Photo by Keith Sutton.
For decades, anglers in northeast Arkansas didn’t have a lake they could call their own. Central Arkansas fishermen had Lake Conway, Harris Brake and Greers Ferry. South Arkansans had Chicot, White Oak and Millwood. Anglers near western boundaries could fish on DeGray, Ouachita and Dardanelle. And in the northwest and north-central parts of Razorbackland were lakes Beaver, Bull Shoals and Norfork.
It wasn’t until 1961 that fishermen from Jonesboro, Wynne and nearby areas had their dreams answered and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission constructed 640-acre Lake Poinsett. At the time, Poinsett was northeast Arkansas’ only public fishing lake. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case, and today anglers have dozens of public lakes to fish, including many that serve up topnotch angling for the Natural State’s most popular sportfish, the largemouth bass.
Here are several you should plan to visit this season if it’s a trophy bucketmouth you want to catch.
Lake Poinsett is a super little bass lake tucked away in wilderness quietude on Crowley’s Ridge. Owned by the AGFC, it’s two miles south of Harrisburg in Poinsett County, just off state Highway 163.
Most of Lake Poinsett’s 640 acres are open, with little visible cover. But there’s more here than meets the eye. Underwater timber, creek channels and brush piles provide alluring haunts for jumbo largemouth bass.
Near dawn and dusk, summer bass are usually found near cover in shoreline shallows. Good lures to entice them include big-bladed spinnerbaits, big shad-imitation crankbaits and the jig-and-eel. Another effective bassing method here is slow-trolling big shiner minnows along the creek channels. The bait is hooked through both lips and “free-lined” behind the boat as it drifts with the wind.
During midday hours, bass anglers should concentrate their efforts in deeper water, fishing timber and channels at 6 to 10 feet. Poinsett’s water often is dingy or muddy, so most anglers stick to dark-colored lures. For example, a Carolina-rigged black plastic lizard worked around timber is a top bait this time of year. Another favorite is a brown crawfish-imitation crankbait. Big Poinsett bass feed heavily on crawfish, which are usually are an umber or reddish-brown color. During the rare times when the waters of Poinsett have cleared, switch to bluegill or shad-colored lures to match the prominent forage.
Summer is also plastic-worm time on Poinsett. The old Distress Creek channel and deeper water near the dam are extra-productive. Try a purple or black worm, or in early morning hours or around dusk, run a buzzbait or pop a chugger near middepth cover to come up with a lunker.
Poinsett anglers take home a lot of “wall-hanging” trophy bass. Most will average a pound or so, but chunky fish between 4 and 6 pounds aren’t unusual. A really big Poinsett hawg can hit 9 to 10 pounds.
Lake Poinsett State Park on the lake’s west side has picnic areas, a concrete boat ramp and 27 campsites with water and electric hookups, picnic tables and grills. The Game & Fish Commission provides two concrete boat ramps: one just north of the park and one at the west end of the dam. Primitive camping areas are available by each ramp, and the dam-site ramp has an adjacent courtesy dock and wheelchair-accessible fishing pier. Fishing supplies are available near the lake, with motels and restaurants in Harrisburg. For additional information, contact Lake Poinsett State Park at (870) 578-2064.
LAKES DUNN AND AUSTELL
Lakes Dunn and Austell are two of the main attractions in Village Creek State Park, a 7,000-acre outdoor recreation retreat south of Wynne in Cross and St. Francis counties. Dunn covers only 65 acres, Austell only 85. But these small lakes exemplify the old saying, “Good things often come in small packages.” Both lakes serve up superb bassing.
On Dunn, look for summer largemouths around brushy points and in coves with dense stands of dead timber. The arm of the lake running north from the boat dock is productive at times, but most anglers seem to have their best luck fishing the small, heavily timbered fingers jutting into the eastern shore, across the lake from the swimming beach. On breezy days, concentrate your efforts around the numerous points in this area, where shad and other baitfish stack up and attract feeding bass.
Look for Austell lunkers to be hiding around stumps, beaver lodges and fallen timber in the lake arm running north from the swimming beach. This arm has produced several of the lake’s largest bass, including some weighing more than 12 pounds. Also productive are shallow, timbered flats adjacent the creek channel running through Austell’s southwest arm, two deep, wooded coves on the lake’s south side, and areas around logs and brush adjacent the riprapped dam.
Many anglers find summer largemouths in Austell suspended over a deep inundated hole where dirt was dug to build the dam. To locate this hole, look for a vertical, 10- to 15-foot high gravel bank about 100-feet long on the south shore almost directly across the lake from the boat ramp. A depth sounder run across the water parallel to the cut bank will indicate a sharp drop from 20 to 30 feet of water down to 50 to 55 feet. James Maners of Wynne took a 15-pound, 12-ounce lunker suspended over a flat at the west end of this hole in 1989, and when conditions are right, it’s not unusual to find a dozen or more big fish suspended along the dropoff in summer.
Top lures for Austell and Dunn bass are weedless offerings because the fish tend to hole up in the tightest cover they can find. Try plastic lizards or worms, jig-and-pork frog combinations and slow-moving spinnerbaits. When fishing around the deep hole on Austell, which is relatively brush free, you might try a deep-diving crankbait.
Anglers on Dunn and Austell are restricted to electric motors only. The lakes are open from daylight until 10 p.m. daily.
To reach the park, take Exit 242 off Interstate 40 just east of Forrest City and travel 12 miles north on Highway 284; or travel six miles south on Highway 284 from Wynne. Each lake has a concrete boat ramp. Overnight accommodations include 10 fully equipped cabins and 104 campsites with electric outlets, water hookups and adjacent bathhouses. Additional information is available by calling Village Creek State Park at (870) 238-9406.
Mallard Lake, owned by the AGFC, is where Memphis, Tenn., angler Aaron Mardis caught the Arkansas state-record largemouth — 16 pounds, 4 ounces — on March 2, 1976. Mallard Lake drew national attention in the mid-1970s because of the huge numbers of 10-pound-plus largemouths being taken there. In 1983, studies indicated that the average Mallard Lake largemouth weighed 4 pounds. The heaviest largemouth taken that year weighed 14 pounds, 15 ounces. Fish that size have rarely been seen in recent years, but Mallard still produces enough lunkers to make it worth a visit.
Located in Mississippi County in northeast Arkansas, Mallard Lake was constructed in 1967 in a low-lying portion of Big Lake Wildlife Management Area. This 300-acre, four-levee lake is an ideal largemouth haven with cypress trees, willow trees, stumps and fallen logs scattered all across the fertile lake bottom.
Most large bass come from thick timber in the middle of the lake and from the boat lanes close to shore. Plastic worms, spinnerbaits, tube baits, and soft-plastic jerkbaits are popular lures, and night fishing in summer with noisy topwater lures is also productive.
Mallard Lake is two miles north of state Highway 18, two miles east of the town of Manila. Fishing supplies, restaurants and a motel are available in Manila. For more information, visit the AGFC Web site at www.agfc.com.
Another first-rate northeast Arkansas largemouth lake is Horseshoe Lake in Crittenden County. This 2,500-acre public fishing lake rarely produces largemouths over 8 pounds, but there are plenty of 3- to 7-pound bucketmouths to get the attention of visiting anglers.
Horseshoe Lake gouges a big inverted “U” in the east Arkansas croplands. The lake is an old river-channel oxbow left isolated when the Mississippi River changed its course untold years ago. It was further sequestered when the Mississippi River levee was built in the 1920s. Because of its location outside the levee, it is not subject to constant water level fluctuations created by the ever-changing Mississippi. Conse-quently, fishing for largemouths is excellent year ‘round.
Horseshoe has an abundance of bass-holding cover and structure. Many blue-ribbon bass are taken in the dense beds of water lilies and coontail on the inside of the bend. Cypress trees and fallen timber near the shoreline are good bass-fishing spots, as are the piers and adjacent brushpiles behind lakeside homes. Electronic equipment will help in locating the lake’s submerged stumpfield and underwater ridge where largemouths also hold.
Plastic worms are probably the most popular artificials for Horseshoe largemouths. The lake has a good shad population, and shad-imitation crankbaits are also first-rate producers. During summer, buzzbaits and frog imitations produce good bass in the lily pads.
Horseshoe Lake, managed by the AGFC, is 21 miles southwest of West Memphis. It is easily accessed from Exit 271 on Interstate 40 at Lehi; from there, follow state Highway 147 south 15 miles to the lake. Boaters must pay a small launching fee at the boat ramps. Check the AGFC weekly fishing reports at www.agfc.com for up-to-date fishing information.
Fishing lakes in northeast Arkansas were few and far between when Lake Charles was built in 1962. Located near Black Rock in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, this 645-acre lake is one of the most popular fishing holes in the Delta region.
Lake Charles supports a healthy population of jumbo largemouth bass. Seldom do bass anglers catch a lot of fish during a day of fishing, but most of those that are caught will weigh 3, 4 or 5 pounds, sometimes more. Each year, several 10-pound-plus bass are caught here.
Open water is prevalent, a condition that sometimes makes it difficult to find concentrations of largemouths. The old Flat Creek channel winding through the heart of the lake is a good area to key your efforts, and anglers also do well fishing points, coves and the area around the dam. Bass often relate to areas where there’s little more than a 2- or 3-foot drop on the bottom. Fishing riprap rocks lining the lake’s shores also produces many fish.
Crankbaits are very effective here, spinnerbaits work well in the heavier brush, and plastic worms and lizards are hard to beat during summer.
Lake Charles lies between Arkansas Highway 117 and Arkansas Highway 25, 4 miles southeast of Black Rock. Lake Charles State Park on the lake’s southern end has 60 campsites, picnic areas and a swimming beach. Groceries, ice, fishing licenses and supplies are available at the visitor center shop. For more information, call the park at (870) 878-6595.
BEAR CREEK AND STORM CREEK LAKES
Bear Creek and Storm Creek lakes are in St. Francis National Forest near Marianna. These waters are best known for plate-sized redears and bluegills, but the same fertility that produces bumper crops of bream also grows hefty largemouth bass.
Covering 625 and 420 acres respectively, Bear Creek and Storm Creek are both fairly open, as most of the timber that once stood has rotted and fallen. However, thousands of stumps and logs remain below the surface providing a bass haven. Bass up to 10 pounds lurk in the cover beneath these waters.
Most veteran anglers on these lakes work woody cover around the edges of underwater creek channels for summer bass. But you needn’t fish deep water to be successful. Early and late in the day, many big catches of bass are taken in depths of 2 to 5 feet. Largemouths often feed in shallow flats and coves near dawn and dusk.
Fish the windward shore where wave action muddies the water for best results. Baitfish are pushed shoreward by the wind, and bass will often be there feeding. Fishing run-off areas and creek mouths following a rain is also productive. Largemouth bass lie where water flows into the lakes waiting for food to wash to them.
Though Bear Creek Lake only covers 625 acres, it has a very irregular shape. There are literally scores of small coves and fingers of water, giving Bear Creek more than 60 miles of shoreline. Storm Creek is likewise configured, with 50 miles of shoreline.
There are many homes around the perimeter of Bear Creek, and many have boat docks that attract concentrations of bass. Use a sonar fish finder to pinpoint brush piles placed by local anglers around the boat docks, then fish them thoroughly using a plastic worm or spinnerbait. Fishing shady cover around boat dock pilings can also produce nice bass.
In summer, Storm Creek largemouths often school near cover along inundated creek channels. Use sonar to locate the structure, beginning your search near the mouths of in-flowing creeks and following the channel drop offshore. Watch for readings that show fish suspended around bottom cover like stump fields and sunken treetops, and work these areas thoroughly with jigging spoons, grubs or big deep-diving crankbaits.
Access into St. Francis NF is via two Forest Service roads. Forest Route 1900 runs past both lakes. The north end is reached off Highway 44 south of Marianna at the Maple Flat Recreation Area on Bear Creek Lake. The road then continues through the forest to a point on Highway 44 one mile north of West Helena. Forest Route 1901 traverses the entire eastern border of the NF and is also reached off Highway 44.
The Bear Creek Recreation Area offers 41 camping units, picnicking, hiking, swimming and a concrete boat ramp. The Storm Creek area has similar facilities. Motels and restaurants are found in nearby cities, and fishing and camping supplies are available near each lake. For additional information, contact the U.S. Forest Service office at (870) 295-5278.
(Editor’s Note: Keith Sutton is the author of Fishing Arkansas: An Angler’s Guide to the Natural State. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $30.57, which includes shipping and state tax, to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card orders, go to www.catfishsutton.com.)
Find more about Arkansas fishing and hunting at: ArkansasSportsmanMag.com.