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.

For more information on Little River, please contact the District II Fisheries Office.