White Spring For Arkansas Bassers

Spring brings the best white-bass fishing of the year to waterways throughout the Natural State. Let's take a look at the venues hosting the hottest action. (April 2006)

My 13-year-old son Zach and I were fishing with our friend Brad Weigmann, a fishing guide on Arkansas' Beaver Lake. The weatherman had forecast sunny skies and warm weather for our visit, but when we launched Brad's boat, the temperature was barely above freezing and clouds hid the sun. Brad graciously shared some warm clothes, but Zach and I still shivered in the cold.

On a day like that, I think there's only one thing that will get an angler really warm again, and that's a hard-fighting fish on your line. Fortunately for us, that was about to happen. As we motored into a big cove, we saw a swirl on the surface, and a geyser of shad erupted from the water as some unseen predator began feeding in the calm water. Then there was another swirl. And then another. And another.

Brad and Zach grabbed rods and started casting jigging spoons while I watched from a seat in the rear of the boat. Brad was coaching Zach.

"You just want to give the spoon a little lift-and-drop action," Brad said. "When the spoon starts falling, it flutters down like a dead shad and -- "

Wham! Brad's rod did a nose dive as a fish hit the spoon hard. Then, again: wham! Zach's rod bowed up too.

If my son has ever had a bigger smile on his face, I've never seen it. The white bass he fought gave him a run for his money, but the fish never had a chance against a teenager who'd been patient far too long. Zach swung it into the boat just as Brad did the same with his. Both fish were in the 2-pound class.

Action like this is typical on Beaver Lake and its tributaries each spring. The same is true on several other Natural State waters as well. During their spawning season in March and April, white bass gather in huge numbers in and around streams that feed our major impoundments, and if you're there when it happens, you can expect to enjoy some incredible fishing. Here are several places you should try this season.

BEAVER LAKE

Many anglers consider Beaver Lake near Rogers in northwest Arkansas the No. 1 white bass hotspot in the state. There are good reasons for this. This 28,220-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment has many large creek and river tributaries where white bass congregate to spawn, and a forage base of shad keeps them healthy and abundant year 'round.

The lake is fed by one fork of the White River that goes back south and east as far as Crosses, Delaney and St. Paul. The West Fork of the White ranges southwest as far away as Winslow, West Fork and Greeland, while the Middle Fork travels northwesterly about halfway between and paralleling Arkansas Highway 16 and U.S. Highway 71. These three forks add up to many miles of prime water where you can always find springtime action.

War Eagle Creek, the fourth-largest tributary, flows in from the east side of the lake. In this stream, whites can travel only as far as the dam at War Eagle Mill, where they congregate in huge numbers to create an excellent fishing site.

You'll find spawning whites well into April in all these waters. Working jigging spoons in areas where schools of shad are running is a sure way to take them.

For guided fishing, contact Brad Weigmann in Springdale by phoning (479) 756-5279, or e-mail him at cuppy@alltel.net

TABLE ROCK LAKE

The White River below Beaver Lake has a northerly flow and becomes the headwaters of Table Rock Lake. During the April spawning runs, fish in this lake follow the urge to migrate upstream and run up the river (south) to the base of Beaver Dam. This shortstopping effect crowds white bass almost by the millions around the shoal areas from the tiny town of Beaver all the way to the dam.

In this area, you'll rarely go wrong using live minnows, leadhead jigs or a combination of the two. For minnows, use a heavy sinker tied to the end of the line to drag the bait to the bottom. The minnow is lip-hooked on a small, single hook attached to a dropper line tied a few inches above the weight.

Leadhead jigs must also have enough weight to carry them to or near the bottom. For shallow water, lighter jigs -- 1/16 to 1/8 ounce --work well; in deeper or more turbulent water, some anglers go as heavy as an ounce.

When using a jig/minnow combo, consider adding a No. 8 treble hook as a trailer. To do this, tie a short length of line to the bend in the jig's hook, and tie the treble hook on the other end. Hook a live minnow through the lip with the jig hook; then, hook one barb of the treble hook in the minnow's tail. This rig sounds complicated, but it helps nail soft-hitting winter white bass on the slightest nibble.

BULL SHOALS LAKE

Bull Shoals Lake, 45,440 acres in northern Arkansas, produced two of the largest white bass ever recorded in the Natural State. Both were caught on April 15, 1984, at the tail end of the spring spawn. William Garvey of Indianapolis, Ind., caught a fish weighing 5 pounds, 2 ounces. Amazingly enough, Garvey's fishing partner William Wilson, also of Indianapolis, caught the other, a 5-pound, 4-ounce monster that still stands as the Arkansas state record.

Bull Shoals white bass tend to be hefty and in excellent shape. Two-pounders are a dime a dozen, and the big egg-laden females often push the 4 1/2-pound mark. When they ascend feeder creeks to spawn, it's not unusual to find them in only 1 to 2 feet of water.

In March, the male white bass, mostly 1- to 1 1/2-pound fish, show up on the shoals and bars in the mouths of tributaries, usually in 10 to 15 feet of water. Jigs, grubs, Rat-L-Traps and tailspinners like the Little George will take them. In late March or early April, as the water warms, male whites ascend the spawning streams and are soon joined by the females. After spawning, both sexes return to the main lake. It's during their upstream and downstream runs that most whites are caught, often by bank-fishermen working the streams with spoons, small crankbaits or live baitfish. Good areas to try include Big Music Creek, Sugarloaf Creek, West Sugarloaf Creek and Carolton Hollow Creek, all on the south (Arkansas) side of the lake.

LAKE NORFORK

Though best known for its topnotch largemouth, crappie and striper fishing, this 22,000-acre Corps impoundment in Baxter and Fulton counties serves up excellent white-bass fishing as well. Small horsehead-spinners like the Roadrunner are popular with local anglers fishing Brushy Creek, Big Creek, Diamond Creek, Tracy Cove, Bennett's Creek and other tributary areas. During the April

spawning run, it's not unusual to catch 50 to 100 in a half-day of fishing, including many in the 2- to 3-pound range.

GREERS FERRY LAKE

All of the feeder streams for Greers Ferry are attractive to white bass when they make their spawning migrations. Peter Creek, which enters the lake from the northeast a few miles uplake from the dam, is one of the most popular white-bass hotspots and produces many fish in the 3- to 4-pound range. The four forks of the Little Red River above the lake -- Devil's, Archey's, Middle and South -- also offer opportunities for catching lots of jumbo whites during the spawn.

Whites and hybrid stripers move up the tributaries at the same time, and the same tactics usually result in mixed stringers. Ultralight tackle is OK for whites, but if you use it, you take a chance of losing any sizable hybrid that might come along. Good lure choices for both species include 1/4-ounce jigheads with 3-inch grubs, 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Traps, or 2-inch crankbaits in shad colors.

LAKE HAMILTON

This 7,200-acre Entergy lake on the Ouachita River at Hot Springs offers excellent fishing for these scrappy sportfish. In March, white bass congregate in the basins of Little Mazarn, Big Mazarn, Glazypeau, Kelly and Hot Springs creeks, awaiting the water temperature that will send them swarming up the streams to spawn in mid-April. The anglers swarm with them. Banks are lined with fishermen, and limit catches are common. Most white-bass anglers must pursue their quarry from boats, however, because most shoreline property on Hamilton is privately owned. Tandem-rigged jigs, small spoons, crankbaits and live minnows are among the most popular white bass enticements.

LAKE OUACHITA

Lake Ouachita, a 40,000-acre Corps lake west of Hot Springs, is a sleeper in terms of white-bass fishing. Stripers and black bass draw the attention of most Lake Ouachita anglers. But in March and April, white bass get a flash of attention from local anglers enjoying the fast-paced action spawning fish provide in major tributaries. This huge lake produces some enormous linesides. Every day during the spawn, many honest 3-pounders cross the fillet table.

Most fishing is done during the height of the spawning run in March or April in primary tributaries. The headwaters of the lake -- the Ouachita River, especially -- give up enormous numbers of whites. Small inflowing creeks sometimes may also hold a few spawners, but better fishing is available in large tributaries like the South Fork of the Ouachita at Mount Ida and the North Fork below Mt. Tabor.

Pre-spawn fishing also can be good. Just prior to their spawning runs, whites begin schooling at the mouths of creeks and streams, and many are caught by anglers trolling across points adjacent these tributary mouths. Small deep-diving crankbaits that imitate shad garner lots of fish, but other shad imitations that work deep perform well, too.

LAKE MAUMELLE

Lake Maumelle is an 8,900-acre water-supply lake owned by Little Rock Waterworks. Located just a few miles west of Little Rock off Arkansas Highway 10, the lake is extremely popular with white-bass anglers. When the whites are ready to start their spawning runs in mid to late March, the question starts making the rounds in fishing circles throughout town: "Are the whites running on Maumelle yet?"

Most spawning activity is concentrated at the west end of the lake where the Big Maumelle River flows in. Anglers gather on the lower 10 miles of river, some fishing from boats, others from the banks. Night fishing seems to be most productive, especially for casting small spoons, spinners and live minnows. Fishermen often have a hard time finding a good spot to fish, because people are crowded shoulder to shoulder on the more easily accessible stretches of river. Most will agree, however, that the possibility of catching several 2- to 3-pound whites per night makes any extra effort worthwhile.

LAKE GREESON

Lake Greeson is a 7,260-acre Corps impoundment just north of Murfreesboro and west of Kirby. White bass here run upstream into the Little Missouri River to spawn. During the run, anglers line both sides of the river for the one-half to three-fourths of a mile above the Highway 70 bridge. Some fish from boats as far upriver as they can go. Good action is also found in the long lake fingers reaching up into the many feeder creeks.

DEGRAY LAKE

DeGray Lake covers 13,400 acres northwest of Arkadelphia. It features a white bass spawning run on the upper end where the Caddo River enters. White bass also are taken where major creek tributaries such as Brushy Creek enter the lake. Fishing from a boat is the most common method used to go after spawning whites. Look for them around gravel bars in fairly shallow water. Before and after the actual spawning, you can find whites in the bays at the mouths of the creeks. Trolling or casting small jigs is a good way to catch them.

LAKE DARDANELLE

Constructed in the 1960s by the Corps, Lake Dardanelle is one of the state's premier white bass lakes. This honeyhole on the Arkansas River lies right beside I-40, spreading westward from Dardanelle Lock and Dam at Russellville to cover approximately 35,000 acres in Pope, Yell, Logan, Johnson and Franklin counties. The I-40 connection lends accessibility to the entire length of the lake's north side. On the south side, the same convenience is provided by state Highway 22.

Dardanelle contains varied structure attractive to white bass: coves, tributaries, rockpiles, shallows, flats, jetties and islands. On warmer days in the latter part of March, whites start moving up into creeks and small rivers that feed the lake. Spawning time is near, and as the water warms, they move into these tributaries to look for spawning sites.

Two excellent white bass fishing areas are the Spadra Creek and Little Spadra Creek arms just 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 where white bass stage prior to and after the spawn. This area produces lots of whites ranging from 1 to 3 pounds and more. The Shoal Creek area near New Blaine on Arkansas Highway 22 provides similar conditions.

Another good area to try is where Illinois Bayou runs in and crosses I-40 on the east end of the lake at Russellville. The dark, shaly bottom around the interstate bridge conducts heat better and the water warms earlier, so it's a place where many anglers catch early white bass.

These are just a few of the many productive white bass spots you may want to try. Lake Dardanelle is 50 miles long and has 315 miles of shoreline, so if one place doesn't pan out, try another. Sooner or later your efforts will pay off.

For additional information on white bass fishing in Arkansas, including fishing regulations for the waters mentioned here, contact the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 2 Natural Resources Dr., Little Rock, AR 72205; 1-800-364-GAME; www.agfc.com.

(Editor's Note: Keith Sutton is the author of Fishing Arkansas: A Year-round Guide to Angling Adventures in the Natural State. To order an autographed copy, send a check

or money order for $28.25 to C&C Outdoors, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002.)

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