Little Rock's Hot Summer Bassin'

You can find plenty of steamy action for hot-weather largemouths within an hour's drive in any direction from Arkansas' capital city.

By Jim Spencer

In the majority of cases, living in a midsized metropolitan area doesn't usually put an angler in a very promising position when it comes to being within easy reach of good bass fishing. But that's only because most midsized metropolitan areas aren't surrounded by as much good, easy-to-reach bass water as is Little Rock. No matter which route you use to exit the city, it'll take you to some promising water for summertime bassing.

Here's a representative sampling of solid bass venues within an hour's drive of the Little Rock city limits.

LAKE PICKTHORNE/

TOMMY L. SPROLES

This recently renovated impoundment is fairly small, and it's an unimpressive-looking body of water. However, it's as productive as it is unimpressive. Located on the west side of Holland Bottoms Wildlife Management Area between Jacksonville and Cabot, it's surrounded by the suburban sprawl of central Arkansas.

Nevertheless, and despite its proximity to population centers and its easy accessibility, Pickthorne feels surprisingly light pressure from bass fishermen. Maybe that's because the water of this 300-acre impoundment is usually pretty muddy. But don't let that water's coffee-and-cream color put you off. The bass are here, and a 16-21-inch protected slot and two-fish daily limit allow a pretty fair portion of them to get hefty.

Pickthorne has a "shallow" north side and a "deep" south side, but these terms are relative. The bottom topography drops only 2 or 3 feet from the north side to the south side, so there's really not a lot of difference. Most of Pickthorne is open water, but the eastern third or so is a dead-timber jungle, and it's this portion of the lake that receives the heaviest pressure. Some good fish are taken in the borrow ditch that forms the lake's west, south and east shores.

Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and shallow-running crankbaits are local favorites here, but plastic worms also account for some fish. At night, noisy surface lures generate some spooky strikes.

Access to the lake is off the frontage road on the east side of Highway 67/167 between Jacksonville and Cabot. Look for the Holland Bottoms WMA sign and follow the signs on the asphalt road to the boat ramp on the lake's north shore. Bank-fishing is allowed all the way around the lake, most of which is ringed by a gravel road.

Bassin' legend George Cochran cut his fishin' teeth on the waters around the greater Little Rock area. Photo by Jim Spencer

LAKE MAUMELLE

This 8,900-acre municipal water supply lake has been called "the Dead Sea" by many frustrated bass anglers, and only half in jest. While there's no denying that Maumelle can be tough to fish as its clear waters get warmer and its bass go deeper in the summer, don't let that "Dead Sea" thing discourage you too much - there are lots of bass to be caught here.

Because it's a municipal water supply lake, Maumelle doesn't have much woody vegetation. In 1957, during the lake's construction, the area that would become the lake was harvested of all merchantable timber. A few trees remained here and there, but after more than 40 years of inundation, they've mostly rotted away.

Water-quality regulations prohibit placing fish-holding structures such as brushpiles or old Christmas trees in the lake. Therefore, with the exception of the rocky bottom structure itself, there's little in the way of cover in Lake Maumelle.

This limits the total population of black bass in the lake, naturally, but it also concentrates the fish populations that do live there. Anglers who know how to find these areas have little trouble catching fish here.

Because of its location amid the Ouachita foothills, Lake Maumelle has quite a bit of depth variation. In general, the upper (west) end of the lake is shallower, and the water gets deeper as you go east toward the dam. This is the normal pattern in most reservoirs, of course, but because of Maumelle's topography, there's shallow, deep, and in-between water in almost every area of the lake. Mostly, it's not nearly as deep as it looks. There are also several islands that add to the diversity of the bottom contour.

The weedbeds and shoreline points along the north shore of the lake and the island shorelines (especially Big Island, Jim's Island and Workman's Island) are good bets this time of year. Also check out the Timber Cove area along the north shore, and the shoreline area west of Timber Cove.

Don't waste your time fishing Maumelle when the sun is at a high angle during the warmer months. The first hour or two of daylight and the last hour or two before dark can be fairly productive at times, but for the best hot-weather action, plan to be on this lake at night. Usually, the first two or three hours of full darkness are the most productive. Fishing is easier when there's some moonlight, but most lake veterans prefer fishing during the dark of the moon.

Before full dark, run surface lures or buzzbaits near shore. After full dark, switch to crawfish-type crank baits, jig-and-pig combos, plastic worms, and dark-colored spinnerbaits. On dark-of-the-moon nights, noisy surface lures like Chuggers, Torpedoes or Jitterbugs are often effective.

Light line is both desirable and effective here, because of the clear water and general absence of structure for the fish to hang up on. Six-to 8-pound test line is a good choice with a standard spinning rig, and use 10- to 12-pound test with baitcasting tackle.

There's a 15-inch minimum-length limit on black bass in Lake Maumelle, with the predictable result that there's a high incidence of just-barely-illegal fish in the lake. However, these 12- to 14-inch specimens provide great catch-and-release fishing, and there are enough bigger bass to keep things interesting.

Public launching is available off Highway 10, at Maumelle Harbor and at Jolly Roger's Marina. City regulations say boats must be at least 12 feet long, but you need more boat than that for fishing here. The wide-open 10-mile length of this lake can result in some impressive waves when it gets breezy. The area near the dam is off-limits to all recreational boat and bank traffic.

For maps of Lake Maumelle, contact the Little Rock Water Works, P.O. Box 1789, Little Rock AR 72203; (501) 377-1255.

ARKANSAS RIVER

Upstream or downstream, you can find good bass action in the several navigational pools of the Arkansas Riv

er that are close to Little Rock. In June, the bass are moving from the shallow backwater areas to the slightly cooler, better-aerated main channel of the river, and they can be difficult to find at this time of year.

George Cochran, two-time BASS Masters Classic winner and one of the most consistent professionals in bass fishing, grew up in the Little Rock area. He cut his teeth on the Arkansas River, and he's won more than a few big tournaments there. He knows as much about bass on the Arkansas as anyone.

"Once you understand what's going on, it's easier to find fish in a river," he said. "In a river, fish are either on the main river itself, just off the river on the secondary structure, or back off the river in the thick cover."

And in the summer, Cochran has observed, they're in the main river. According to him, a good place to start looking is around the numerous wing dams and jetties that direct the current flow. Bass are attracted to these places because of the structure, water movement and the opportunity to lie in quiet water close to good feeding areas. Riprap areas along shorelines are also among this pro's top prospecting areas.

His lure choices should raise no eyebrows: spinnerbaits, shallow-and deep-running crankbaits, plastics and jig-and-pig combinations.

Cochran also fishes the deep-water dropoffs that can almost always be found on the downstream end of sandbars. These areas are generally overlooked by most anglers, but the sudden drop from shallow to deep with current present is an attractive place for bass.

One other midsummer bass hangout that Cochran has found fish haunting is near the buoys along the river channel. These isolated pieces of structure serve two purposes, he says: They break the current to form a small pocket of still water, and they provide the piece of structure that a black bass needs for safety and security. He fishes these buoys with the lures mentioned above, but, he adds, a noisy topwater lure will occasionally work well here. It's been his experience that these small pockets of buoy-protected water are often productive during the hottest part of the day, when fishing elsewhere is slow.

Night-fishing can be effective on the Arkansas River, but fishing early and late in the day will usually produce action just as good, as will fishing during periods of heavy overcast or summer rainstorms. Temporary run-off from summer showers can make for hot action for Arkansas River bass. Summer thunderstorms often dump heavy but localized rain into an area, resulting in a sudden but brief flow into the river from a stream, culvert, or drainage ditch. Find one of these places and you may have found the mother lode.

Don't just barrel into such a place and start throwing, however. Approach quietly, using your trolling motor rather than your outboard, and begin by casting to the fringe of the flowing water. Use a plastic worm or lizard, or a small jig-and-pig or small spinnerbait. Try to pick off the fish on the outside first, and work your way to the center; the good fishing will last longer that way.

Regardless of how sneaky you are, though, after you catch some of them, the remaining bass at these places will usually stop hitting. At this point, switching to a larger spinnerbait or a crankbait will probably earn you a few more fish. But eventually, they'll quit hitting anything at all, and that's when it's time to let the place rest for a while. After an hour or so, you can usually return and catch more fish there. At times, I've caught as many as 50 bass a day from a single outflow like this.

To fish the river safely and effectively, you need a book of navigation charts from the Little Rock office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Contact them at (501) 324-5551 for current pricing information. The charts show most of the jetties, dikes, weirs and other navigational hazards present in the river.

But don't rely too heavily on the map to keep you in safe water. Any time you're out of the marked navigational channel of the river, the only safe speed is dead slow. Sandbars, submerged logs and other nasty surprises are common in the Arkansas River, and one of them can ruin not only your day but the rest of your life as well. And wear that life jacket whenever the boat is under power!

Be aware, too, of the 15-inch minimum-length limit for largemouth bass from the Arkansas River. Spotted bass are not included in this regulation, however.

LAKE CONWAY

By no stretch of the imagination could 6,700-acre Lake Conway be called young, but through aggressive fisheries management and water-level manipulation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission manages to keep this lake's productivity very high. Although it's famous for both bream and crappie fishing, not to mention some whopper flathead catfish, Lake Conway has from the very first maintained an excellent population of largemouth bass.

The lake's early fame was as a bream lake, and its more recent reputation has mostly centered on crappie fishing, the constant thread throughout Lake Conway's history has always been a strong, vigorous bass population.

There's not a lot of its original dead timber still showing, but Lake Conway was built around a living forest. Under the surface still is a minefield of logjams, stumps, treetops and other obstacles and fish-holding structure. There are also extensive lily-pad fields to provide more cover.

Conway was a shallow lake to begin with, and siltation over the past half-century has made it even more so. The AGFC's literature says the lake averages 6 feet, but much of the lake is shallower than 4 feet.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. No matter how hot the summer weather gets, the bass will still be within reach of your lures. And though the fish may not like the heat, they still have to feed - even more than usual, actually, because the warm water speeds up their metabolisms.

Fishing early and late in the day and at night are still excellent summertime fishing techniques here, but Lake Conway's bass can also be caught during the day by working worms, lizards and deep-running crankbaits along the creek channels and lily-pad edges. Night-fishing on Conway carries an added degree of difficulty because of the maddening number of barely submerged stumps in most parts of the lake. If you're not careful, you'll spend more time getting your boat off stumps than you will fishing. Most veteran Lake Conway anglers fish the first two and last two hours of daylight, or confine their night-fishing to moonlit nights, when they have at least a chance of seeing some of the stumps.

Because of the incredible amount of cover in this lake, it's hard to pinpoint the best bass fishing areas. However, the west side of the upper end of the lake is generally too shallow and gets too hot to hold any significant numbers of summertime bass. Areas more likely to provide good summer bassing are the big flat near the Gold Creek channel, just east of where the lake abuts I-40, and the creek channels in both the Pierce Creek and Palarm Creek arms of the lake. The section of the lake south of th

e Highway 89 bridge is slightly deeper than is the larger upper portion of the lake, and the Palarm Creek channel winding through this section also holds some good bass.

During the half-light times of early morning and late evening, fish spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and plastic worms near shore in these creek arms. Later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon, when the angle of the sun is higher, run crankbaits, worms and jig-and-pig combos along the channel drop-offs.

Don't make the mistake of fishing this lake with light tackle. The heavy cover gives the advantage to the bass, but the tannin-stained water allows for heavier line. Use 17- to 20-pound line on a baitcasting rig with some backbone in the rod and you won't get broken off nearly as often.

For a map of Lake Conway, contact the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 2 Natural Resources Drive, Little Rock AR 72205, phone 501-223-6351, www.agfc.com.



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