Stunning limestone bluffs separate the river from the sky. The crystal clear stream is full of wild fish that fight like demons. I feel like I’m in a beer commercial on a high-mountain stream, but I’m fishing the Buffalo National River near St. Joe, Arkansas. Spend the day floating the Buffalo and you’ll be transported back to old Arkansas.
The people on the river, especially the ones who make their living on the water, seem to care more about spending time outside than rushing around. Maybe because smallmouth bass seem to hide behind every rock and rip. The town of St. Joe is straight out of a spaghetti western with a history of wagon trains and lost silver mines.
Tucked into the northwest corner of Arkansas, the town is surrounded by the untamed and mysterious Ozark Mountains. The Buffalo River was the first National River in America and has been named a Wild and Scenic River by the U.S. Forest Service. These designations protect the river from industrial use, leaving it to the fish, the bluffs and the sky.
OUTFITTER Buffalo River Outfitters, 870-439-2244, buffaloriveroutfitters.com
GUIDE Ron Grinder, 870-439-2244, buffaloriveroutfitters.com
EAT Ferguson’s Country Store and Restaurant, 870-439-2234
DON’T MISS The incredible, giant homemade cinnamon buns at Ferguson’s Country Store and Restaurant.
FISHING HOLE Baker Ford boat ramp on the Buffalo National River
WHAT’S BITING Smallmouth bass, black bass and gar
TOURIST SEASON The river fishes well all year, but high water season in the spring brings down water clarity and turns on the bite.
RIGGED UP Seven-foot, light action rod and 2500-series spinning reel, eight- pound test monofilament. TACKLE BOX Lures and worms that work deep such as a green or pumpkinseed tube jig.
KAYAK Shallow-draft and agile to skirt around river riffles and rocks
GEAR High quality polarized sunglasses to spot deep smallmouth. Don’t forget your rain gear.
GAME PLAN Launch at the Baker Ford boat ramp and target the back edges of calm pools above riffles. The river is so clear on sunny days that you can see smallmouth, but they can also see you; these fish can be very skittish. Switch to stealth tactics to hook up. Make long casts and take quiet paddle strokes. Find big black bass in the slower sections of the river.