Best Arkansas Bass Fishing Destinations 2018
March 13, 2018
You won't go wrong targeting largemouths or smallmouths on these great Arkansas bass fishing waters.
April to Arkansas bass fishermen is what November is to our deer hunters. In April, black bass are spawning all across the Natural State. It's the piscatorial version of the rut when largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass are more aggressive and more accessible to anglers than at any other time of year.
As with bucks in rut, the spawning season is the time to go after big bass. You're hunting individual fish, and you're looking for a few good bites a day. You need stout tackle for this game, along with patience and concentration to make multiple casts to a single fish before making the presentation that will provoke it to slam your lure.
On the other hand, April is a great time to go after numbers of fish. If you don't care about trying to catch spawning female bass, you can catch 30 or more smaller bass per day using almost any lure you desire.
The beauty of fishing in Arkansas is that we have so many different kinds of water in so many different kinds of environments. Consider the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Mississippi River Delta, and the Arkansas River Valley. If you want variety, you can find it within an hour's drive in any direction.
Here's how a few successful Arkansas anglers break down their favorite waters.
This sprawling impoundment of the Ouachita River is our biggest and one of our most beautiful lakes. Its crystal-clear water features deep, rocky structure, grassbeds, points, humps, islands and flats. Bass spawn on all of that structure in March and April, which makes it a must-fish destination for anglers from across our state.
For those reasons, Lake Ouachita is a favorite destination for Scott Stoll of Bryant. A member of the Arkansas Professional Firefighters Bass Club, Stoll says the clear water makes Lake Ouachita a great place to pursue bass on spawning beds.
"It's defined," Stoll said. "It doesn't take long to see moon-shaped beds when you're cruising down banks."
You can find beds in Ouachita in depths of 1 to 10 feet. Finding females on beds is a matter of good timing because they stay just long enough to deposit their eggs.
"Nine times out of 10 when you're catching bed fish, you're catching males," Stoll said, "but I've caught several 5-pound fish throwing a floating worm."
For the last five years, Lake Maumelle has consistently been on the list of Arkansas' best bass lakes. That's a pleasant development for anglers in central Arkansas because for decades the big water supply reservoir west of Little Rock was known as "The Dead Sea."
That changed a few years ago when the lake, an impoundment of the Big Maumelle River, got very low during an extended drought. Miles of shoreline vegetation sprouted. When the rains returned and the lake refilled, bass responded with several phenomenal year-classes.
For most of the year Lake Maumelle is a technical, challenging place to fish, but it's easy in April. That's when Mike Romine of Little Rock likes to catch messes of tasty Kentucky bass that are super abundant in the lake.
His favorite technique is to fish 1/4-ounce white Tumbleweed Charlie buzzbaits over submerged grass on the north side of the lake.
Matt Hedrick, one of the top tournament anglers at Lake Maumelle, fishes a variety of ways. In late March and April he catches bass on the west end, off the riprap at the AR-10 Bridge. That's a great spot because the main creek channel enters the lake under the bridge, but the water on both sides is relatively shallow. The riprap holds heat, allowing the water in that area to warm quicker than the deeper areas. The shallow water and rocks also attract a lot of food for bass.
Square-billed crankbaits and jerkbaits are good for working the banks, but Hedrick catches bigger bass that are staging to move up to the bank with soft-plastic swimbaits.
If you like fishing plastic frogs, the grassbeds are excellent places to enjoy that style of fishing. It's especially productive on the north side because the grassbeds extend such long distances from the bank. A bass can blow up on a frog at any point in its retrieve.
If you have a good sidescan electronic graph, you can catch bass this month from a number of submerged roadbeds and bridges that crisscross the flooded valley. You can probe them with jigs, or you can bounce crankbaits off the sides and tops. Swimbaits also are productive for finding fish suspended over or beside the structures.
LITTLE MAUMELLE RIVER
Even closer to Little Rock is the Little Maumelle River. It winds around Pinnacle Mountain State Park before joining the Arkansas River at the I-430 Bridge.
Even though it's within 15 minutes of downtown Little Rock and that scrum of traffic on AR-10, the Little Maumelle feels, looks and sounds wild and remote.
For anglers, it's a collection of mud banks, lily pads, water willow and stickups that widens into a big cypress forest. The water is dark, and every cast can produce bass weighing up to 8 pounds.
Tributaries like this one are the maternity ward and nursery areas for the Arkansas River. This is where its fish spawn and mature.
In April, the key to finding bass is finding a hard bottom where fish can spawn. Because the bottom is so silted, they spawn on any hard, flat surface they can find. That includes the tops of submerged stumps and the folds in cypress roots.
Romine catches a lot of "buck" bass in April by flipping a black/blue jig to the bases of the cypress trees.
I consistently catch big bass off of concrete detritus off the bank, and with crankbaits off isolated stickups. There also is a line of submerged fence posts that always delivers three to five nice-sized largemouths on square-billed crankbaits.
As you proceed toward Pinnacle Mountain State Park, the creek gets narrower, but there's still a lot of cover. You can catch bass as far as your boat will take you.
This huge impoundment of the Arkansas River between Russellville and Ozark is by far the state's most popular bass tournament lake, and it is at its best in April.
Ryan Mozisek, a member of the Benton High School fishing team, competed in the Fishing League Worldwide High School National Championship in 2017 at Alabama's Wheeler Lake. When he visits Lake Dardanelle this month, he will go into backwaters like Illinois Bayou, Dardanelle Bay, and "Spadra Creek to fish grassbeds and other bass spawning cover.
"Hopefully the water is going to be up so the fish can start moving into the grass," Mozisek said. "When they get done spawning, they're going to stay in there until mid- to late May, sometimes to right around the time the bream spawn."
That was a primary pattern during the first two days of the FLW Costa Series Central Division tournament at Lake Dardanelle in March 30 to April 1, 2017. Quincy Houchin of Mabelvale won the event focusing on spawning cover in the upper, riverine portion of the lake downstream from Ozark Lock & Dam.
The area is one of the few prime spawning areas remaining in the upper part of Lake Dardanelle, where most of the backwaters have been cut off and silted in by the jetties and revetments that divert water into the navigation channel. The banks are sandy with a variety of grades. Portions are steep, while others are level.
Houchin focused on assorted wood cover in depths of 2 to 3 feet and 8 to 9 feet. Targets included blowdown trees of various sizes, full treetops, and twigs. Houchin said he caught his biggest fish off the smallest pieces of cover.
"I caught some of my bigger fish by the twigs," Houchin said. "You really don't know what's under there. I just went through there flipping what I saw."
Houchin used a Reaction Innovations Beaver in green pumpkin/red flake and a 4/0 Trokar Flippin' Hook for 95 percent of his fishing during the tournament. He also caught two key fish on a yellow/chartreuse Lucky Craft 2.5 Series square-billed crankbait. He used 25-pound-test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon with the Beaver and 15-pound-test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon for the crankbait.
In terms of overall boat traffic from a variety of users, the second reservoir in the chain of Hot Springs' "Diamond Lakes" is probably the busiest, most congested lake in the state during the summer. Before the post-Memorial Day rush, you can enjoy fishing the spawn without having to contend with recreational boat traffic.
George Cochran, a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion, won the $500,000 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Hamilton in 2005 within sight of his lakeside house. That was a tough August tournament, however. The fishing is a lot easier in late March and April when bass concentrate around boat docks because they provide a lot of the only spawning cover remaining along the heavily developed shorefront.
Specifically, we're talking about the gravelly areas behind boat docks and beside seawalls. These are very good spawning areas that can be tricky to fish because of all the cables and rails that impede casting.
One of Cochran's favorite techniques is to cast a Zoom Trick Worm rigged wacky style into these coverts. Instead of an external weight, he clips off a section of a nail and inserts it into the worm body. That eliminates an external element that can snag, but it also allows the worm to drift downward in a realistic glide.
Success depends on finding the right docks. The best ones are on secondary points in coves and bays near the main lake. Those docks offer bass quick access to deep water, but the fish also benefit from current and wave action that concentrates baitfish.
Because of its small size, this Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake near Atkins doesn't attract many anglers, but it is one of our best places to catch a double-digit weight largemouth.
Lake Atkins is the northernmost water where the AGFC stocks Florida-strain largemouths. February and March are the best times to catch them in open water, but in April you can target individual fish near the bank.
The best places are among the cypress trees on the north bank. Matt Hedrick targets them with soft-plastic frogs and heavy tackle. It requires precise casting to zip a frog through the keyhole-sized openings to the bank, but when you hit the right spot, the response is immediate.
When he sets the hook, Hedrick winches the fish out of the cover swiftly with high-speed reels — 7.1:1 or faster — with heavy-action rods.
You can work these patterns on every lake in the state to achieve superb results throughout the month. Fill your tank and get you some!