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Little River

The Little River in DeKalb and Cherokee Counties of Alabama

With cliffs towering some 600 feet above the river and with scenic waterfall vistas, the Little River Canyon of northeast Alabama reminds one of the Yellowstone River Canyon. Falling 1,350 feet over twelve miles, the Little River's rocky streambed, two waterfalls, and Class VI rapids (expert), offers more similarities to the western river. The Little River flows atop a plateau until it spills into Lake Weiss. The National Park Service calls the Little River Canyon, "one of the most extensive canyon and gorge systems in the eastern United States and one of the South's clearest, wildest waterways."  The Alabama Environmental Council considers it one of "Alabama's Ten Natural Wonders."

Anglers of the Little River will find a different fish population than in the Yellowstone River, although both have the presence of exotic rainbow trout. The fish of most interest to anglers in the Little River is the redeye bass. Redeye bass are distinguished from other black bass by the white margins on the top and bottom of their tail fin. Redeye bass readily take spinners, small crank baits, and flies. Largemouth bass, spotted bass, various sunfish (bream) and catfish also entertain Little River anglers.

The Little River and its tributaries including the East Fork and West Fork are designated Outstanding Alabama Waters by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Six species of caddis flies are unique to the area. The clear water of the pristine Little River can make fishing relatively frustrating. During low flows of summer and fall, fish tend to spend more time hiding than actively feeding. To overcome this, successful anglers increase their catch rates by either fishing after a light or moderate rain, or fishing during low light conditions. Fly or light spinning tackle works well, as most of the Little River fish have relatively small mouths. Worms make excellent bait.

Little River Canyon picture by Tom Rogers, 2004 Outdoor Alabama first place scenic
Little River Canyon
DeKalb/Cherokee Counties
Outdoor Alabama Magazine Scenic/Pictorial, First Place 2004
Tom Rogers, Tuscaloosa, AL
Nikon N905, Kodachrome E100

Another trick to fishing the Little River is angler access. DeSoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve both offer public lands to anglers. DeSoto State Park provides excellent access to some of the West Fork. However, the Little River at this point is both small and pristine so the concentration of game fish is low. One exception is a small impounded area just above the "High Falls" and the beginning of the canyon. A boat ramp near the dam offers boat anglers their chance to enjoy the scenic beauty of Little River. The Little River in both DeKalb and Cherokee counties have been determined to be navigable, which means the State of Alabama owns the bottom of the stream.

On October 21, 1992, the federal government provided protection to the Little River Canyon by purchasing land for a 14,000-acre national preserve. The Preserve will help protect the aesthetics of the area, but the steep terrain prohibits access to most of the stream bank. Areas that provide angler access (named areas in quotation marks are marked on Little River Canyon National Preserve maps by the National Park Service) include:

  • An area off Alabama Hwy. 35 just east of the Little River - no trail;

  • "Little River Falls" at Alabama Hwy. 35 (care must be taken when walking on the rocks just above the falls, wading tourists have been swept over the 45-foot falls) - trail;

  • "Mushroom Rock" off Alabama Hwy. 176 - no trail;

  • "Lower Two-Mile" off Alabama Hwy. 176 - trail;

  • "Eberhart Point Overlook" off Alabama Hwy. 176 - excellent trail;

  • "Canyon Mouth Park" off Alabama Hwy. 273 - on the water below the canyon ($2/vehicle);

  • additional access is upstream of Alabama Hwy. 35, and they are listed on the National Park Service maps.

Sightseeing is the main activity around the Little River Canyon National Preserve. The Preserve is located just off I-59 between Birmingham and Chattanooga. The Preserve office is located in Fort Payne at 2141 Gault Avenue North, the main highway through Fort Payne. Besides sightseeing and fishing, hiking, hunting, trapping, picnicking, bird watching, swimming, kayaking, horseback riding and climbing are allowed. Hunting is only allowed by permit and state license in the Little River Management Area, which is managed by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.

Little River Falls in November
Little River Falls near AL Hwy 35 during November
Photo by Doug Darr

Jumping off the lower falls is prohibited. Overnight camping in the preserve is also prohibited except at three designated areas with permit. Call 1-256-845-9605 for the preserve's camping permit information.

Links (disclaimer):

Fishing license information may be found at: Licenses. Instant licensing is available via Internet (2% fee) or telephone 1-888-848-6887 ($3.95 fee). Fishing licenses may also be purchased at local bait and tackle stores and county probate offices.  Youth age 15 and younger fish for free. Alabama residents age 65 or older are not required to purchase a fishing license.
Possession and creel limits for Alabama public waters are listed at: Creel Limits

The Little River Canyon National Preserve National Park Service site is www.nps.gov/liri/. The US Geological Survey publishes real time water discharge and gage height for the West Fork of the Little River.
Little River Riverkeeper may be found at http://oneworldadventureco.com/little-river-waterkeeper/.

Newly renovated cabins and motel room are available at DeSoto State Park, along with camping opportunities. Information about DeSoto State Park is available from www.alapark.com/DeSotoResort/. Outdoor Alabama has a video of DeSoto State Park.

Little River Canyon Center is a Jacksonville State University facility that houses the US Park Service staff. It has educational programs and the facility may be rented for meetings, weddings and such (video).

Rentals are available downstream at www.bearcreeklogcabins.com and www.trueadventuresports.com and upstream in Mentone, including DeSoto State Park.

Fly fishing tips may be found at www.northalabamaflyfishing.com/ with guide Shannon McCurley, home (256) 538-2112 and cell (256) 572-9007.

Possible outfitters:
True Adventure Sports for general information call 256-997-9577.

Additional information about the local area is available at or www.tourdekalb.com/ or  www.alabamamountainlakes.org/

The Fisheries Section's District II Supervisor can answer specific questions about the Little River by sending mail to: dan.catchings@dcnr.alabama.gov.

"It shall be unlawful to intentionally stock or release any fish, mussel, snail, crayfish or their embryos including bait fish into the public waters of Alabama under the jurisdiction of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries as provided in Rule 220-2-.42 except those waters from which it came without the written permission of a designated employee of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources authorized by the Director of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to issue such permit. The provisions of this rule shall not apply to the incidental release of bait into the water during the normal process of fishing."

Little River in both DeKalb and Cherokee counties are considered legally navigable by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This means the bottom of the river is owned by the State of Alabama.  It does not mean that it can be safely run by a paddled or a motor boat; falls and dangerous rapids are found along the course of Little River.

Prepared by: Fisheries Section, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This site is presented for information only the Fisheries Section cannot be responsible for the quality of information or services offered through linked sites, disclaimer. To have your site included, send your URL, email address, or telephone number to the Fisheries Web Master, doug.darr@dcnr.alabama.gov. The Fisheries Section reserves the right to select sites based on relevant and appropriate content of interest to our viewers. If you discover errors in the content or links of this page, please contact Doug Darr. Thank you.


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