April 26, 2012
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.
Smallmouths are limited in Arkansas because of their habitat needs, but their largemouth cousins can be found everywhere from Texarkana to Jonesboro and from Fayetteville to Lake Village. While their range is greater in The Natural State, Hopkins' list of top largemouth hotspots for May sends us back to the spots mentioned earlier in one instance.
"Bull Shoals has experienced several years of high water that has produced great year-classes of largemouth bass that should produce some great fishing," Hopkins said, putting the lake among his top three choices for May largemouths.
Otherwise, he listed DeGray Lake in Clark and Hot Spring counties, and Millwood Lake in Hempstead, Little River and Sevier counties as his best bets.
"DeGray Lake has had some great shad spawns, and barring a severe shad kill this (previous) winter, fish should be in excellent condition this spring," the biologist began. "Millwood Lake has for several years had a 16-inch minimum-length limit with a creel of three largemouth bass and on Jan. 1, this (was) removed and the creel (was) increased to six. This will make lots of fish under 16 inches available to anglers." Furthermore, on Millwood, he added, "The Corps of Engineers and the AGFC have coordinated a drawdown on the lake, which will provide many benefits to the overall fish population."
DeGray Lake is in the Ouachita Mountains near Arkadelphia. The lake was created by impounding the Caddo River. DeGray boasts 13,400 acres of water, more than 700 campsites and 15 boat ramps. Plus, visitors here can mix angling with golfing, dining or relaxing at DeGray Lake Resort State Park.
Millwood was formed by an earthen dam placed across the Little River. At 29,000 acres, the impoundment is about nine miles east of Ashdown. The lake features a ton of timber along with backwater sloughs, secondary channels and a variety of vegetation. While the number of launch sites and camping areas pales in comparison to its neighbors to the north, this Corps of Engineers lake is home to some of the larger largemouths in Arkansas. That's because the lake is one of the waters the AGFC stocks with Florida-strain fish. The best bet to find more information on Millwood is to visit Mike Siefert's Millwood Lake Guide Service (www.millwoodguideservice.com).
SPOTTED BASS DESTINATIONS
While largemouth and smallmouth bass are more popular, spotted bass may be more populous in The Natural State. That's because these fish are likely to be found in many of the same waters that one or the other of their bass relatives inhabit.
"Spotted bass can be found in nearly all of the larger Corps of Engineers lakes throughout the state and also in many of our rivers and streams," Hopkins said. "I believe some of the best action in May can be found at Table Rock, Ouachita and Beaver with fish being caught on multiple presentations, but probably the most exciting would be the topwater action."
WORTHY OF CONSIDERATION
While some other waters did not make Hopkin's list of hotspots for May largemouths or spotted bass, they did get a mention from some of the AGFC fisheries personnel in districts across the state.
In southwest Arkansas, Drew Wilson pointed to 644-acre Dr. Lester Sitzes III Bois D'Arc Lake in Hempstead County as a good largemouth lake. For spotted bass, he added lakes Greeson and De Queen. Greeson totals 7,000 acres and lies in Pike County, while 1,680-acre De Queen is north of its namesake city in Sevier County.
In southeastern Arkansas, Diana Andrews responded with the lower Arkansas River, Lake Monticello and Lake Chicot as her three top picks for largemouths. The Arkansas River was her only selection for spotted bass in her area. While the Arkansas roughly bisects the state from northwest to southeast, the portion Andrews mentioned is from around Pine Bluff to the Pendleton area, including fertile, farmland backwaters like Merrisach and Coal Pile. Monticello covers 1,520 acres northwest of the city of the same name in Drew County and is one of the AGFC's Florida-bass lakes. Lake Chicot lies in Chicot County along the eastern side of Lake Village and at approximately 20 miles long is the largest oxbow lake in North America.
Jake K. Whisenhunt in southern Arkansas placed Columbia Lake, Lower White Oak Lake and Upper White Oak Lake on a pedestal for largemouth bass fishing in his area. As for the spots, he said, "The place to find the best bite for spotted bass would be the Ouachita River around the Sparkman and Tates Bluff accesses."
Lake Columbia covers about 3,000 acres and is six miles northwest of Magnolia in Columbia County. The White Oaks are found about 18 miles northwest of Camden and total nearly 2,700 acres in Nevada and Ouachita counties. The stretch of the Ouachita River there meanders within and along the borders of Ouachita, Calhoun, Union and Bradley counties.
Just north of the state capital of Little Rock, Tom Bly threw in the names of Lake Barnett and Lake Overcup as potential largemouth hotspots and the aforementioned Greers Ferry Lake as one of the Corps lakes that holds spotted bass. Lake Barnett is a 245-acre, AGFC-owned lake about 12 miles northwest of Beebe in White County. Another AGFC impoundment, Overcup covers 1,025 acres just north of I-40 and Morrilton in Conway County.
Up the Arkansas River from the capital city, Bob Limbird noted that nearby Lake Dardanelle, Lake Atkins and Lake Nimrod are all prime largemouth locations in May. Meanwhile, he listed Pool 9 of the Arkansas River, Sugarloaf Lake and Lake Hinkle for the spots. Dardanelle, an impoundment of the Arkansas River, covers about 34,000 acres and 50 miles of the river in Franklin, Johnson, Logan, Pope and Yell counties. Atkins, one of the northernmost outposts of Florida-strain largemouths has produced some 13-pound fish recently.
"If growth continues, a possible state record could happen," Limbird said.
Lake Atkins is south of Atkins, covers 752 acres and was refurbished by the AGFC in the 2000s. Nimrod lies farther south, less than 10 miles south of Ola in the Ouachitas of Yell County. Pool 9 of the Arkansas River reaches from below the dam at Lake Dardanelle to the dam near Morrilton. Sugarloaf, or Sugar Loaf, is AGFC owned and covers 334 acres in rural Sebastian County about four miles west of Midland. At 960 acres, the AGFC's Lake Hinkle sits in Scott County and is likely more known for its catfish.
HOW TO CATCH THEM
While location and target species of bass may vary, Hopkins has a short list of lures he believes will do the trick in most conditions Arkansas anglers will encounter this month.
"Swimbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater baits, soft-plastic jerkbaits (flukes) and drop-shot rigs" are his lures of choice.
While cloud cover, temperatures, available structure, wind direction and other factors can affect the choice, the AGFC assistant black bass biologist said the area of presentation will be similar for each species because of the phase black bass in our state will be in during May.
"Due to a large spawning window for black bass in Arkansas that begins as early as late March in south Arkansas and extends into early May in some of the northern lakes, I would say the majority of bass would be in the post-spawn pattern," he said. "Typically, these fish will be feeding actively and lots of topwater action is experienced during this time as well. Bass in larger reservoirs can be found in 'wolfpacks' cruising the shallows, actively feeding on spawning sunfish. I believe that anglers can experience success using swimbaits that imitate small sunfish during this time."