Travel

Greers Ferry, the South’s Sporting Lake

Pristine waters brimming with blue-ribbon fish beckon anglers to Arkansas

photo: Ford Yates

Cliff jumping at the dam.

LAKE: Greers Ferry
LOCATION: Cleburne and Van Buren Counties, Arkansas
SIZE: 40,000 acres
SHORELINE: 343 miles
ELEVATION: 481 feet


WHY WE LOVE IT: Greers Ferry Lake spread like two large inkblots spilled from a bottle when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed northern Arkansas’s Little Red River in the early sixties. The rolling Ozark foothills valley landscape created an abundance of coves extending like tendrils, so the lake’s scale is both large—40,000 acres at its fullest—and intimate, filled with hidden nooks. With an experienced guide, a fisherman can find a solitary spot, either on the lake proper, to drop a line for bass, or below the dam on the Little Red, where premium trout love the cold water. The river, in fact, once produced a world-record forty-pound, four-ounce brown trout—there’s a replica of it at the William Carl Garner Visitor Center, where you can also learn of President John F. Kennedy’s dedication of the dam in October 1963, weeks before his assassination.

photo: Ford Yates

Bridal Veil Falls.

Dwellings and docks don’t crowd the wooded shoreline: Early structures were grandfathered in, but the Corps decreed that you can’t build anything below the white line you’ll see painted on trees well back from the water. The lake laps at the edges of Heber Springs—West Main Street ends in a boat launch and then reemerges on the other side of the lake. Today, the town of seven thousand hosts many hardy retirees. Along with the tourists, they keep the charming downtown storefronts occupied—a coffee shop, antique stores, a bookstore, even a small movie theater. The annual World Championship Cardboard Boat Races on Sandy Beach at the end of July are about as raucous as it gets. The slow vibe means you won’t feel bad propping your feet up at night after standing all day, waders-clad, in the Little Red’s chilly current or hiking on the Mossy Bluff Trail, which ends with an overlook of the dam. Or maybe your feet were slipped into skis or flippers—the lake has clear water and great diving sites.


HOW TO DO IT: Greers Ferry is on the way to no where but is not far from somewhere, which is part of its charm. As Annette Hurley, former president of Arkansas Fly Fishers, puts it, you can be “in the water, geared up” in just an hour and a half from Little Rock. Add another hour and a half to that if you’re coming from Memphis. Planning to fish the Little Red? First check the water-release schedule from the Corps. The Ozark Angler, which has a location in Little Rock as well, can book lodging, guides, and boat rentals if you want to drift. Accommodations around the lake include the full-service Wyndham Resort in Fairfield Bay, Heber Springs’ quaint Red Apple Inn—whose restaurant offers gorgeous views over the lake and valley, as well as flaky homemade biscuits and gravy—and assorted condo, cabin, and house rental options via VRBO. Stock your kitchen with fresh produce, scratchmade breads, and wildflowers from the Ozark Country Market in Heber Springs, but word to the wise: If you want to fill your cooler with cold beer, pick it up before you hit Cleburne County, which is dry. For a day on the water, the Fairfield Bay Marina, on the lake’s north side, can provide any kind of fishing or water service you might need, from Jet Ski and powerboat rentals to kayaks, wakeboards, and fully outfitted party barges. For boatless hikers, the marina also runs a shuttle to Sugar Loaf Mountain, an island in the lake ringed by a challenging trail. Longtime visitors also swear by the excellent fried chicken from Harps, the employee-owned regional supermarket in Heber Springs, to enjoy for lunch on the water. Like most of the pleasures around Greers Ferry, it’s both simple
and transcendent.

photo: Ford Yates

Fly fishing on the Little Red River.


LOCALS KNOW: The most unusual house rental in Heber Springs has to be Stoneflower cottage, designed by the famed Arkansas architect and Frank Lloyd Wright protégé E. Fay Jones, completed in 1965, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The lower entry level is built like a cave, with a sitting area and a full bath, where the shower’s hidden plumbing creates a waterfall over the stone. The house comes supplied with furniture that Jones designed for the space.

 

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