Arkansas' White Bass Roundup
September 24, 2010
"Pow!" -- that's the word that best describes the strike of an Arkansas white bass. Don't let its size fool you: This fish is dynamite.
By Keith Sutton
That April night was cool and clear. An owl hooted off in the distance, hunting along the shores of Big Maumelle River. Beyond us in either direction, we could see the lanterns of dozens of anglers fishing along this tributary of Lake Maumelle, just west of Little Rock.
"Got one!" my fishing companion shouted.
At the edge of our light, I could make out the silvery form of a white bass struggling against my buddy's line. I saw a fin break the surface, and then the swirl of the predator's tail.
Another white bass nailed the little jig I was retrieving across the stream bottom. "Hey, I've got one, too!" It was our tenth double of the night.
The whites fought furiously, but we brought them quickly to the shore, shook them off the hook and cast again. The response to each cast was almost instantaneous. Each time we savored the powerful, circling run of a sizable white bass.
The action went on cast after cast for nearly four hours. I would like to tell you exactly how many fish we caught during that time, but in all honesty, I cannot. We released every one, and the adrenaline surge I experienced precluded any possibility of accurate mathematics. There were scores, though - of that I have no doubt. And those hours of ultralight fishing encompassed some of the most mind-boggling fishing action I've ever experienced.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
For a few short weeks each spring, Arkansas anglers enjoy some of the year's fastest fishing. This is the season when white bass spawn, and fishermen who know where to find them and how to catch them can enjoy fun-filled hours where a fish caught every cast is not unusual.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING If you can, fish the feeder streams that flow into the Natural State's large impoundments. Big Maumelle River, the site of my opening story, is one of many good ones scattered throughout the state. Feeder streams flowing into other, larger streams also have white bass runs, but seldom as big as the runs occurring on streams connected directly to large lakes.
Timing the spawning run is critical to success. If you fish at the wrong time, you won't catch any whites no matter how many use the stream for spawning. Fortunately, it's easy to time the run by tracking water temperature in the stream you plan to fish. When it hits 50 degrees, you'll find schools of white bass gathering near the mouths of feeder streams. At 58 degrees, the upstream surge begins. In south Arkansas, this may occur in early to mid-March. In northern counties, it may be well into April. The spawning run can last as long as a month, but typically, it starts and ends within the span of two weeks.
Where should you fish? Arkansas has good white bass fishing in all quadrants. But, as I said before, the best white bass spawning streams feed major impoundments. That's where you should fish to be in the center of action. Here are several to try this season.
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 NORFORK Though best known for its top-notch largemouth, crappie and striper fishing, this 22,000-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment in Baxter and Fulton counties serves up excellent white bass fishing as well. Small horsehead spinners like the Road Runner 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.
BEAVER LAKE Many anglers consider Beaver Lake near Rogers in northwest Arkansas the state's number-one white bass hotspot. There are good reasons for this. This 28,220-acre 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.
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, lead head 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.
Lead head jigs must be 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.
LAKE OUACHITA Lake Ouachita, a 40,000-acre Corps of Engineers lake west of Hot Springs, is a sleeper lake in terms of white bass fishing. But in March and April, whites 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 in-flowing creeks 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 can also 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.
GREERS FERRY LAKE All feeder streams of 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 up 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 forks - 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-oz. jig heads with 3-inch grubs, 1/4-oz. lipless crankbaits or 2-inch crankbaits in shad colors.
BULL SHOALS LAKE Bull Shoals Lake (45,440 acres in north Arkansas) produced the two largest white bass ever recorded in Arkansas. Both were caught on April 15, 1984, at the tail-end of the spring spawn. One weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces. It was caught by William Garvey of Indianapolis, Indiana. The other fish - our current state record - weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces. It was caught by Garvey's fishing partner, William Wilson, also of Indianapolis.
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 10-15 feet of water. Jigs, grubs, lipless crankbaits 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 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 white 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 when 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 two- to three-pound whites per night makes any extra effort worthwhile.
LAKE GREESON Lake Greeson is a 7,260-acre Corps of Engineers 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 1/2 to 3/4 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 here. Look for whites 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 Lake Dardanelle is another 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, rock piles, shallows flats, jetties and islands. On warmer days in late March, whites start moving up into creeks and small rivers that feed the lake. They know 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 one to three 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, so th
e water warms earlier, and that'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. For credit card orders, log on to www.ccoutdoors.com.)
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