begin to see a water release “pattern” and have a pretty good idea of what to expect over an extended period of time. However, there are times the unexpected releases happen and it surprises us. As a guide, it’s basically impossible to look into my “crystal ball” and determine what the water release will be in a month, week or even a few days for someone who wants to come fish the Little Red from out of town. This lack of ability to know affects us as guides trying to provide good fishing conditions. It also affects lodging reservations, purchasing licenses, meals and (most importantly) the clients best use of time.
I personally wouldn’t want the Corps of Engineers’ or Southwest Power’s job in making decisions on when and how much water to release. It is difficult for them to make the lake side residents, river side residents, anglers and farmers all happy. I’m sure if I were making decisions, the farm land downstream would be flooded out and Greers Ferry Lake would be the size of a kiddy pool or, instead of a 30,000 acre lake, it would be 70,000 acres and the town of Clinton would be lake shore property. The old saying “it is what it is” will be used a lot by guides when fishing the Little Red. Those agencies have their jobs of flood control and hydropower generation and trout fishing on the river doesn’t influence those decisions. So, as guides, we either fish the waters that we are given or try to postpone the trip to a day with better conditions.
With that in mind, there are times as a guide when I will share my best guess on “expected” water conditions to those coming in to fish well in advance of their trip. In sharing this information, I let them know that things could change for the better or worse before they arrive and I leave the final decision on coming up to them. There are other times when I will just tell them not to come (safety issues and impossible conditions) and will postpone/reschedule their trip to a better time. However, some will want to come because they have set the time aside and will risk the conditions. Others will come just to be outdoors on the river and catching large numbers of fish is not a priority. For experienced anglers coming in to fish there are methods and ways it can be fished that can produce fish even on high water, but for the less experienced anglers, or anglers bringing children, high water conditions can be difficult. As a guide, I want my clients to have a good fishing experience and a successful trip when they fish with us. Sure, we would like to have every day filled with trips and the revenue that those trips bring in, but the bottom line is we want our clients to have the best fishing experience possible….and taking care of our clients is more important than our guide service making money.
I hope this gives a clearer picture for possible spring conditions on The Little Red. As mentioned, conditions can frequently change and some of our best days are spring days. Spring fishing is not discouraged, it just helps if you have flexibility to work with the sometimes unpredictable water levels….especially if large numbers of fish is your goal. We fish year round, so don’t hesitate to give us a call and visit about our day-to-day river experiences.
In the next blog post I’ll share the set-up we use and how successful we are when the decision is made to fish high water.