Special regulations on smallmouth bass, goggle-eye, rainbow trout and walleye have produced a quality fishery throughout the river. Be sure to check local regulations and river levels before scheduling a fishing trip. Here’s what to expect as you float down this scenic river in 2018.
A catastrophic flood event affected Oregon County in the end of April 2017 and caused damage to infrastructure at area accesses. In 2018 be sure to check the U.S. Forest Service website or call 417-834-4177 to see if the access you plan to use is open.
The 17 miles from Thomasville to Greer Spring offer excellent fishing for warmwater species. Smallmouth bass and goggle-eye are the most abundant and sought after sportfish in this section. Catch and release fishing for smallmouth should be good as anglers can expect around 350 smallmouth bass per mile with some over the 15” minimum length limit. Also, over 80 ,percent of the goggle-eye collected in the most recent spring sample measured legal size. Try a crawdad crankbait in the deep pools below a riffle to lure out one of the larger goggle-eye. Chain pickerel are still popular among anglers as well. Modest numbers of pickerel lurk in this section of river. The best time to float this section is spring and early summer when fish are active and water levels are higher and limit dragging over riffles.
Greer Spring instantly transforms the river into a coldwater fishery. The next 5.5 miles downstream to Turner Mill Access is home to rainbow trout and is designated as a Blue Ribbon Trout Area, where special regulations apply. Anglers should see more balanced year-round trout numbers in this reach as the stocking to supplement the naturalized trout population now occurs in the spring and fall to more evenly distribute fish throughout the year. Around 8,000 total rainbow trout are stocked in this section annually. Last year’s wild trout estimates showed about 120 trout/mile while total trout estimates were around 430/mile prior to last year’s fall stocking. About 80 percent of the trout in this section are between 11-15 inches. A few lucky anglers will likely get the opportunity to tangle with one of the greater-than 20 inch rainbow trout that reside in this section of the river. At certain times of the year this is also a good section for catching smallmouth bass. Most recent sampling last fall found that 10 percent of the smallmouth in this section exceed 15 inches, just make sure to use the approved artificial baits (soft plastics prohibited). Public access is limited to Highway 19 crossing at Greer and U.S. Forest Service gravel roads to Turner Mill North and Turner Mill South.
The next 14 miles from the Turner Mill accesses downstream to Highway 160 at Riverton are stocked with harvestable rainbow trout and managed as a White Ribbon Trout Area with more liberal harvest restrictions. From March to October, 16,000 rainbow trout (12 inch average) are stocked annually. A few dozen surplus broodstock over 4 pounds from Montauk hatchery are also stocked in this section each year so you never know if one of your four trout allowed in your daily limit may be a lunker. Public access is provided at Turner Mill North, Turner Mill South, Whitten and Riverton (Highway 160).
The 13.5 miles from Highway 160 downstream to the Arkansas state line offer great fishing for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and goggle-eye. Anglers in this section can expect around 150 smallmouth bass per mile, but on average, larger fish than the upper river. Smallmouth bass over 15 inches made up 15 percent of last year’s fall sample. The bigger water near the Arkansas line is also home to more largemouth bass than other sections of the river. In addition, anglers have an opportunity to catch a few legal walleye in the deepest pools of the river. Every 4 years around 15,000 1-2” fingerling walleye are stocked in this lower river section with the most recent of these stockings being completed in 2014.