February 02, 2016
Even though many of us would rather be sitting in trees hoping to bag a deer, we still are passing some idle hours thinking about fishing.
We caught the bug while talking to some of our friends that fish in winter bass tournaments. The bass they caught were chunky and fat, and we know that the fishing is only going to get better as the weeks progress.
Yep, it's mighty chilly up in this tree. The woods are still and quiet, so I've got nothing better to do than think of all the great times I'll be having on Arkansas waters.
We've got some great largemouth bass fishing all over our state, and some dandy places to catch smallmouths, too. We might even get a hankering for a limit of spotted bass for the skillet. Speaking of skillets, we've got some fine walleye fishing in many of our lakes and rivers, and even better crappie and bream fishing.
If I want to give my tackle a real workout, I can catch big stripers and hybrids, and some great big catfish, too. Trout fishing should be excellent on our tailwaters, but I could also be fishing for white bass, saugers and saugeyes.
I think this trail has gone cold. I haven't seen a sign of a deer here for weeks. I think it's time to go fishing!
Lake Hamilton Largemouths
The winter drawdown concentrates bass around prominent structures like docks, bridges and main-lake points this month, making this a prime time to enjoy some stellar fishing.
Docks always hold a lot of bass on Lake Hamilton, especially those with brushpiles nearby, but bridges are my favorite places to fish in the winter.
Riprap holds heat longer than other features, and that draws large numbers of bass. You can catch them with square-billed crankbaits and stickbaits like the Luck-E-Strike RC STX.
You also can catch them off main-lake points with jigging spoons or by dragging a Carolina-rigged worm. Consider downsizing your baits for better success.
Take a GPS because you'll see a lot of exposed natural and manmade structure that will attract fish when the lake refills in the spring. Anglers make rock cairns and all kinds of stuff that add little wrinkles to otherwise featureless points and flats. Mark them as waypoints because they'll produce for you later.
Lake Magnolia Largemouths
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks lakes in south Arkansas with Florida-strain largemouths, and Lake Magnolia is an excellent but often overlooked place to catch a monster.
On the outskirts of Magnolia, the lake has an array of cover and structure. I start my day on a big hump in the middle of the lake across from the boat ramp. You can catch bass there with Carolina rigs or jigs.
Bass generally move off the hump when the sun gets bright, but you can work the shorelines for fish moving into shallow water to spawn. A soft-plastic fluke or swimbait can be deadly for these fish. You can catch them off wood cover with square-billed crankbaits like the Luck-E-Strike RC-3 in green ghost or blue racer color.
Lake Magnolia was on a down cycle for a number of years, and it's not as popular as it used to be. Big bass are plentiful again, and there's still plenty of potential for growth and numbers.
Lake Ouachita Stripers
Want to do a little deep-sea fishing on a freshwater reservoir? Giant stripers inhabit Lake Ouachita, and they are most accessible and easiest to catch in March.
In early March you can catch stripers in the skinny water of the lake's main tributaries, particularly the main stem of the Ouachita River. Stripers go upriver to make a false spawning run, and you can catch them sometimes in less than 1 foot of water, as I did several years ago from a gravel bar at a place locally known as Striper Corner. That fish I caught weighed 19 pounds, That's also how I caught my biggest striper, a 29-pounder.
In the mornings, you can catch them on the surface using topwwater lures such as a Zara Spook, Storm Chug Bug or a Cordell C-10 Red Fin. That bite is good for a couple of hours, and a topwater strike from a big striper is a very exciting experience.
Beaver Lake Smallmouths
In recent years Beaver Lake has become a premier smallmouth bass fishery, as is proved annually in the big FLW tournament. Largemouths always win the tournament, but spectators swoon at the big smallmouths that come to the weigh-in stage.
Smallmouths spawn at Beaver Lake in April, but you can catch them in various reproductive stages. Probably the most popular and productive method is with small soft-plastic lures on lead ball jigheads.
The method is called the "shaky head," and it's a deep-water staple. Cast it with a spinning rig on light line around rocky structure where smallmouths lurk, and provoke them to bite by shaking your rod tip or by hopping the jig.
You can also catch them with small worms on a drop-shot rig. For those who are put off by light-line finesse tactics, you can catch big smallmouths on Beaver with suspending jerkbaits and deep-diving crankbaits.
Lake Conway Bluegills
Turkey season is over and it's getting hot, but a big mess of fried bluegill filets will make it worth some time in the sun.
You need big bluegills for the kind of filets we're talking about, and Lake Conway is the place you'll find them.
In May, bluegills are spawning, and you can catch them almost anywhere on the lake in shallow water. Look for secluded coves that have plenty of shoreline cover. If you can find fallen logs or treetops in the water, you're golden.
The fishing and catching are easy. Toss a cricket under a bobber next to wood and wait for the bobber to plunge. You don't have to cover a lot of water for this, and you can get to where you need to go by sculling a flat-bottomed boat. A sit-on-top kayak is an excellent way to poke around the shallows.
Lake Conway is on the south side of Conway just off I-40.
Bull Shoals Walleyes
While Bull Shoals Lake is known for its walleye fishing in the early spring, those fish don't leave the lake when the weather gets warm. They hunker down in deep water and wait for the right person with the right bait to coax them into a livewell.
In the mornings you can catch walleyes in this giant White River impoundment this month by trolling deep-diving crankbaits off main-lake points and secondary points. That bite goes away as soon as the sun clears the horizon.
During the day you can catch walleyes by dangling spoons or small soft plastics next to standing timber. You can also catch them with soft-plastic flukes or swimbaits fished over or on deep structure.
If you want to cover more water, you can catch walleyes by trolling over flats with live worms on bottom-bouncer rigs, or by trolling deep-diving stickbaits over the same areas.
White River Oxbow Crappie
The south end of the White River doesn't have any big impoundments, but it has a dazzling array of backwater oxbows that offer virtually unlimited fishing opportunities.
July's strong suit in the oxbows is big white crappie, and they are surprisingly easy to catch. The oxbows are full of sunken treetops, and they all hold crappie in the heat of summer. With an electric motor you can move from one 'top to another and catch three or four big crappie from each by dangling a minnow from a long crappie pole.
If you're not among the branches, you're not among the fish so don't get frustrated when you snag. Use a light wire hook that will bend easily and retie.
The White River National Wildlife Refuge contains more than 100 backwater lakes to fish for crappie. Some are easy to reach, but many are remote. Good starting points are Green Lake Access between Clarendon and Holly Grove, and Maddox Bay in the south unit.
Lake Maumelle White Bass
This impoundment of the Big Maumelle River west of Little Rock has long been derided as a "dead sea," which is ironic since it's also long been known as one of the state's hot white bass fisheries.
August is a prime time to catch schooling white bass, especially in the evenings. The action starts about two hours before sunset, which means you can fish after work.
Whites in late summer school in the lower end of the lake, and they'll hit a variety of baits, including spoons, topwaters, in-line spinnerbaits and small crankbaits. One of my favorites is a bone-colored Zara Puppy.
Don't be surprised if you throw into what turns out to be a school of big largemouths. They're after the same shad the whites are eating, and it's possible to hook a largemouth of 5 pounds or better.
A couple of good high-water years following several drought years have put the lake's fish population in excellent shape. Consequently, the fishing is the best it's been in years.
Little Red River Brown Trout
By September, Greers Ferry Lake usually is below normal pool, and so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduces hydropower generation to just a few hours per day. The rest of the day the river is low, which means you can wade some of the best fishing holes.
One of my favorite stretches is below the Cow Shoals Special Regulations Area. There are a lot of deep holes with a wide diversity of in-stream cover, such as logs and rocks, as well as the usual shoals and riffles. In this way it greatly resembles some of the great western trout streams, but none of them has ever produced a 40-pound brown trout.
The Little Red has, and there's a real possibility it holds others that size, if not bigger. My favorite setup for catching them is a light-action spinning rig with 6-pound-test line and a Rapala Ultra Light Minnow in brown trout color. Rainbow trout color is good, but big browns seem to prefer eating their own young, I guess.
I've had days where I caught so many I lost count.
DeGray Lake Crappie
Most of the state's waters are lonely in the fall. That's because everyone is in the woods hunting deer, but October is a great time to catch big crappie in deep brushpiles on big lakes like Ouachita and DeGray.
The key to catching crappie on DeGray and other highland reservoirs is to find brushpiles. They are everywhere, and a good electronic graph will help you pinpoint their location.
Suspend minnows under corks at various depths until you can determine the level where you get the most bites. The depth will be consistent at every brushpile you visit.
Lake Barnett Largemouths
Now we're into modern gun deer season, and nobody is on the water, which means it's a great time to visit an Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioned lake for some bass fishing.
Lake Barnett, in White County, is one of our best. It's like a miniature version of Greers Ferry Lake with an abundance of big largemouths and some surprisingly big spotted bass.
This month we're going to catch them on swimbaits and square-billed crankbaits around standups near the creek channel. We're going to be pleased to catch a 5- to 7-pounder, but we also have a good chance of hanging into one that weighs 10 pounds or more.
White River Trout
It's Christmastime, and we're going to end the year with a trout-fishing trip to the White River. Why? Because even though the air is cold, the water stays in the 50s all year long, and cold weather doesn't bother trout.
We're going to fish from Redbud Shoal to Buffalo Shoal, a long expanse of good motoring water that is chock-full of big trout.
In low water we'll fly-fish with nymphs, and when it rises we'll fish stickbaits in deep holes behind big rocks and in the shoals. There's probably not a better time to catch a trophy brown or rainbow trout, and who could ask for a better Christmas present than that?