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4 Fishing Hotspots in Arkansas to Achieve the 'Catfish Grand Slam'

To rack up a ''catfish grand slam'' in Arkansas, you must land the state's four types of catfish: channel cat, blue cat, flathead and bullhead

4 Fishing Hotspots in Arkansas to Achieve the 'Catfish Grand Slam'
4 Fishing Hotspots in Arkansas to Achieve the 'Catfish Grand Slam'

“Grand slam” is a general sports term applied when achieving something special. The term originated in the game of bridge, where it refers to bidding for and winning all the tricks in one hand. But it now is applied to remarkable feats in many different sports, especially winning all of a sport’s major events in a given year. Generally a grand slam is associated with achieving at least four feats simultaneously or in succession; achievements of three of a kind are typically termed Triple Crowns instead.

In baseball, a grand slam occurs when the bases are loaded (that is, there are base runners standing at first, second and third base) and the batter hits a home run. Hunters can achieve a grand slam by bagging all four types of North America’s wild sheep (Dall, Stone, Rocky Mountain bighorn and desert bighorn) or the continent’s four wild turkey subspecies (Osceola, Eastern, Merriam’s and Rio Grande). In saltwater fishing, a grand slam is when a single angler catches three different types of billfish in one day, and a super grand slam occurs when four species have been landed.

A grand slam is a singular feat regardless of how long it takes to achieve. It typically involves careful planning, considerable time and travel, at least a modest degree of good fortune, and even when done by the most budget-conscious of sportsmen, considerable cost.

Not all grand slams require a huge investment of money and travel to exotic destinations, however. For example, if you enjoy catfishing, it is possible to achieve a grand slam while fishing in Arkansas. To do this, you must land the state’s four types of catfish: channel cat, blue cat, flathead and bullhead. And you can achieve that by visiting the following whiskerfish hotspots and applying your knowledge of cat-catching.

Strawberry River

The Strawberry River, which flows out of the Ozark Mountain foothills and into the northeast Delta, serves up excellent fishing for jumbo channel cats. The upper third, from Arkansas Highway 354 near Oxford to U.S. Highway 167 north of Evening Shade is generally too low for good float-fishing, but wade fishing is often good in this section’s short pools. The remaining section of river offers fishing for channel cats on three relaxing canoe floats: Highway 167 to the low-water bridge between Evening Shade and Poughkeepsie (10 miles); from this low-water bridge to the next one just west of Arkansas 58 (9 miles); and from this bridge to the Arkansas 58 crossing north of Poughkeepsie (2.5 miles).

For tips on where to look for channel cats, how to rig up and drag them out of their hidey holes, check out “Tips to Catch More Catfish: Go Crashin' and Thrashin'.”

Drift-fishing live baits such as crawfish and minnows under a cork usually works well on the Strawberry, but if this method doesn’t produce, try dropping a weighted hook baited with chicken liver or stinkbait onto the bottom. Channel cats have a keen sense of taste and smell, and there are times when moving a bait around is counterproductive because it’s more difficult for feeding cats to find. Fish the deepest pools of the river when possible, using a canoe for easy floating.

For additional info, contact the Game & Fish Commission’s District 3 office at 877-972-5438 or visit www.agfc.com.

Other blue-ribbon waters for Arkansas channel cats include Lake Maumelle just outside Little Rock, the White River below Batesville, White Oak Lake near Camden and Lake Poinsett near Harrisburg.

Flatheads: Lake Conway

Few bodies of water in the United States churn out the number of monster flatheads produced by central Arkansas’ Lake Conway. This 6,700-acre Game & Fish Commission lake off Interstate 40 in Faulkner County is shallow, heavily timbered, rich in shad and sunfish, and full of huge logjams and deep holes—in other words, prime habitat for producing giant flatheads.

Scores of 30- to 60-pound Conway flatheads are taken every year, some by anglers fishing for other species, some on trotlines, a few by rod-and-reel anglers who enjoy the challenge of battling big cats in heavy timber. Serious local catmen believe 100-pounders swim here, but the dense timber makes it almost impossible to land one. Live fish such as sunfish, goldfish and shiners are the leading bait choices, and prime hotspots on Lake Conway include old inundated lakes like Adams, Greens, Gold and Holt’s.

For additional information, call the Game & Fish Commission’s District 10 office in Mayflower at 877-470-3309, or log on to www.agfc.com.

Other waters at the top of the list for Arkansas flatheads are lakes Millwood, Chicot, Hinkle and DeGray, plus the St. Francis, Red and Black rivers.

Blue Cats: Arkansas River

The Arkansas River rates high among the Natural State’s best blue cat waters. No other body of water in the state has produced as many record-book blues, and catfishing is excellent year-round throughout the entire length of the river from Ft. Smith to the river’s mouth near Yancopin. The best bets continue to be the tailwater stretches below the dams, especially the tailwater of Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock & Dam south of Ozark, the tailwater below Dardanelle Lock & Dam near Russellville, the tailwater below Murray Lock & Dam and the North Little Rock Hydroelectric Plant at Little Rock and below Wilbur Mills Dam (Dam 2) on the Arkansas’ lower end below Tichnor. When the gates are open, all these areas have the potential for producing a new state- or world-record blue, and each of these areas produces astounding numbers of small catfish year after year.

For tips on how to land giant blue cats, check out “3 Best Patterns for Big Blue Cats.”

The best baits for blue cats are chunks of fresh shad or skipjack herring – the key word here being “fresh.” Use a heavy weight to get the bait on or near the bottom, then get ready. Arkansas River blues commonly weigh 20 to 40 pounds, and you never know when a hungry cat over 75 might come along. Always use heavy tackle so you can handle these brutes without break-offs.

Additional information is available on the Department of Parks & Tourism website, www.arkansas.com.

Other waters you may want to consider for an action-packed blue-cat outing include the Mississippi River and big lakes such as Ouachita, Norfork, Bull Shoals, Catherine and Hamilton.

Bullheads: Lakes Dunn and Austell

Because bullheads rarely weigh more than a pound, there aren’t many Arkansans who target them specifically. Nevertheless, you must catch one to complete your catfish grand slam, and a good place to catch do this is Village Creek State Park near Wynne. Both lakes here, 68-acre Dunn and 64-acre Austell, have plenty of nice bullheads. I’ve fished from docks on each lake and caught 20 bullheads in a single hour on chicken liver baits. Some weighed more than 2 pounds, which is exceptional for bullheads.

Your fishing strategy can be as unencumbered as using a cane pole and small hook to dunk a worm or piece of liver in late evening. Fish on bottom, using a split shot or a small slip sinker to carry your bait down. You need not fish deep or far from shore.

Both lakes in the park are restricted to electric motors only. Only registered campers can fish after 10 p.m. The park offers 10 modern housekeeping cabins and 104 fully equipped campsites. For additional information, phone the park at 870-238-9406 or visit www.arkansasstateparks.com/villagecreek/.

Other good places to try for bullheads include Lake Conway, U.S. Forest Service lakes in Ouachita National Forest near Perryville, and the L’Anguille River between Harrisburg and Forrest City.

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