Colton Dennis, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s black bass program supervisor, had many positive comments regarding the picture for bass fishing in our state in 2010.
“Fishing should be very good in our major reservoirs,” he said. “Adult populations look good and should get better due to two consecutive high-water years during the spring and extending into the summer months, producing good spawns and increasing survival of those spawns. The lower pools of the Arkansas River, with abundant backwater habitat, have fared well, while the middle and upper pools of the river will likely be recovering from the extended high river flows.”
Dennis’ major concerns include land development along the smallmouth fisheries of the Caddo and upper Saline rivers. Otherwise, the worries over largemouth bass virus, other diseases, mercury contamination and invasive species of flora and fauna have waned for now.
If you want numbers, Dennis suggested heading to our mountain reservoirs, where both spotted bass and largemouths are abundant. For fish of 8 pounds or more, he listed Monticello and Millwood as hotspots. Lake Atkins is trying to join those two lakes, with Ken Vinson, owner of Lucky Landing, noting that he weighed four bass over 10 pounds last year and got one report of a fish about 2 pounds heavier.
Those wanting to seek out hidden gems for lunkers, Dennis suggested, can try Lake Barnett or Marion McCollum Lake Greenlee. Both smallish impoundments can be researched on www.agfc.com. Meanwhile, the lower Arkansas River, Dennis said, can produce largemouths in both numbers and size. For spotted bass, Dennis pointed to the Illinois River in northwest Arkansas as an overlooked fishery. And, for smallies, Crooked Creek and Buffalo River continue as “Blue Ribbon” streams.
Turning to those in the know, here’s what anglers, guides and outfitters had to say about the bass fishing on their favorite waters for 2010.
In the smallmouth waters, locals point to soft plastics, jigs, spinnerbaits and topwaters as the best lure choices. They say baits mimicking crayfish, small sunfish or minnows are good color choices.
The cornerstone of Arkansas’ stream smallmouth fishery, the Buffalo River is the first waterway to earn designation as a national river. A handful of outfitters provide floats, guided trips and other amenities. Many choices exist for floats along the river, meaning some part of the Buffalo should produce bites just about anytime, with the major exception being rain-swollen, muddied waters. While I’ve personally probed the lowest couple of miles of the Buffalo, more informed sources regarding the Buffalo’s smallies are easily found on the Internet.
John Berry operates Berry Brothers Guide Service in north-central Arkansas, guiding trout fishermen on the White River. But, if his wife, Lorie Sloas, had her druthers, she’d spend more time chasing smallmouths on Crooked Creek.
“We have been able to pull some good-sized fish out of Crooked Creek. In fact, in the first part of spring last year, I got one about 18 inches out of there,” Sloas began, and then noted that float-fishing is the best way to access Crooked Creek waters. She listed several floats, including Snow access to Kelly’s Slab, Kelly’s to the Yellville park, and the Pyatt access. Sloas and her husband prefer to hook their smallmouths on flies that include Clouser minnows and crayfish patterns.
South in the Ouachita Mountains, smallmouth anglers can find their desire in the Caddo River. Ila Kurnik, who works at Caddo River Camping & Canoe Rental (and is the mother of the owner), stressed that most smallmouth fishermen who frequent the Caddo practice catch-and-release. “Anglers may keep some largemouths, but they realize that the smallmouths are more valuable here because of their fragility. We give lectures to everyone who comes here on the rules about trash, camping and canoeing,” Kurnik said, further emphasizing how she, her son and the locals are protective of the river and the creatures in it.
As for the quality of fishing, she said that the last two years have been good ones. In the summer of 2009, she saw one photo of a smallmouth in the range of 3 1/2 to 4 pounds. Kurnik pointed out that rocky areas and the stretch below the waterfall area are popular for smallies.
Closer to home for those who dwell in the capital city of Little Rock is the Saline River. Daniel Turbyfill, owner of Turbyfill’s Outdoor Sports, said the Saline is not as well publicized as the Buffalo and Crooked Creek, but that it can give up lots of chunky smallies.
“There are three different lures I prefer to use in the Saline,” Turbyfill continued, then listing a green crawdad 5A Bomber crankbait as the first of those. The second is a 3/8-ounce brown jig with a black pork frog, while the third is a 3-inch pumpkinseed grub.
“I love to go early in the year. The smallmouth fishing has always been the best for me in January and February. The fish will be along the rocky banks, and they will just about pull the rod right out of your hand. Twelve-inch to 16-inch fish are common, but they are not usually bigger than that. Most are around 2 to 2 1/2 pounds, with a few over 3. When the weather gets hot, you can catch them in the small holes on topwater lures early and late in the day.”
More wide-ranging than the smallmouths, largemouth bass can be caught just about anywhere in Arkansas. Generally, the lure choice for largemouths shifts with the season. It’s live bait or soft plastics fished shallow during or before the spawn. Then, crankbaits, bigger worms and spinnerbaits take over as the fish leave the beds. In summer, it can be topwaters during low-light conditions or while bass are chasing shad. Or hot weather may mean going deep with jigs or big worms. Fall brings fish back to a more active phase and a combination of baits working, while winter means slowing down with lures like the jig-and-pig.
“Well, the black bass are going to be phenomenal in 2010,” began Tommy Cauley of Fish Finder Guide Service on Greer’s Ferry. Cauley pointed to a good class of second-year fish, high water, fast growth, plantings of aquatic vegetation and other factors in the boom of 4- to 5-pound largemouths at Greers Ferry. Some of those fish should be in the 6- to 8-pound range in 2010.
“The largemouth bass population is tremendous,” he added. “We’re going to be on fire. Spring and fall are the best, with fall being more steady. We have to contend with all the cold fronts in the spring that bring uneven fishing.”
Tim Partin is owner
of 101 Grocery & Bait at Lake Norfork. He said he saw many “short fish” caught on Norfork in 2009, and feels 2010 brings the promise of bigger catches. “We had a good spawn in 2008 and 2009. That should make for a lot of keeper-sized largemouths this year,” he said, adding that the lake is full of spots.
“You’ve got to change your mentality from the dirty water, shallow stuff when you fish here,” said Phil Friese, co-owner of Mar Mar Resort and Tackle Shop at Bull Shoals. Friese has seen good spawns in recent years and expects the largemouths to have good luck on the beds again in 2010. He said good bass fishing could be expected at Bull Shoals from February until October or November. As with most locations, Friese said you have to go deeper in the summer — about 25 to 40 feet.
“You never want to go out there without a Zara Spook on a pole,” he added, noting that a good shallow spinnerbait and topwater bite can be found on many days. Summer can also mean slowing down to go deep with finesse rigs.
At Beaver Lake, you’ll find Jason Piper who operates J.T. Crappie Guide Service. But don’t let the name of his business fool you. He knows a good deal about the local black bass fishing as well.
“We’ve got some excellent fishing for spotted bass,” said Piper. “In fact, we’re overrun with them. The smallmouths are getting bigger and bigger. And the largemouth fishing is also not as bad as in the past.”
Good times for catching largemouths out of Beaver begin in February, according to Piper. He suggested fishing on or near the banks in the spring and early summer, then dropping deeper on underwater points, humps and flats in the summer heat. Chunk rock banks are one key in the fall. As for topwater lures, they can be very productive in May through June or September through October.
“We’ve got some pretty good black bass fishing around Hot Springs, but you can always get better,” joked Wayne Crumpton, who guides for a variety of fish in the area. “Ouachita is rebounding well, while Hamilton can be good but doesn’t have as many big fish.”
Crankbaits need to be in your box to fish the docks on Hamilton that you won’t find on Ouachita. “The best times to fish these lakes are from the end of March into May, then in late September through November,” he noted.
Sight-fishing in the clear water is good during the spawn, while topwaters take more fish afterward. “The difference in fishing the two lakes is the grass,” Crumpton continued. “Ouachita has it; Hamilton does not. You have to fish the two differently.”
In the lower Arkansas River, murky or stained water is the rule. Angler Jerry Spakes has been fishing the Arkansas around Pendleton for years.
“I like fishing with plastics in the spring, worms or lizards,” he said, and then adding frog baits to his list of favorites. “Bedding fish are found around lily pads and stumps during the spawn, but you’ll seldom be able to sight-fish for them. Among the keys is not bumping the treetops, stumps and other cover. Otherwise, the females will move out,” Spakes said, noting the skinny water often fished.
Fishing usually slows some at the end of May, with the bass moving back toward the main river and into deeper pockets, scattering them over more area. Early and late in the summer, topwaters can produce a big bite, like the 10-pound, 4-ouncer Spakes caught a few years ago.
“Everybody knows that this is one of the best places in the state to fish as far as sight-fishing,” said Greg Gulledge of Lake Monticello. While Gulledge shifts to deep structure in the summer, he believes that spring is the best time to fish for largemouths.
“Begin with live bait like shad or Black Salties at the first sign of a spring warmup,” Gulledge said. Then, it’s Carolina rigs in bright colors for fishing the beds. Use worms in 12 to 16 feet of water in the summer for better quality fish then. But don’t forget to include a topwater bait or a Rat-L-Trap to take advantage of schooling fish in the summer through October or November, he advised.
As with DeGray, Gulledge is hoping for an increase in vegetation here. The AGFC planted a variety of aquatic flora in 2009, hoping to return the lake to its pre-grass carp habitat.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been doing a lot of work at Millwood Lake in recent years to make the lake more boater friendly. That has included marking the roughly 27 miles of boat lanes with telephone poles. The owner of Millwood Lake Guide Service, Mike Siefert, was very involved in that effort. He’s also worked with area AGFC personnel to better the lake’s black bass fishing. “Just under 2 million Florida-strain bass have been stocked here since 1990,” Siefert commented.
To catch the Northern strain or their Florida relatives, Siefert suggested crankbaits in the pre-spawn phase, soft plastics or jigs during the spawn — usually around the middle of March — and spinnerbaits, big worms or crankbaits during the warmest or coldest parts of the year.
In the spring or fall, Siefert will hit any of about 25 backwater oxbows outside the old Little River channel. In the summer, he stays close to the main channel where, he said, you sometimes find acres of schooling black and white bass pushing shad.
While Lake Atkins is the newest game in town, the oldest one may be Lake Conway. Anglers from central Arkansas and elsewhere have pulled bass from Conway for several decades. “Spring and summer of 2009 was awesome,” said William Gray, who works at Bates Field and Stream. “The biggest fish I know of was 10.97. The funny thing is, the guy caught it catfishing.”
For 2010, Gray said, the large cypress flat at Gold Creek is a good spot in the spring. There, anglers will find an average of 6 feet or less of water mingling with small channels. Cane Creek, a super-shallow area on the lake’s north end, can also be good, especially for bank-fishermen.
June and July are perennial favorites as the best times to bass fish at Conway. Anglers should hit deeper parts of the lake that were smaller lakes when the AGFC originally flooded the area. Water there can be 15 to 16 feet deep. Frogs, critter baits and spinnerbaits are good choices.
In the fall, fishing near the Arkansas Route 89 bridge is popular. Water moving through that narrow area toward the spillway tends to hold both baitfish and game fish.
While these public waters provide many angling opportunities, there also are some wonderful places to fish on private ground. These waters range from small pasture ponds to backwater oxbows along our major rivers, to farm reservoirs across our eastern delta. True, you may not find any smallmouths in those impoundments, but you’re likely to hook the spot or largemouth of a lifetime if you do your homework. Many of those waters are available to you just by asking permission, by obtaining a membership or by leasing.
The picture for bass fishing in Arkansas in 2010 appears to be one
of vivid memories yet to be made. Now, all you have to do is pick a spot, grab your gear and go.