JANUARY – Brown Trout: White River
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been running the generators at Bull Shoals Dam almost nonstop for a year. That has kept many fishermen off the river while filling the water with food and additional habitat for brown trout to get fat on an endless buffet.
You’ll need a boat to get to the submerged shoals where big browns hunt, preferably a long, narrow, stable White River trout boat. You’ll catch monster browns trolling stickbaits as slow as your motor will go. You can catch big fish casting to eddies against the bank and jerking lures toward swift water.
Access is generous everywhere. White River State Park is a popular spot, but you can also launch at Wildcat Shoal, Ranchette Access, Buffalo City, Calico Rock and Mountain View.
Other Options: Little Missouri River Rainbows: Small nymphs will entice stocker rainbows in the Lake Greeson tailwater. Jack Lee Lake Largemouths: 1-ounce jigs in flooded brush will catch bruiser bass to 8 pounds.
FEBRUARY – Hybrids: Lake Hamilton
Cold weather means you’ll have this popular lake and its population of white bass/striped bass hybrids to yourself.
Hybrids often school in the mornings, and you can catch them on the surface with surface plugs, crankbaits and in-line spinners. This is an exciting style of fishing, and it lasts longer on overcast or foggy mornings.
Bigger fish lurk from the middle depths to the bottom. A heavy spoon will get past the smaller fish. Dangle it about 3 inches off the bottom for fish that can reach double digits.
If fish are more active, make long casts and let the spoon sink to the bottom. Hybrids will follow it down and hit it as you start your retrieve.
Other Options: Lake Dunn Largemouths: Purple worms worked in submerged cover will give you a legitimate shot a state-record largemouth. Lake Frierson Saugeyes: A live minnow on a dropper rig catch these tasty hybrids.
MARCH – Striped Bass: Ouachita River
When late-winter rains fill the Ouachita River, striped bass move upstream from Lake Ouachita for a false spawning run.
It’s an exciting migration that allows anglers to catch double-digit stripers on light tackle in swift, yet skinny, water.Big boats can’t reach these swift, rocky waters. This is the domain for jet-drive flatbottoms and canoes with tiny outboards.
Troll as slowly as you can upstream with rainbow trout-colored stickbaits, preferably Long A Bombers, with 6-pound-test line and a light-action spinning rod. It’s a rodeo that can last up to an hour.
Other Options: Ouachita River Walleyes: Walleyes migrate up the Ouachita this month. Catch them on stickbaits. Lake Brewer Largemouths: Big swimbaits on heavy baitcasting rigs catch monster largemouths.
APRIL – Largemouths: Lake Atkins
This public fishing lake is the northernmost body of water where the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks Florida-strain largemouths. The lake itself is small, but it annually produces fish weighing 10 pounds and more. Most anglers release them to grow.
Matt Hedrick catches monster largemouths at Lake Atkins by running large, soft-plastic swimbaits on the south-central side of the lake. Because big fish often run straight to the boat, he uses a fast-retrieve “13 Fishing” baitcasting reel to take up slack quickly.
Mature largemouths are aggressive and looking for a big meal this time of year, so large swimbaits usually are more productive.
Other Options: Lake Conway Crappie: Live minnows or small, 1/16-ounce jigs will catch big crappie in shoreline vegetation. Lake Ouachita Stripers: Topwater plugs in the mid-lake area catch schooling stripers on the surface.
MAY – Largemouths: Lake Dardanelle
In May, Dardanelle’s largemouths are in post-spawn pattern. You’ll find them suspended around big schools of baitfish on main-lake points, great places to catch fish from 3 to 7 pounds.
Anglers have found success fishing non-traditional patterns in unconventional places. Deep holes in side waters contain a lot of logs and other debris that harbor big bass. Pay close attention to twigs poking above the water.
If water is running through Dardanelle Dam, you can catch big fish with square-billed crankbaits across the upstream fronts of rock jetties.
Other Options: Lake Maumelle Kentucky Bass: A 1/4-ounce white spinnerbait will catch tasty Kentuckies on the north side. DeGray Lake Hybrids: Heavy spoons will catch schooling hybrids in the mornings near DeGray Lake State Park.
JUNE – Smallmouths: Crooked Creek
Water levels are perfect this month for a float trip on one of the South’s premier smallmouth bass streams.Access is good, with an assortment of day trips available between Pyatt, Snow, George’s Creek and Fred Berry Conservation Education Center at Yellville.
You’ll encounter deep holes, rocky shoals, swift runs and steep banks that shelter smallmouths up to about 5 pounds. The most productive baits are soft plastics that resemble crawdads or lizards, including the Yum Craw Papi, the Zoom Tiny Lizard and the Zoom Tiny Brush Hawg. Productive colors are red pumpkin and cotton candy.
Use a Texas rig with 8-pound-test line and a 1/8-ounce weight. Beach your canoe and wade-fish above and below the rapids. Let the lure sit on the bottom and move it slowly.
Other Options: Lake Greeson Crappie: Swim 1/16- to 1/32-ounce jigs over submerged brushtops. Arkansas River Channel Cats: Live minnows or stinkbait fished on inside bends are magic.
JULY – Trout: Little Red River
The weather is hot, and so is the trout fishing on a river that is an easy drive from Little Rock.
For brown trout, launch at Barnett Access, motor up to Richie Shoal and beach the boat on a grassy mud bank. There’s a variety of cover there, including deep side pockets, riffles, shoals carpeted in coontail moss and deep gouges behind mid-stream snags. You’ll find similar features along the entire length of the river.
Throw small stickbaits in brown trout color. Brown trout typically run 14 to 18 inches, but the possibility of catching a much bigger one is high.
Rainbows are in the same water, and they run a little bigger than in the areas near the accesses.
Other Options: DeQueen Lake Crappie: Troll tiny jigs over deep brushpiles during low-light hours. White River Largemouths: Plastic worms in submerged concrete structure catch limits of bass on backwaters.
AUGUST – Walleyes: Bull Shoals Lake
This big White River impoundment has quietly become one of the best walleye lakes in the country, and hot weather is a great time to catch them. Find standing timber on main-lake points that drop into the White River. In hot weather, walleyes suspend among the branches.
Jigging light spoons is a popular method, as is jigging or slowly retrieving light jigs tipped with tiny swimbaits. It’s similar to fishing for crappie.
You’ll get hung up, and lose a fair share of lures. It’s part of the price you pay for catching limits of a highly prized, highly desirable game fish that tastes as good as crappie.
Other Options: Little River Catfish: Channel cats can’t resist popcorn shrimp drifting under a bobber below Millwood Dam. Lake Maumelle White Bass: Zara Puppies catch whites on the east end two hours before dusk.
SEPTEMBER – Largemouth Bass: Arkansas River
As days get shorter and cooler, largemouth bass get more active and more aggressive on the Arkansas River.
The Little Rock and Maumelle pools get a lot of pressure from anglers in central Arkansas that enjoy catching bass on deep drops off sand flats, in side waters behind jetties, and off the jetties themselves. Swimbaits work throughout the pool, but it’s hard to beat a 2.5 or 3.5 series square-billed crankbait off the fronts of the jetties when current is running.
If you want to catch some really big bass, try a plastic frog in the lily pads at Post Lake or Merrisach Lake, in the Dumas Pool.
Other Options: Lake Norfork Crappie: Swim 1/64-ounce jigs over the tops of deep brushpiles. Beaver Lake Smallmouths: Twistertail grubs on 1/8-ounce jigs are dynamite in the lower lake.
OCTOBER – Largemouth Bass: Lake Barnett
Though only 245 acres, this AGFC impoundment of Des Arc Bayou in White County is a sleeper for giant largemouths, and October is prime time to catch them.
Lake Barnett is not a place to catch numbers of fish. Go if you’re happy with one or two big bites. For that, use large swimbaits that entice attack from bass looking for a big meal.
Work downstream from the boat ramp through a stumpfield bristling with standing timber. There also are a few docks in that area, as well as some rock banks. It gets shallow in the narrow middle portion, where you’ll find a collection of snags and rock structure. From there it opens up to the deep, clear lower end.
Other Options: Bull Shoals Largemouths: Try a 3-inch fluke on a drop-shot off mid-lake points. Tri-County Lake Bluegills: Fish live crickets on a drop-shot near shoreline cover.
NOVEMBER – Smallmouths: Bull Shoals Lake
Over the last 20 years, Bull Shoals has become a fantastic smallmouth lake, and you can catch them this month with wide-bodied, deep-diving crankbaits over secondary rock points and pea gravel flats.
The old Storm Wiggle Wart is still the gold standard for mid-autumn smallmouths, but any lure of the same size and action will attract a lot of bites.
For long casts, use a limber, fiberglass rod of at least 7 feet with a slow-retrieve reel in the 5.3:1 range. That will slow a deep-diver down and get it to maximum depth to bounce off rocks where the smallies hide.
Other Options: Bear Creek Lake Largemouths: Cool, overcast days are perfect for running buzzbaits across fallen trees and other wood cover. Little Maumelle River Bass: This Arkansas River tributary at Little Rock harbors a vast amount of great largemouth cover.
DECEMBER – Crappie: Lake Maumelle
Central Arkansas Water, which owns Lake Maumelle, has liberalized its policies in recent years about placing artificial structure in this reservoir west of Little Rock, contributing to some outstanding crappie fishing.
Live minnows fished over deep structure are consistent producers, but to catch big crappie, Mark Hedrick of Little Rock likes to swim 1/64-ounce jigs with ultralight tackle over deep brushpiles in the lower part of the lake. He tips his jig with a small swimbait and uses a pink or chartreuse marker to give it accents.
Other Options: Greers Ferry Hybrids: Small cigar plugs produce surface action for hybrids near Shiloh Park. Little Red Saugers: Fish the evening bite below Greers Ferry Dam.