West Arkansas Lunker Lakes

Tap the potential of these six Natural State hotspots for a chance to land the largemouth of a lifetime.(February 2008).

Photo by Keith Sutton.

Marking the yearly turnover from the harsh cold of winter to the more temperate days of spring, the year's second month opens with frigid winds and frosty mornings. Then, as the month proceeds, a subtle difference in the weather manifests itself. The periodic cold fronts become milder and milder, and Natural State bass anglers begin anticipating the periods of "shirt-sleeve" weather that usually arrive around the middle of the month.

After that, even trained meteorologists find it difficult to foresee what the weather will do, with weather patterns changing on an unpredictable schedule. During February, Arkansas fishermen take their chances and hope for the best.

Considering the constantly changing conditions encountered this month, it would seem impossible to develop a practical plan for catching bass. While this is true if only a daily pattern is considered, when a broader, more comprehensive pattern is established for a particular lake, February can be the best possible month to fish for bass. This is the case at many of the fine bassin' lakes scattered across the western counties of Arkansas, including waters where chances are excellent for catching trophy bass.

WHITE OAK LAKE

White Oak Lake in southwest Arkansas has been known as a superb bass fishery since its creation in 1961. Eight-pound-plus largemouths have always been common here, and this huge Arkansas Game and Fish Commission impoundment often gives up 10-pound-plus bass.

White Oak is in Ouachita and Nevada counties, 18 miles northwest of Camden. In truth, White Oak is two lakes in one. A dam across the midsection -- state Route 387 -- forms two separate bodies of water. The 1,645-acre northern portion is known as the "lower lake," and the 1,031-acre southern portion is called the "upper lake."

An angler acquainted with White Oak Lake can catch good numbers of big bass year 'round, but January, February and March are considered the best bassing months by most local anglers. During that time, big largemouths usually linger around stickups, fallen timber and cypress trees on 5- to 8-foot-deep flats with deep water nearby. A fishfinder can help pinpoint these areas along the inundated White Oak Creek channel. Good lure choices include deep-running crankbaits, jig-'n'-eels and Rat-L-Traps. (Continued)

MILLWOOD LAKE

This 29,200-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment sprawls across Howard, Hempstead, Little River and Sevier counties in Arkansas' southwest corner, 28 miles north of Texarkana. Millwood was completed in 1966 and since its earlier days has been considered one of the top largemouth bass lakes in Arkansas. Heavy fishing pressure, changing environmental conditions in the lake's watershed and decreasing fertility led to a reduction in fishing quality during part of the 1970s and 1980s, but thanks to a good management program implemented by the AGFC, Millwood once again is a top trophy bass-fishing destination.

Because Millwood is relatively shallow and is fed by several tributaries, the water level fluctuates constantly. Reading the water fluctuations and knowing where to fish at different levels are keys to finding February bass here.

As a general rule, when the water level rises, bass follow creek channels up onto shallow flats and into flooded woods. As the water level falls, bass fishing generally is best in the main lake. Bass leave flats and move toward cover along inundated creek and river channels offshore. A depthfinder can be helpful for finding secondary pockets or fingers on creek channels where bass are holding.

Lure choices run the gamut from jigs to big, deep-diving crankbaits. Working jigs and spoons with a vertical presentation around stream channel drops is a productive tactic throughout February.

LAKE CATHERINE

Lake Catherine, a 1,940-acre Entergy impoundment near Hot Springs, has a healthy largemouth population with fish up to 10 pounds, but they're known to be tough to catch. It's worth trying, though, because some real lunkers lurk here.

Among the best fishing areas are the state park bay, Couch's Pocket and Spencer's Bay. The state park bay is a small backwater adjacent Lake Catherine State Park near the lake's east end off state Route 171. Spencer's Bay, or Spencer's Pocket, is a broad finger of water on the lake's north side running parallel to U.S. Route 270 at the eastern edge of Hot Springs. Couch's Bay is another long, distinct north-shore arm just a short distance up and across the lake from the state park.

There are many stumps in Spencer's Bay, and Couch's Bay has a lot of trees fallen from the bank. The lake has substantial current flowing through it, and much of the cover where you'll find bass is deposited by the current. Outside bends in the river channel are good places if you have a depthfinder to locate brush and timber along the dropoff. Work ledges on the edges of the main channel, too.

The jig-and-pig is always a good February bait on Catherine, especially when fishing close to naturally deposited timber. If you're fishing shallow flats, try a Carolina-rigged worm or spinnerbait. Crawfish crankbaits worked parallel to some of the dropoffs are good as well.

LAKE HAMILTON

Lake Hamilton borders Hot Springs' southern edge. Carpenter Dam, which impounds the lake, was constructed in 1932 to create a 7,200-acre body of water.

When searching for February largemouths, particularly late in the month, anglers at the 18.5-mile-long lake often use spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigged plastic worms and lizards. Good areas to target include four major creek basins -- White Oak, Williams, Little Mazarn and Fourche Loop creeks. Look for shallow flats going into bays off the main creek channels; then, target brushpiles, as largemouths are likely to be there. Pinpoint a brushpile with sonar and bump the brush with your lure. If a bass is there, you'll likely get a strike.

Spotted bass also comprise a significant portion of the Hamilton catch, but hooking these scrappy fighters requires different fishing tactics. Most anglers fish live crawfish around points. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find crawfish for sale in the area. A few bait shops sell them occasionally, but you may have to catch and bring your own if you want to be certain of their availability. Fish crawfish with a hook and a split shot, letting them sink and tight-lining them on the bottom.

LAKE OUACHITA

Lake Ouachita, a 40,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment, is the largest lake lying entirely within Arkansas' boundaries. This deep

, crystal-clear reservoir provides excellent fishing not only for largemouth and spotted bass but for smallmouths as well.

In February, many Ouachita bass anglers search for their quarry "in the moss" -- beds of hydrilla, water milfoil and elodea. A fishfinder can help you pinpoint these mats, which are usually in 15 to 20 feet of water.

Many favor a deep-diving minnow-imitating crankbait for fishing this submerged vegetation. To use one, locate a weedbed, move away from it a few yards; cast the lure, crank it down deep and bring it in with a stop-and-go retrieve. Work the lure along the top of this submerged vegetation; bass will rise from the moss to nail it.

Ouachita's spotted and smallmouth bass usually are in fairly deep water in February. Many are taken on live crawfish and crawfish imitations fished in timbered pockets, moss or on deeper rocky ledges. Some bass hold as deep as 40 feet, and according to local guides, the best lure for enticing them is the jig-and-pig.

DeGRAY LAKE

DeGray Lake, a 13,800-acre impoundment on the Caddo River, lies 21 miles south of Hot Springs. Completed in 1972, this deep reservoir is a real challenge for bass anglers, but 3- to 6-pound largemouths are common, and 7- to 8-pounders are not unusual.

If the lake's not excessively high, area experts recommend fishing beds of elodea and other vegetation around islands and underwater humps. Some humps are near the mouth of Brushy Creek, as well as south of the DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge in the main lake. These are remnants of east-west running ridges that peak near or just above the surface. Fish weedbeds around those humps with spinnerbaits, Smithwick Rogues or Carolina-rigged centipedes for February action.

For more information on all of these lakes, contact the appropriate regional office of the AGFC or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Additional information is available at www.agfc.com/"

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