By profession, he was a mining engineer and an author. Oh, and he also happened to be the 31st president of the United States. Herbert Hoover may have ascended to the loftiest office in the land, but he was much like you and me when it came to fishing. Once he said that fishing is a “discipline in the equality of men — for all men are equal before fish.”
Apparently, yes, even way back then, he and other anglers were already wishing for some gadget to help them locate, lure and land the lunkers of the lake. Today’s anglers have added electronics to locate fish, GPS units to find those fishy spots on return visits, and other devices to gain the upper hand in the eternal struggle of fish vs. man. Still, as the saying goes, “Sometimes chickens, sometimes feathers.”
Of course, there’s one surefire way to increase your odds of catching more fish. Listen to the advice of people who are more experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to studies of the piscine persuasion. As far as smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass, there’s no need to look further than the biologists in the Black Bass Program of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
“Arkansas is blessed with an extensive system of streams and rivers throughout the state, and some are home to some fabulous smallmouth fishing,” said Kevin D. Hopkins, assistant AGFC black bass biologist. “Some of the more notable locations for wade- and float-fishing include Crooked Creek, Buffalo River, Kings River, Spring River, Eleven Point River, Illinois River, Caddo River (upper), Ouachita River (upper), War Eagle Creek and Saline River (upper).”
That’s a lengthy list that would keep any smallmouth aficionado dragging a boat, canoe or his waders from spot to spot 12 months of the year. There is one way, however, to point out a couple of the prime locations for Razorback bronzebacks.
The AGFC has designated certain streams as “blue-ribbon” fisheries for smallmouth bass. These moving waters include the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek, which are each in the category of Ozark Zone Blue Ribbon Streams.
The Buffalo River travels west to east for roughly 150 miles through Newton, Searcy, Marion and Baxter counties in northern Arkansas. Before its flows merge with the upper White River at Buffalo City, the lower 135 miles of the river are designated as the Buffalo National River and are overseen by the National Park Service.
Access points on the Buffalo include locations like Boxley, Ponca, Erbie, Pruitt, Mount Hersey and Woolum, with commonly chosen float trips on the river ranging from around 7 to 20-plus miles.
Crooked Creek, meanwhile, also flows west to east through the Ozarks. It is a little north of the Buffalo, meandering across Newton, Boone and Marion counties for about 80 miles before meeting the White River.
While the upper portion of Crooked Creek occasionally can be floated, it is more often the haunt of wade-fishermen. Instead, those in boats often prefer to float half-day or all-day trips somewhere along the stretch from Pyatt to Kelly’s Slab to Yellville.
While those streams are the cream of the crop, each of the other flowing waters mentioned has been designated a “Quality Stream” in either the Ozark or Ouachita Zone. So, while crowds head to the headliners, there’s ample reason to believe other anglers can find good smallmouth action on any of these rivers or creeks in May.
Another tidbit to keep in mind is something that might be a positive or negative — depending on the angler’s perspective. High-precipitation periods the last few years have remodeled some of these streambeds, so those not on these waters for a decade or so may find some pools and the way that they fish somewhat unfamiliar.
If someone were to paint a picture of a smallmouth angler going after his intended species somewhere in Arkansas, it is highly likely that the brush strokes would reveal one of the mountain streams listed previously. Those are not the only Natural State waters that harbor good numbers of smallmouth bass, though.
“Self-sustaining populations of smallmouth bass are only found in the following reservoirs in Arkansas: Bull Shoals, Norfork, Table Rock, Greers Ferry and Beaver,” Hopkins said, explaining that the opportunities for smallmouths in lake settings are quite limited in our state, compared to the number of smallmouth streams.
Bull Shoals is one of the “twin lakes” along with Norfork in north-central Arkansas. These and other nearby U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes were impounded in the mid-1900s. The 45,500-acre Bull Shoals Lake and the 22,000-acre Norfork each offer a myriad of campgrounds, marinas, launches, outfitters and guides, as do the other listed smallmouth lakes in Arkansas. The lakes bracket Mountain Home, with Bull Shoals less than 10 miles to the west, and Norfork a similar distance to the east.
Table Rock similarly is an impoundment on the upper White River. Most fishermen think of Missouri when the name Table Rock is mentioned. However, the lake actually extends into the northwestern Arkansas counties of Boone and Carroll. As with Bull Shoals, purchasing a White River Border Lakes license allows angling in either state. One Arkansas portion of 53,000-acre Table Rock Lake is roughly 20 miles northeast of Berryville, while the upstream end begins near Eureka Springs.
Greers Ferry Lake is currently the southernmost smallmouth hotspot for lake-fishermen in Arkansas. At roughly 40,000 acres, Greers Ferry is an impoundment of the Little Red River, with its dam near Heber Springs and its waters backing to the north and west from there through portions of Cleburne and Van Buren counties.
Farther to the northwest is where you’ll find Beaver Lake, bordered on the east by Springdale, Lowell, Rogers and other cities along the I-540 corridor and Eureka Springs to the east. Beaver totals roughly 28,370 acres.
While those lakes already draw a contingent of smallie fishermen, another lake may be getting its share of that action in the near future.
“The AGFC has completed a project on the lower end of Lake Ouachita in an attempt to establish a self-sustaining smallmouth population there as well,” the biologist began. “However, the evaluation of this project is still ongoing.”
More than 900,000 smallmouth bass fingerlings were stocked between Point Marker No. 1 and the dam on Ouachita in areas that were deemed to be suitable habitat between 2004 and 2010. The hope is that this will bring another lake into the smallmouth fold while also adding smallmouths to Lake Ouachita’s already highly targeted species of striped bass, largemouth bass and crappie.