With spring now upon us, those of us who love fishing for black bass (largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass) are getting a hankering to get out on the water and do some chunkin’ and reelin’. To get started, we need to decide which of the Natural State’s many first-rate bass-fishing waters will be on our fishing itineraries this year. There are scores of phenomenal fisheries from which to choose in Arkansas, but all of us have limited fishing time, and we need to narrow the field to some choice locations where we’ll have the best chances for success.
Nostradamus I’m not, but having fished for Arkansas bass for nearly half a century now, and having wet a hook in darn near every lake and stream in the state, I think I can predict with some degree of certainty that the following waters will produce noteworthy catches of largemouth, smallmouth and/or spotted bass this year. These lakes and rivers are on my 2012 must-fish list — and they should be on yours too.
Location: This 40,000-acre reservoir, the largest lake entirely within the boundaries of Arkansas, stretches from Hot Springs west to Mount Ida.
Fishing facts: This is my favorite Arkansas bassin’ hotspot — and a favorite of thousands of other anglers — for several reasons. First, it’s among the very few places in the state with healthy populations of all three species of black bass. Second, it’s surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, and that makes it one of the Natural State’s most scenic bass lakes. And third, big bass are always a possibility, especially trophy-class largemouths. It’s not unusual to catch a 7- or 8-pounder. And while 10-pound largemouths aren’t common, they do surface occasionally. Big smallmouths are present, but hard to come by. Yet Lake Ouachita has lots of spotted bass weighing 4 pounds and more that savvy anglers catch with great frequency.
Tactical tips: Most Ouachita anglers begin their search for spring largemouths “in the moss” — beds of coontail and elodea. A fishfinder can help you pinpoint these mats of vegetation, which are in 15 or 20 feet of water, often around the lake’s many islands and coves. Many locals favor a deep-diving, minnow-imitation crankbait like the XCalibur Fat Free Fry for fishing that submerged vegetation. To use one, locate a weedbed, move away from it a few yards, cast the lure, crank it down deep and bring it in with a stop-and-go retrieve. Work the lure right along the top of the vegetation; the bass will come up out of the moss to nail it.
Ouachita’s smallmouths and spotted bass usually are found deeper than largemouths, often on rocky ledges, points and humps. Some may hold as deep as 40 feet, and the best way to catch them is dropping live crawfish into their feeding zone. Many lures entice them as well, including crawfish crankbaits, jig-and-pig combos and small spoons.