by Flip Putthoff
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
There’s a place where a walk on the wild side can lead to some fine trout fishing.
Make that three places at the White River below Beaver Lake dam where short trails meander toward the river’s clear, cold water. The three walk-in access areas are between the Bertrand launch ramp and Parker Bottoms campground a couple of miles downstream from Beaver Dam.
Each has a small gravel parking area and short paths through woods that end at the water. Here the river is perfect for wade fishing or casting for trout from shore.
The three areas are a cooperative effort of the Army Corps of Engineers, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas chapter of Trout Unlimited, based in Northwest Arkansas.
Walk-in areas offer more places to wet a line. Fishing can be quieter here than near the three public boat launch ramps on the seven miles of trout-fishing water.
These walk-in access points have been around in a more primitive form for about eight years, said John Sturgis, state council chairman with Trout Unlimited. Area Trout Unlimited volunteers helped the corps and Game and Fish improve the trails, while the two agencies improved the parking areas.
Fishing for rainbow trout can be good in the mile or so of river that is reached via the walk-in areas. Conditions are best when the water is low and no electricity is being generated at Beaver Dam.
Generation can be minimal in September because of milder temperatures. Beaver Dam is a peak-demand supplier of power, making electricity when use is greatest, such as hot summer afternoons or cold winter mornings.
Fly fishers do well on rainbow trout casting tiny midge flies during low water. Shore anglers are fond of using Power Bait, worms or nightcrawlers. Sturgis said fly fishing at night is the best time to catch big brown trout that prowl the river.
About a year ago, Trout Unlimited officials inquired about naming the three walk-in areas after members who’ve made significant contributions to conservation, water quality and trout fishing.
Michael Wingo with Trout Unlimited led the effort and got an OK from the corps and Game and Fish. Now, signs with the names of Raymond Smith, David Knowles and the late Sara Hudson point anglers to the walk-in areas. Smith and Knowles are still active in the Arkansas chapter.
Smith, of Fayetteville, is a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited who has served at local and national levels.
“He’s really the father of Trout Unlimited in this area,” Sturgis said. The chapter presents its Ray Smith Award each year to a deserving member.
Knowles, a retired University of Arkansas professor, is a commercial fly tyer who has donated hundreds of fishing flies sold at fundraising events that benefit fishing and conservation.
Knowles invented the Y2K bug, Sturgis noted. The artificial bug is a staple in the fly boxes of seasoned White River anglers.
Anglers will notice a key word at the Sara Hudson Memorial fishing access. The young University of Arkansas student and Trout Unlimited supporter was murdered in 2019.
“Sara was really involved with Trout Unlimited in our chapter and at the university,” Sturgis said. She loved fishing and volunteering with all kinds of different programs, he said.
“She was one of the most delightful people you’d ever want to be around,” Sturgis said, “a delightful lady.”
The three walk-in areas get plenty of use, Sturgis noted. On a cool morning in late summer, Cheryl Hill and Dee Anne Branson, both from Bartlesville, Okla., fished from shore at the Raymond Smith access.
The two run a restaurant in Bartlesville.
“We have to come over here every now and then to get a mental health break,” Branson said.
The quiet — and the trout fishing — are a short walk away.