After 11 interviews, one conclusion jumped out with the certainty a bucket-mouthed bass inhaling an injured shad: Regardless of whether you like to tangle with largemouths, smallmouths or spotted bass, there’s plenty of good news in the Arkansas bass outlook for 2005.
The rainy spring season of 2004 created excellent spawning conditions at many lakes through much of the state. After the adult bass did a better-than-average job of making baby bass, they rewarded themselves by gorging on the rich array of foods available in the flooded timber. Thus, biologists confirmed good growth rates on many lakes during the past year.
And the bad news? Really, the only bad news is that we still have the problem of sorting out the best places to cast our lures as we choose from 600,000 acres of lakes and more than 9,700 miles of rivers and streams. Fortunately, the fisheries experts who know our bass fishing waters inside-out were willing to provide this annual report on the state of bass fishing in the Natural State.
District 1 covers Benton, Carroll, Washington and Madison counties in the fast-growing northwestern corner of the state. Thanks to high water levels during recent spring seasons, the bass (and everything else with fins) in Beaver Lake are growing fast, too.
“High water means more surface area, which leads to better survivability for young fish, and there’s more cover and food in flooded timber,” explained Clinton Ricker, a fisheries technician for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
This 28,000-acre lake will continue to be reliable this year. For anglers with physical challenges, Ricker recommended the Prairie Creek access on Beaver Lake, which accommodates wheelchairs and includes nearby fish-attracting structures.
“Lake Elmdale has bass of good size and numbers of fish,” Ricker said, bragging on this 200-acre jewel in northwestern Washington County. “We shocked up a 10-pound bass three years ago, and anglers frequently catch 6- and 7-pound fish there,” he said.
Ricker also recommended Lake Fayetteville and Lake Bob Kidd in Washington County, where studies show good bass populations in addition the well-known crappie fisheries.
“The bass up here are probably growing as fast as northern-strain largemouth bass can grow,” reported Mark Oliver, the biologist in charge of District 2 in north-central Arkansas, which includes lakes Bull Shoals and Norfork.
“In 2002, we had extremely high water and good spawns for largemouth bass. Plus, we had a huge amount of nutrients that washed into the lake and helped to produce forage for them. It’s as good as I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve been here 24 years.”
Oliver rated both lakes equally for 2005. “We’re seeing lots of 3- to 5-pound fish and anglers always catch some 6- to 7-pound fish, which are big fish in this district,” he said.
Because these U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes and nearby Table Rock Lake also stretch into Missouri, consider buying a border lakes license, which covers both states. “For $10, you get 59,000 more acres to fish,” Oliver said, “and Missouri people get 51,000 acres of some of the best fishing in the world. It’s a great deal.
“Smallmouths are going really good. In 2003, we still had nutrients left in the lakes from the high water of 2002, and we got good growth on smallmouths.”
In the late 1990s, many anglers won bass tournaments with stringers of smallmouths, and there’s no reason to expect that trend to change.
“Lake Hogue is our best-balanced lake,” said biologist Sam Henry, who works in District 3. Those who hadn’t heard of the 280-acre lake may have seen headlines last summer as the state record for tilapia, an imported panfish, was broken at Lake Hogue at least four times. Lake Hogue lies within the AGFC’s Earl Buss/Bayou DeView WMA in western Poinsett County.
In recent years, Lake Charles has been swamped with undersized bass — and it still is, to a degree. “While we were taking samples for largemouth bass virus testing (in the fall of 2004), we were pleasantly surprised,” Henry said. “The bass were bigger than in the past, and their condition looked good.”
If you’re hungry for a fish dinner, do yourself and Henry a favor and keep your limit of small bass from Lake Charles — he needs for anglers to thin the ranks of smaller fish, which will decrease competition for limited forage and enable more bass to grow larger.
Lake Poinsett, in Poinsett State Park near Harrisburg, is chock-full of bass in the 11- to 14-inch range, and a few are starting to look downright skinny, Henry said. Keep your limit there, too.
Lake Ashbaugh (northwestern Greene County) was renovated in 2002, and, unfortunately, a vandal apparently reintroduced yellow bass to the lake. You might want to give Ashbaugh’s largemouths, which are catch-and-release only, another year or two to grow up.
Mallard Lake carries a big-fish reputation but seems to be in the midst of changes. “Yellow bass have showed up again, and it’s as green as a gourd right now, and extremely fertile,” Henry said. Only time will tell whether the lake can handle the influx of yellow bass, which are harmless in some waters and as destructive as pollution in others.
In District 9, Lake Dardanelle, a pool of the Arkansas River, is the major bass-fishing destination. It holds a few big bass and plenty of average-sized fish.
“Dardanelle is the best place for big fish in this district,” said fisheries biologist Frank Leone. “There’s been an upward trend in our catch per unit of effort (a measure of electrofishing success) the last three years.”
If you like heart-pounding action, Pool 9 of the Arkansas River, just downstream from Dardanelle, is your spot — for spotted bass. “There are excellent numbers of spotted bass in that pool,” Leone said. “You can go out and catch 10 to 30 spotted bass on a consistent basis. There are lots of fish in the 12-inch range.”
Seven out of every 10 bass in Pool 9 will be spotted bass, but no one will be complaining as long as these feisty fish continue to readily take lures and bait.
The Florida-strain largemouths stocked into Lake Atkins (southern Pope County) after it was renovated in 2002 “are achieving outstanding growth rates,” Leone said. “The numbers appear to be good, and we have fish that are 13 or 14 inches long in 1 1/2 years.” A new 15-inch minimum-length limit will protect most of the bass there this year.
Leone also mentioned good reports from anglers on Lake Hinkle, a 960-acre AGFC lake in southern Scott County, where the bass likely benefited from a drawdown in 2003. Low water tends to concentrate predator fish with their prey, allowing them to grow quickly.
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