2009 Natural State Fishing Calendar
September 24, 2010
With 365 days in the year, Arkansas anglers have more than enough time to sample some of our state's finest fishing at these 36 surefire hotspots. (Feb 2009)
Arkansas encompasses more than 110,000 lakes and ponds and more than 20,000 miles of streams.
If a person could fish on a different body of water every week year 'round -- and do this year after year -- it would still take a lifetime to investigate first-hand the thousands of extraordinary fishing waters within the Natural State. To my knowledge, no one has come close to achieving that end.
It's fun to try, though. And if you'll try the following suggestions -- three hotspots per month, 36 in all -- you'll have sampled some of the best fishing that Arkansas has to offer.
Rainbow Trout, Lake Catherine
The cold month of January serves up hot fishing for trout in Lake Catherine, with anglers routinely catching stocked rainbow trout larger than 15 inches here on the south edge of Hot Springs. Lake Catherine is below Carpenter Dam, which impounds Lake Hamilton, and it's in the cold tailwater of this dam where trout fishing is best. Fly-fishing with streamers and woolly buggers works great, and bank-fishermen enjoy success casting small in-line spinners and fishing waxworms or night crawlers floated under a bobber.
Crappie, Lake Millwood
Fishing Blakemore Road Runners or live shiners around brushpiles in 17 to 22 feet of water is the ticket to crappie fishing success in this southwest Arkansas lake.
Walleyes, Bull Shoals Lake
Bull Shoals' winter walleyes are suckers for spoons fished over large flats in 35 to 40 feet of water.
Crappie, Lake Greeson
Crappie tipping the scales at more than 2 pounds are common in this 7,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment 30 miles southwest of Hot Springs. There's little natural cover here, so these good-eating panfish congregate largely around the hundreds of manmade fish attractors scattered throughout the lake. Find the deeper brushpiles with sonar, drop a minnow or jig down beside them and get ready for some fast-paced winter action.
Striped Bass, Lake Ouachita
Stripers up to 40 pounds often are caught here this month by vertical fishing with spoons or trolling with shad-imitation crankbaits, but the hottest action is on live gizzard shad dropped to schools pinpointed with a fish-finder.
Bream, Lake Chicot
This may be the state's best winter hotspot for big bluegills and redears, and the best bait to catch them with will be live waxworms.
White Bass, Lake Maumelle
The spring white bass run begins this month, with limits taken every day by scores of Maumelle anglers. Among the most popular lures are Rattlin' Rogues, Sassy Shads, Road Runners and 3-inch paddle-tail grubs. Look for fish staging around tributary mouths in the main lake early on, with some of the best fishing during the peak of the spawning run in Maumelle Creek near the lake's west end. The action often seems concentrated on both sides of the state Route 10 bridge west of Little Rock.
Spotted Bass, Table Rock Lake
Nab some dandy "Kentucky" bass here by working smoke-colored grubs around submerged trees in 25 to 35 feet of water near bluff banks.
Channel Catfish, Lake Atkins
Worms, shad and chicken liver fished on the bottom in deep holes almost always produce some nice Atkins channel cats this month.
Smallmouth Bass, Bull Shoals Lake
Big bronzebacks start spawning this month on the northern banks of this north-central Arkansas Corps impoundment. Most will be fairly deep -- down around 18 to 24 feet -- but even so, with Bull Shoal's exceptional water clarity, it's usually easy to see the fish on their beds. Favored lures include soft-plastic lizards, tubes, centipedes and finesse worms on shaky heads, all of which produce hard reaction strikes from smallies that occasionally exceed 4 or 5 pounds.
Redear Sunfish, Bear Creek Lake
If spring rains don't muddy the water, Bear Creek's huge redears (some topping 2 pounds) should be spawning in the shallows this month and catchable with worms fished on the bottom.
Channel Catfish, Red River
April is prime time for jumbo channel cats in this southwest Arkansas river.
Largemouth Bass, Beaver Lake
Anglers interested in sight-fishing for bedding bass usually find success on this northwest Arkansas lake early in May as largemouths move into shallow water.
If weather is colder than normal, some fish may still be exhibiting pre-spawn behavior and are best caught using search lures such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, buzzbaits or soft jerkbaits. Bass spotted on their beds are best enticed with tube baits or various crawfish imitations cast right into the bedding area. Guide service is available from Brad Wiegmann, www.bradwiegmann. com.
Rock Bass, Buffalo River
For more May fishing fun, try float-fishing for rock bass on this incredibly beautiful north Arkansas river.
Crappie, Lake Overcup
Slab crappie spawn in Lake Overcup north of Morrilton this month. Fishing the shallows could produce numerous fish over a pound.
Walleyes, Lake Ouachita
Want to test your luck on some trophy walleyes? Lake Ouachita west of Hot Springs is a good place to try this month. This 40,000-acre Corps lake has always been a good walleye producer, and, local aficionados say, it just keeps getting better.
Eight- to 12-pounders, common around weedbeds and humps, are frequently caught on crankbaits and bottom-bouncers baited with night crawlers. Some longtime Ouachita anglers say the walleye explosion may have placed these good-eating fish above largemouth bass on the list of most-caught sportfish.
Smallmouth Bass, Caddo River
For June smallmouth bass action, try fishing the Caddo River below Caddo Gap. Live crawfish or crawfish-imitation artificials are the ticket to success.
Striped Bass, Mississippi River
This huge river doesn't get much attention as a striped bass destination, but stripers to 10 pounds provide fast-paced action around wing dikes in June.
Flathead Catfish, Lake Conway
Few bodies of water in the United States churn out the number of monster flatheads produced by central Arkansas' Lake Conway. This 6,700-acre Arkansas Game & Fish Commission lake off Interstate 40 just east of Conway is shallow, heavily timbered throughout, rich in shad and sunfish and full of huge logjams and deep holes -- in other words, prime habitat for producing giant flatheads. Scores of 30- to 60-pound flatheads are taken every year, some by anglers fishing for o
ther species, some on trotlines and a few by rod-and-reel anglers who enjoy the challenge of battling big cats in heavy timber. Serious local catmen believe 100-pounders swim here. Small live sunfish are the leading bait choice.
Gar, White River
The last few miles of the river below Norrell Lock & Dam are loaded with big shortnose and longnose gar, including some topping 20 pounds. Catching them on topwater plugs is the ultimate form of fishing fun.
Trout, Spring River
Cool off this month with some trout fishing on this scenic northeast Arkansas river that's loaded with big browns and rainbows.
Striped Bass, Lake Greeson
The heaviest striper on record for Lake Greeson weighed an impressive 39 pounds, and numerous stripers up to 20 pounds are taken here yearly. Some claim this 7,000-acre reservoir near Kirby contains more stripers per acre than any Arkansas lake. Hot weather brings some of the year's hottest action for these brawlers, especially when anglers pinpoint schools on sonar (usually in depths of 50 to 65 feet) and drop live gizzard shad into the feeding area. Heavy tackle is a must, and when the action is hot, limits of 8- to 20-pounders come quickly.
Channel Catfish, Cane Creek Lake
This 1,700-acre lake east of Star City is bristling with fat channel cats that'll put a bend in your pole if you feed them stink baits, chicken liver or night crawlers.
Pickerel, Lake Ouachita
Chain pickerel by the thousands swim the weedbeds throughout Ouachita and are fun to catch on spoons, jigs and crankbaits.
Striped Bass, Arkansas River
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, and the abundance of 5- to 15-pound stripers provides all the action most fishermen need.
Look for September 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. Watch the water for feeding fish, and when they're sighted, cast topwater plugs or light-colored jigs for action. 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 pool, perhaps, is Lake Dardanelle near Russellville.
Hybrid Stripers, DeGray Lake
Hybrids are running shad on the surface this month, providing topwater plug action that's unexcelled anywhere in the Natural State.
Bowfins, Dagmar WMA
Live minnows and black plastic worms will entice dozens of Arkansas' hardest-hitting fish in the oxbows, bayous and borrow-pit lakes within this Game & Fish Commission area just west of Brinkley.
Largemouth Bass, Lake Erling
This 7,000-acre lake in Lafayette County offers excellent bream and crappie fishing, but it's big largemouths that steal the limelight. Hundreds of thousands of Florida-strain bass have been stocked here, and local anglers often catch trophy-class fish. One- to 4-pounders are common.
A good fall technique here is to find a stump-covered hump near the old Bodcau Creek channel and work it with a buzzbait. Big bass move in and out of such places regularly during fall, and a buzzbait is perfect for checking these areas as well as the bases of big cypress trees, lily pads, logjams and beds of coontail.
Flathead Catfish, St. Francis River
Catfish fans often catch big flatheads this month as the brutes in this northeast Arkansas river go on a feeding frenzy to fatten up before winter.
Black Bass, Illinois Bayou
On this popular float stream above Russellville, this is prime time for tackling all three species of black bass -- largemouths, smallmouths and spots.
Blue Catfish, Mississippi River
Catfish in November? You bet. A November tournament at Memphis in 2007 produced two blues that had spectators gasping: a 103-pounder on day 1 and a 108-pounder on day 2. No stretch of water in North America has produced as many monsters as the Mississippi along Arkansas' eastern border, and this season is among the best for catching them.
Work deep holes with big bottom-fishing rigs baited with chunks of skipjack herring or shad, and be sure you're prepared tackle-wise. Heavy baitcasting outfits spooled with 50-pound-test line or heavier give you a fighting chance against world-record-class monsters known for busting lines and rods. Guided fishing: James Patterson with Mississippi River Guide Service.
Crappie, Burnt Cane Lake
This AGFC lake three miles south of Widener in St. Francis County is a sleeper hotspot for fall crappie that sometimes top 3 pounds. Get 'em with jigs or minnows.
Trout, North Fork River
It may seem small and insignificant, but the 5-mile stretch of river from Norfork Lake Dam to the White River is one of the world's best trout fisheries, and this month is prime time to visit.
Crappie, Blue Mountain Lake
With crappie averaging well over a pound, and a lot of them in the 2-pound class, this 2,900-acre Corps lake 13 miles east of Booneville sees plenty of fishing pressure, but not usually in winter, a season when some honest-to-goodness 3- to 3 1/2-pound slabs are sometimes hooked by panfishermen. There's abundant crappie cover in the form of willows, buckbrush and brushpiles. And crappie find a healthy supply of shad and minnows to feed on. The usual enticements -- minnows and jigs -- are hard to beat, but spinners, spoons and even crankbaits also produce.
Saugers, Arkansas River
Saugers to 3 pounds are a common catch here this season, with some of the best fishing below Ozark, Dardanelle and Murray dams. Jig/minnow combos, spoons and small crankbaits produce.
Trout, Little Missouri River
Trout fans should wrap up the year chasing rainbows and enjoying the beautiful scenery on this clear, cold stream below Lake Greeson.