I-40 Slabs

Anglers traveling across the Natural State barely have to leave Interstate 40 to find outstanding crappie fishing. Join the author in exploring five terrific lakes -- all virtually within casting distance of the interstate.

Photo by Scott Maloch

Interstate 40 runs west to east across the midsection of Arkansas. Some have described this transcontinental superhighway as "the most boring roadway in America," and no one who's ever made the long drive from Ft. Smith to West Memphis would dispute that contention.

Fortunately, the I-40 traveler doesn't have to venture far from the interstate to enjoy some of Arkansas' most beautiful scenery and finest outdoor recreation areas. For example, in its 300-mile journey across the Natural State's midsection, I-40 passes some of Arkansas' finest crappie lakes. Five of these spots -- Lakes Dardanelle, Overcup, Conway, Dunn and Austell -- are 15 minutes or less off the interstate, and all offer fishing piers and bank-fishing areas where the road-weary traveler could stop for lunch and do a bit of fishing, no boat required.

LAKE DARDANELLE

Lake Dardanelle, an Arkansas River impoundment, lies adjacent 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.

Side roads off major thoroughfares take anglers to a variety of boat docks, campgrounds, and city, state and federal parks.

Dardanelle contains varied crappie habitat, including stands of timber and brush around dropoffs, coves, tributaries, rockpiles, shallows flats, jetties and islands. In early April, crappie move from creek and river channels onto flats at the edge of creeks.

Two excellent crappie 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. Woody cover on those flats attracts a lot of crappie that range from a half-pound to a pound or more. The Shoal Bay area, near New Blaine on Highway 22, provides similar conditions, with loads of crappie-attracting stumpflats near deeper creek channels in the middle of the bay.

Another good area to try is where Illinois Bayou runs in and crosses I-40 near Russellville. The dark, shaly bottom around the interstate bridge conducts heat, warming the water early in the spring and creating a place where many anglers catch April crappie.

Dardanelle is 50 miles long and has 315 miles of shoreline. If one place doesn't pan out, try another. Sooner or later your efforts will pay off. The daily crappie limit is 20 fish.

For more information, contact the Lake Dardanelle Field Office at (479) 968-5008, or log on to www.swl.usace.army.mil/parks/dardanelle /.

LAKE OVERCUP

Continuing east on I-40 from Lake Dardanelle, one soon comes to Morrilton. Just north of this Conway County community, only a five-minute drive off the interstate, is Lake Overcup, another exceptional honeyhole for Natural State crappie.

This 1,025-acre Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake has forged a place in the hearts of crappie enthusiasts throughout central Arkansas. Creel surveys conducted by AGFC personnel show that crappie are the second-most popular fish here, with 29 percent of visiting anglers fishing for them. The surveys also show that the average crappie caught weighs about 2/3 pound (11 ounces), though much larger specimens also fall to Overcup anglers. The daily crappie limit here is 20.

If you delay your interstate travel for an hour or so of fishing on Lake Overcup, you can bank-fish from the lake's mile-long dam or from an earthen jetty at the lake's south end. Lake Overcup also has two wheelchair-accessible fishing piers: one adjacent Overcup Landing on the lake's northeast corner and another beside the landing just off state Highway 95. At times, fishing around sunken brushpiles in deep water near the piers' ends can produce limit stringers of 1- to 2-pound crappie.

Much of the best fishing is in brushy, stump-laden waters accessible only by boat. In April, when the spawn is underway, most crappie will be around shoreline cover or in old stumpfields scattered around the lake.

Two exits on Interstate 40 at Morrilton provide access to the lake. Turn north at Exit 107 to follow state Highway 95 to Lakeview Landing. To reach Overcup Landing, turn north at exit 108 and follow state Highway 9 to the junction of state Highway 915. Turn west on Highway 915 to the lake. Signs mark the turnoffs on state highways.

For additional information on Lake Overcup, including a free lake map, contact the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 1-800-364-GAME, or visit www.agfc.com.

LAKE CONWAY

This 6,700-acre AGFC lake, located adjacent to Interstate 40 in Faulkner County, yields some of the most consistent action for big crappie anywhere in the state. Fishing is superb in April, when the spawn gets underway. Crappie weighing 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds are not uncommon, and most limit stringers of 20 fish will be anchored by fish of such size.

The Greens Lake and Adams Lake areas on the east side are good bets early in the month. The flooded timber adjacent the boat lanes at the Highway 89 bridge (just east of I-40 at the Mayflower exit) is especially good for pre-spawn fish, and plenty of big slabs are taken from this spot by anglers fishing from the bank on both sides of the highway bridge. This is a great place to pull off I-40 for a few minutes of fishing and a respite from interstate travel.

In late March or April, when the water has warmed to the magic 58- to 60-degree mark, crappie leave deep-water haunts and move toward shore. Small jig/spinner combos worked around brush or timber flats in 2 to 5 feet of water are deadly.

As a general rule, the farther you go up the arms of the lake, the better your chances of finding spawning fish become. This is true of all three of Conway's major creek arms: Palarm Creek on the northeast, Stone Dam Creek on the northwest, and Pierce Creek on the far southeast corner. I-40 travelers can stop and fish from the pier on the Pierce Creek arm, just a few miles east of the interstate on state Highway 89 (the Mayflower exit).

Exit 135 (Mayflower) on I-40 offers access by way of state Highway 365 to docks on the west side of t

he lake, or by state Highway 89 and Clinton Road to docks on the east side. A free map of the lake and additional information are available from the AGFC.

LAKES DUNN & AUSTELL

The 90 miles of Interstate 40 from Little Rock east to Forrest City cross flat-as-a-pancake delta farmland. At Forrest City, however, travelers notice a subtle rise in the terrain, a narrow band of low hills called Crowley's Ridge. North on the ridge, about a 15-minute drive from I-40, are two more fine crappie lakes: lakes Dunn and Austell in 7,000-acre Village Creek State Park.

Most folks who fish Dunn and Austell are after one thing: big bass. That's good for crappie fans, because crappie are practically untouched here. Really big crappie -- fish of 1 1/2 pounds and up -- are rare, but they're always a possibility. The scarcity of true slabs hardly matters, because there are times when you can catch 8- to 16-ounce crappie one after another, as fast as you can drop a jig. Most folks who fish Dunn and Austell are after one thing: big bass. That's good for crappie fans, because crappie are practically untouched here.

Dunn and Austell are small -- 65 and 85 acres, respectively -- so crappie are generally easy to find during the spawn, which typically begins mid to late April. Anglers should concentrate their efforts around standing trees, stumps, logs and other cover skirting the shoreline. The northern shore of Austell, between the swimming beach and the boat dock, produces the earliest consistent crappie action, followed shortly by the wooded coves on Dunn's north side.

To reach Dunn and Austell, take exit 242 off I-40 just east of Forrest City and travel 12 miles north on state Highway 284 to Village Creek State Park. Signs on park roads direct you to the lakes, each of which has a concrete boat ramp and easily accessible bank-fishing areas. The daily crappie limit is 30 fish. For more info, contact Village Creek State Park at (870) 238-9406.

(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. Arkansas residents should include sales tax.)

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