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 2019.
A catastrophic flood event hit Oregon County in the end of April 2017 and caused damage to infrastructure at area accesses. In 2019 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. The 2018 spring sample indicated smallmouth bass population numbers were down from previous years, but the percentage of legal fish (over 15”) was the highest seen over the last 20 years in the upper river. Also, goggle-eye up to 9.5” were collected in the most recent spring sample and could contribute nicely to an angler’s creel. Try a dark 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. Access points to this area are Thomasville, Cane Bluff, and Greer.
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 area of the river as the two stockings to supplement the wild population have been spread out to a spring and fall stocking to more evenly distribute fish. Around 8,000 total rainbow trout are stocked in this section annually. Last year’s trout estimates showed about 90-100 wild trout/mile while total trout estimates were around 400/mile prior to last year’s fall stocking. Most fish in this section are between 11-16 inches. A few lucky anglers may catch some of the trophy wild trout over 18” and 2.5 pounds that reside in this section of the river. At certain times of the year this is also a good section for catching smallmouth bass. Fall 2018 sampling found that around 10 percent of the smallmouth in this section were of legal size, 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 290 smallmouth bass per mile, but on average, larger fish than the upper river. Legal smallmouth bass over 15” made up 15 percent of last year’s fall sample. The bigger water and pools with less current are also home to more largemouth bass than other sections of the river. In addition, persistent anglers have an opportunity to catch a few legal walleye (5-10 pounds and greater)in the deepest pools with noticeable current. 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 2018.