2006 Arkansas Fishing Calendar

All across the state, fine fishing opportunities can be found in every month of the year. We've sorted through the top prospects and picked the best of the best. (February 2006)

If you love fishing, and you live in Arkansas, you're living the good life indeed. Few places in the U.S. offer the astounding variety of freshwater fishing opportunities available in the Natural State.


Regardless of the time of year, the fish are always biting somewhere. Try your hand at catching monster catfish in the broad bottomland rivers of the Delta, or fly-fish for trout in the clear streams of the Ozarks. Fish the coastal plain lakes for crappie and bream, or try for white bass and hybrids at a reservoir in the Ouachita Mountains. The opportunities are almost endless.

That said, here's a road map to 36 of the state's best fishing destinations this year.


JANUARY

Mississippi River Blue Cats


Most folks are backed up to the fireplace this month, but not serious catfishermen. These guys know January is time to bundle up and chase blue cats, and no place offers better action than the Mississippi River, home of the former 116-pound, 12-ounce world record.

Use sonar to pinpoint deep wintering holes anywhere on the river from Blytheville to Chicot County. Then drop a chunk of fresh skipjack or shad to the bottom and hold on. Thirty- to 50-pounders are common, with 100-pound specimens always possible.

Other Choices

Dam tailwaters on the Arkansas River are another congregating spot for January anglers. Small jigs tied tandem on light line slay winter panfish such as saugers, crappie and white bass.

Hefty smallmouth bass lurk around shale ledges in the Ouachita River above Lake Ouachita.

FEBRUARY

Old Town Lake Crappie

Old Town Lake, southwest of West Helena, warms up earlier than do many other Arkansas lakes, and crappie usually move into the shallows to prepare for spawning around the middle of February. This oxbow, separated from the Mississippi River by a levee, drains into Big Creek in the White River drainage. Fishing conditions are not highly influenced by any river, however, and water levels are generally quite stable, a definite advantage for visiting crappie anglers. The lake is at the town of Lakeview on state Highway 44 in Phillips County.

As the water in Old Town Lake warms this month, anglers start catching crappie around the dense stands of cypress trees in shoreline shallows. It's not uncommon when working jigs or minnows around good cover to take a 30-fish limit of crappie that weighs 40 pounds or more. The lake is extremely shallow, less than 6 feet throughout, but on February's warm bluebird days, most crappie will be in 2 feet of water or less.

Other Choices

Another February oxbow hotspot is Lake Chicot, which offers hot largemouth bass fishing at Lake Village, in the state's southeast corner.

On the Spring River in the Ozarks of northeast Arkansas, anglers can expect to hook some nice trout as winter comes to an end.

MARCH

Beaver Lake Hybrid Stripers And White Bass

On this huge U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake near Rogers in northwest Arkansas, anglers can enjoy some hot action for hybrid stripers and white bass this month. Both species of temperate bass can be expected to be gorging on schools of shad, and near dawn and dusk they run the baitfish to the surface. Watch for surface disturbances as the shad are herded around by these predators; then, move in quietly and start casting to the schools.

Any shad-like lure will catch them, but it's hard to beat a silver jigging spoon worked vertically beneath the boat. Freeline one to the bottom, and then rip it upward a few feet at a time. Use a sturdy baitcasting outfit: Hybrids weighing up to 10 pounds and more are common, and one of those can demolish poor-quality tackle in short order. Whites weighing 2 pounds and up are abundant. Dress warmly; the weather can turn frigid quickly this time of year.

Other Choices

Cane Creek Lake near Star City is a favorite destination for in-the-know March crappie anglers.

Mirror Lake in the Blanchard Springs Recreation Area near Mountain View receives stockings of rainbow trout and provides good bank-fishing in a scenic setting.

APRIL

Lake Dardanelle Crappie

This honeyhole on the Arkansas River spreads westward from Dardanelle Lock & Dam at Russellville to cover 35,000 acres in five counties. When the dogwoods start blooming in April, crappie begin spawning in shallow, timbered coves and backwaters.

Two excellent crappie-fishing areas are the Spadra Creek and Little Spadra Creek arms south of I-40 at Clarksville. In those areas you'll find 5- to 10-foot depths that jump up to 2- and 3-foot flats. Woody cover on those flats attracts crappie that sometimes weigh 2 pounds or more. The Shoal Bay area near New Blaine on Highway 22 provides similar conditions, with loads of crappie-attracting stumpflats.

Other Choices

Spotted bass fishing in the Arkansas River is good this month as well, particularly in the lower pools. The Pendleton area is one super hotspot for lunkers.

Don't overlook Greers Ferry and its largemouth bass this month, either. Many huge, egg-laden females are moving into the shallows to spawn, which makes them easier to find and catch.

MAY

Lake Ouachita Walleyes

Lake Ouachita, west of Hot Springs, is a top destination for world-class walleye fishing this month. This 40,000-acre Corps lake has always been a good walleye producer, but local aficionados say it just keeps getting better. Eight- to 12-pounders are common, especially around weedbeds and humps. Some longtime Ouachita anglers say that the walleye explosion may have placed these good-eating fish above largemouth bass on the list of most-caught sportfish.

Other Choices

Bluegills are on their beds in Lake Conway. Fishing around logjams and cypress trees in the shallows will turn them up, especially with live crickets as bait.

Striper action heats up on Lake Greeson, with 30-pounders possible.

JUNE

White River NWR Bream

Bream fishing on the oxbows lakes in White River National Wildlife Refuge isn't just good -- it's spectacular. Stringers of 50 bluegills and redears weighing 50 pounds aren't unheard of. Knowledgeable anglers can enjoy extraordinary action in June when the bream spawn is in full swing.

There are liter

ally hundreds of lakes to fish. Favorites with local anglers include Swan, Brown's Shanty, Goose and Buck just north of St. Charles off Highway 1, and Columbus, Escronges, H, Horseshoe and others near Ethel on Highway 17. Live crickets and worms tempt big bream, which usually haunt shoreline shallows near buckbrush, cypress trees and fallen timber. Plan a trip during this month's full moon for peak action.

Other Choices

Caddo River rock bass can be enticed this month with tiny crawfish-imitation crankbaits fished around boulders and rock piles.

Shiner fishermen should zero in on Lake Des Arc for some dandy post-spawn crappies.

JULY

Blue Mountain Lake Catfish

Although often overlooked by catfish aficionados, Blue Mountain Lake provides some of the best fishing for channel cats, blues and flatheads in the western half of Arkansas. Covering 2,910 acres, this honeyhole lies largely in western Yell County near Waveland. The channel cats superabundant here often weigh over 5 pounds. Those who know the ins and outs of fishing for them have a good chance of landing a blue or flathead weighing 30 pounds or more.

Other Choices

East Arkansas' Storm Creek Lake in St. Francis National Forest harbors big hybrid stripers that often fall for deep-diving shad imitations.

Night-fishing produces trophy crappie on Nimrod Lake this month as well.

AUGUST

Mississippi River Oxbows Bowfins

A fish that thrives on hot weather, the bowfin (a.k.a. "grinnel") can inject a heavy dose of rip-roaring action into a summer angling excursion. Few anglers target this underwater outlaw, but those who do know that, once hooked, it puts on a tail-walking display unrivaled by any game fish.

Bowfins are common in oxbow lakes along the Mississippi River, including Horseshoe, Midway, Old Town, Whitehall and Paradise. Good lures run the gamut from surface plugs to bottom bumpers, but in August, it's hard to beat a plastic worm fished around stickups, cypress trees and buckbrush.

Other Choices

For fast-paced fun, catch white bass on small jigs worked in the tailwater below Norrell Lock & Dam on the lower White River.

The North Fork River is one of August's best bets for giant brown trout.

SEPTEMBER

Arkansas River Striped Bass

In terms of the number of fish it produces, the Arkansas River is one of the best striper waters in Arkansas. There are few days when a dedicated angler can't hook several nice fish, but the abundance of 5- to 15-pound stripers provides all the action most fishermen need.

September finds stripers chasing shad on the surface. The fish may roam large areas as they follow bait, but some action continues day after day in the same locales, usually around dawn and dusk. Fishermen watch the water for feeding fish and, when they're sighted, rush to get in a cast before the stripers dive. Any topwater plug or light-colored jig popped across the surface will draw strikes when fish are in a feeding frenzy. Stripers can be taken on any of the river pools from Ft. Smith to the river's confluence with the Mississippi, but the best striper pools, perhaps, are lakes Dardanelle and Ozark in the western part of the state.

Other Choices

Chicken livers and commercial baits can be used to entice big channel cats this month in farm ponds around the state.

DeGray Lake near Arkadelphia is a hotspot for September's hybrid stripers.

OCTOBER

Big Piney Creek Smallmouths

In October, mountain streams are at their best for casual float-fishing. There's hardly a better time to fish for battling smallmouth bass, and Big Piney Creek is one of the best places to go.

Two excellent smallmouth floats are the 10-mile section from Forest Service Road 1004 at Limestone to state Highway 123, and the eight miles from state Highway 123 to Treat (Forest Road 1805). Good lures include jigging frogs, minnow- and crayfish-imitation crankbaits, and small plastic worms. Use medium to heavy tackle. Some people expect that the bass swimming this smallish stream will be small, too, and that expectation can cost you trophy fish. Cast to rocks, underwater ledges and submerged timber.

Other Choices

Lake Austell in Village Creek State Park near Wynne is a sleeper hotspot for big channel and blue catfish.

On the St. Francis River backwaters near Marked Tree, spotted bass are hitting topwaters early and late in the day.

NOVEMBER

Little Red River Trout

The Little Red River below Greers Ferry Lake is among the blue-ribbon trout streams of America, serving up fine fall fishing for visiting anglers. Although plenty of nice rainbows, brook trout and cutthroats are caught here, brown trout are in the spotlight this month as they hit the shoals to spawn. Savvy anglers catch lots of 3- to 5-pounders, and there's always the possibility of a world-record class fish. Flyfishermen take most, with a variety of patterns used by local anglers.

When you're fishing for rainbows, brookies and cutts during high water this month, drift-fishing with the current is a favored method. Bait is cast upstream and allowed to bump the bottom as it drags behind the boat. During low-water periods, still-fishing deep holes, weedbeds and timber from an anchored boat is preferred.

Other Choices

Catfish fans on Lake Millwood often catch big flatheads this month as these brutes go on a feeding frenzy to fatten up before winter.

On Crooked Creek near Yellville, smallmouth action heats up.

DECEMBER

Lake Ouachita Chain Pickerel

Few Arkansas anglers fish for chain pickerel, but these neglected fish are superstar fighters, putting up a battle that will make your knees shake. Best of all, this power-packed predator fires up with the urge to feed at the same time many other game fish are holed up for the winter. November fishing is excellent, especially on Lake Ouachita west of Hot Springs.

Pickerel, being fish-eaters, are drawn to lures mimicking baitfish. A weedless silver spoon with a trailing pork rind is an old standard, but spinners, chugger plugs, slim-minnow lures, streamers and even plastic worms will elicit strikes. Cast along Ouachita's numerous weedbeds, reeling with a steady, moderate-speed retrieve. Or, when using topwaters, cast to pockets in the weeds, let the lure sit until the ripples have died away, and then twitch the lure again, continuing to the boat with a twitch-and-stop retrieve.

Other Choices

For some cold-weather largemouth bass action, try Lake Erling in southwest Arkansas this month.

The Buffalo National River offers a potpourri of fishing action for smallmouth bass, channel catfish, sunfish and rock bass.

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