Before Arkansas became the Natural State in the 1980s, we called it The Land of Opportunity. That moniker perfectly describes this year’s outlook for fishing in the Ozarks, the Delta and everywhere in between. Following are prime fishing trips for each month that we hope will inspire you to enjoy our incredible fishing opportunities throughout the year.
The Kings River in northwest Arkansas doesn’t get much press or fishing pressure, but it’s one of our best (and most beautiful) smallmouth bass destinations. Winter is the season for big fish, few boats and bald eagles soaring overhead.
The Kings River flows north for 90 miles from the Boston Mountains (Madison County) into Table Rock Lake. If you’re serious about big fish, focus on the 12-mile trophy zone from Trigger Gap (Carroll County) to the U.S. Route 62 bridge, where few anglers exercise their right to keep one fish per day over 18 inches. When the Grandview gauge hits 3 feet, the river is perfect for paddling and fishing. (See www.usgs.gov and click on Arkansas for statewide gauges.)
Winter fishing requires patience. Bronzebacks feed in cold weather, but they’re not in the mood to play chase. Jigs dressed with plastic grubs are local favorites; cast into holes and let them sit. And sit some more. Nudge them a time or two and don’t let a soft take fool you; 20-inch smallies can nibble gently before exploding into a tail-walking battle when you set the hook!
White Oak Lake
We like the fertile, shallow lakes of south Arkansas, where the water (and a crappie’s urge to spawn) heat up early in the year, and White Oak Lake in Ouachita and Nevada counties has produced good numbers of crappie, and more than its share of barn-door specimens for decades. This year should be no exception, and we hear the Florida bass are thriving there, too.
Access the 1,645-acre lower lake (north of State Route 387) from White Oak Lake State Park or ramps off State Route 24 to the north. Public access to the 1,031-acre upper lake is off Highway 387 and County Road 306. Move from spot to spot quietly and quickly until you find fish. A teammate will help you fish jigs of different colors (or minnows) at various depths and distances from cover until you find the right combination. Then slow down and probe every nook that matches your pattern. More often than not, reliable ol’ White Oak will reward your patience with the makings of a memorable fish fry.
After years of intensive stocking and projects to designed to restore backwater spawning areas, Arkansas River largemouth bass have prospered since the lean 1990s. And while you’ll find plenty in every pool, we can’t ignore two legendary areas — Lake Dardanelle to the north, and Coal Pile and Pendleton to the southeast.
Dardanelle covers 34,000 acres that most folks access from Dardanelle State Park (on the Pope County side off State Route 326) or from a smaller section of the park across the river in Dardanelle (Yell County) off State Route 22. Passing barges may rock your world, but their wake also dislodges crawfish and baitfish from riprap. Take advantage by casting anything that looks like natural bass food into the sloshing waves.
At the Pendleton access in Desha County, expect to see a new bass tournament facility, and familiar stalwarts such as the Coal Pile and Moore Bayou oxbows in Pool 2 (above Dumas) will continue to spoil fishermen with bruiser bigmouths. Lizards and jigs are the best for sight-fishing to bedding bass; bump crankbaits off submerged cover in deeper water after the spawn.
A look at May, June, July, and August are on page two
Last year we saw more dazzling photos of big smallmouth bass than during the previous five years combined, and Crooked Creek surrendered most of them. It arises south of Harrison (Boone County) and flows westward for more than 50 miles into the White River in southeast Marion County, forming a dream confluence where you might catch 18-inch smallmouths and 5-pound trout on successive casts.
Access is excellent between Pyatt and Yellville, with at least seven public ramps that enable comfortable floats of 10 or fewer miles per day. Good shoreline fishing and both ends of a 3-mile loop of the creek are accessible from the AGFC’s education center at Yellville.
Crawfish, minnows and sculpins keep Crooked Creek’s bronzebacks fat and sassy, and so any hard or soft baits that imitate them are wise choices. Because the creek has general 14-inch length and two-fish daily limits for smallmouths mixed with 18-inch trophy zones and an immediate-release area near the education center, most anglers simply photograph their smallies and keep panfish or catfish for dinner.
For those with strong hearts and arms to match, 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita in Garland and Montgomery counties is our top pick for catching striped bass up to 50 pounds, and they’ll be feeding on the surface during June. Find the bait — threadfin shad up to 4 inches and gizzard shad that can reach a foot or more — and hungry stripers will be nearby.
While locations vary day to day, peak feeding periods occur reliably during the first and last two to three hours of daylight. A rainbow-trout-colored C10 Red Fin is the classic Ouachita striper lure. Cast them to the edges of schooling fish, but downsize when the stripers gorge on threadfins. Silver spoons take fish that suspend in deep water over humps or the lake’s plentiful treetops.
Stripers often break in the mornings near Brady Mountain Marina on U.S. Route 270 and the Buckville and Iron Fork recreation areas. The original river channel (Little Fir or Highway 27 recreation areas) and South Fork of the river (near Mt. Ida) are also worth exploring.
Pages: 1 2