March 03, 2015
Where can you enjoy the best black bass fishing in Arkansas in 2015? That's a tough question to answer — tough because the Natural State encompasses scores of phenomenal bass fisheries. Except for our cold tailrace trout streams, nearly every body of water in the state has healthy populations of largemouth, smallmouth and/or spotted bass.
If you'd like to catch lots of bass during a day of angling, regardless of fish size, there are numerous lakes and streams where you can expect to do that. If you prefer fishing where you have a better-than-average chance of hooking a potential wallhanger, we have waters for that too. Many rivers and lakes provide the best of both worlds: lots of bass, with enough heavyweights in the catch to keep things exciting.
Let's take a look at some of the waters around the state most likely to produce for you this year.
Bear Creek Lake
Bear Creek Lake is situated in the wooded hogbacks and hollows of Crowley's Ridge in St. Francis National Forest near Marianna. The honeyhole is best known for producing plate-sized redears and bluegills, but the same fertility that produces bumper crops of bream also grows hefty largemouth bass. Covering 625 acres, Bear Creek is fairly open throughout, as most of the timber that once stood in the lake has rotted and fallen.
However, thousands of stumps and logs remain below the surface, providing a haven for bass. Largemouths to 8 pounds and more lurk in the cover beneath these waters and often are caught by anglers working big jigs, jig/pork-frog combos, shallow-diving crankbaits and other lures.
Another good way to catch the lake's largemouths is fishing around the boat docks behind the many homes lining Bear Creek's 60-mile shoreline. Use a fishfinder to pinpoint brushpiles placed by local anglers around the docks, and then fish them thoroughly using a plastic worm or spinnerbait. Fishing shady cover around the dock pilings also can produce nice bass.
Bear Creek's daily black bass limit is 10, but largemouth bass from 13 inches to 16 inches long must be released immediately back into the water. Boat motors may not exceed 9.9 horsepower. Access to the lake is at the day use area off Highway 44, six miles southeast of Marianna. Beech Point Campground in Mississippi River State Park offers beautiful campsites right at lakeside with adjacent courtesy docks. For additional information, contact the park by phoning 870-295-4040 or visiting here.
Located off Highway 35 just five miles north of its namesake city in southeast Arkansas, 1,520-acre Lake Monticello no longer produces the incredible numbers of trophy largemouths it was churning out just a few years ago. But this city-owned lake remains one of the best in the state if you're hoping to catch a 10-pound-plus giant.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fertilizes the lake each year and then stocks it with about 100,000 Florida largemouth bass. The Florida strain grows large in this fertile water, sometimes reaching sizes exceeding 14 pounds. Rumors have it that largemouths approaching the state-record weight of 16 pounds, 4 ounces have been caught there.
Lake Monticello is relatively shallow throughout, except around the dam. Standing timber provides bass cover, along with lily pads and other vegetation. Anglers catch lots of trophy largemouths by fishing beds of vegetation with Texas-rigged soft plastics or by working spinnerbaits, crankbaits and other enticements around visible cover.
Black Saltys, a type of hardy live baitfish available from I.F. Anderson Farms in Lonoke, are favorites of many local bass experts and are said to have accounted for several of Monticello's biggest bucketmouths.
The largemouth bass daily limit is eight, only one of which may exceed 22 inches. Largemouths from 19 inches to 22 inches long must be released immediately. If you're new to fishing the lake, consider purchasing one of the excellent lake maps that show depths and GPS coordinates of fishing hotspots such as inundated ponds. These are available for $6 each at the Monticello-Drew County Chamber of Commerce office at 335 E. Gaines Street in Monticello, or by calling the chamber at (870) 367-6741.
This big blue impoundment, often called "The Cleanest Lake in America," sprawls across 40,000 acres west of Hot Springs National Park, its clear waters bristling with largemouth and spotted bass. Stockings of smallmouth bass raised and released by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have made that species available on a limited basis.
Numerous trophy-class largemouths are taken every spring. For savvy anglers, there's a possibility of catching a 7- or 8-pounder, and while larger bass aren't common, they are caught.
Most Ouachita anglers begin their search for spring largemouths in the lake's fertile beds of coontail and elodea. A fishfinder can pinpoint these mats of vegetation in 15 or 20 feet of water around islands and coves.
Many anglers favor a deep-diving, minnow-imitation crankbait for fishing this submerged vegetation. Cast near a weedbed, and then crank the lure down deep and retrieve stop-and-go fashion right over the top of the vegetation. Bass will come up out of the weedbeds to nail it.
While big smallmouths are present, they're often hard to find and catch. Yet Lake Ouachita has lots of spotted bass to 4 pounds and more that savvy anglers catch with great frequency. Both species usually are found deeper than largemouths, often on rocky ledges, points and humps. Some may hold as deep as 40 feet, and the best way to catch them is dropping live crawfish into their feeding zone. Many lures entice them as well, including crawfish crankbaits, jig-and-pig combos and small spoons.
The largemouth and spotted bass combined daily limit is six, but fish must be 13 inches or longer to keep. Smallmouth bass on Lake Ouachita upstream to the River Bluff access and the South Fork of the Ouachita River upstream to Hovel Branch must be released immediately. For additional regulations, visit the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission web site. A fishing report and information on guided fishing and accommodations here.
Completed in 1951, Narrows Dam near Murfreesboro backed the Little Missouri River 12 miles up its narrow valley to create Lake Greeson. This 7,000-acre west Arkansas impoundment has remained a recreational secret compared to other major, manmade lakes like Ouachita, and that makes fishing on this beautiful mountain impoundment a special treat. Visit on weekdays and it will often seem like you have the whole lake to yourself. There are plenty of nice largemouths and spotted bass to make every day on the water exciting.
I've fished Greeson often in recent years, usually out of Self Creek Marina at the town of Kirby 40 miles west of Hot Springs. The lake has little visible cover, which can make finding good bass fishing spots tough. But with a fishfinder and some time, it's not hard to pinpoint humps, manmade fish attractors and bottom channels that concentrate bass. Good areas to try include the Rock Creek Arm on the west side, Self Creek on the north, and the Bear Creek and Kirby Landing areas on the east.
In spring, many bass are caught in rocky, shoreline shallows, often on sloping points and often using crankbaits and other lures that imitate shad or crawfish, the two primary bass foods there.
Spotted bass, like those in Ouachita, typically stay in deeper, rocky haunts, and live crawfish are the best enticements. Jigging spoons, jigs and other lures that can be worked with vertical presentations are local favorites as well.
The best way to fish Lake Greeson the first time is with a guide who can show you how to find and catch bass. One I highly recommend is Kevin Patrick at Action Fishing Trips (228-363-3580). For information on current fishing conditions and accommodations, contact the friendly folks at Self Creek Marina at 870-398-5000.
Arkansas' stream inventory includes at least 10 Crooked Creeks, but only one has been described as the "blue-ribbon smallmouth stream of the state." That particular Crooked Creek is found in the Ozark Mountains of north-central Arkansas. It originates near Dogpatch in Newton County, flowing 80 miles past the Harrison, Pyatt and Yellville before emptying into the White River.
In spots, Crooked Creek offers pretty good action for spotted bass and largemouths, but its real claim to fame is its extraordinary smallmouth fishing. The stream's upper reaches offer opportunities for wade-fishing and occasional float trips, but most recreational use occurs in the lower 50 miles below Pyatt. A particular favorite of many smallmouth anglers is the Pyatt to Yellville stretch. Float trips are possible past Yellville, but the ruggedness of the float — rocky shoals, tight chutes and willow thickets — discourages most visits.
Ideal habitat and abundant hellgrammites, crayfish and other smallmouth foods combine to produce large numbers of quality "brownies." Two- to 3-pounders are fairly common, and some folks say no other body of water in the state produces 4- to 6-pound smallmouths with the same regularity.
Popping bugs and streamers on fly rods offer great sport for smallmouths, and many anglers also use crankbaits, spinnerbaits, live hellgrammites or live crayfish to take Crooked Creek lunkers. Canoes and johnboats are available for rent nearby, and several outfitters offer guided float-fishing trips. A river map and information are available here.
Dale Bumpers White River — National Wildlife Refuge Lakes
If you don't mind sacrificing size for numbers when considering largemouth bass, the oxbow lakes within east Arkansas' Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge are worthy of your attention. The refuge covers 160,756 acres in Desha, Monroe, Phillips and Arkansas counties and encompasses more than 200 natural lakes full of 1- to 7-pound largemouths that provide almost constant action.
Almost all those lakes offer good bass fishing, at least during part of the year, but among those most popular with visiting anglers and local fishermen are Red Cat Lake, East Lake, Maddox Bay, Ditch Lake, Goose Lake and Hog Thief Lake on the North Unit (north of Highway 1). Frazier Lake, Jones Lake, Big White Lake, Escronges Lake, H Lake and Scrubgrass Bayou are hot ones on the South Unit.
In addition, many of the refuge's small, remote oxbow lakes provide topflight action for numbers of bass, if you're willing to hike in with a belly boat or waders. Just be sure you use great care not to get lost in the huge tracts of lookalike bottomlands.
The lakes of the White River NWR vary greatly in size. The largest cover only a couple of hundred acres, and the smallest are less than an acre in size. All are relatively shallow, averaging 4 to 6 feet deep, and most are full of cypress trees, buckbrush, willows, fallen treetops and snags. Bass will take a variety of lures and live baits, with buzzbaits, plastic worms, crankbaits and live minnows being local favorites.
Access to the lakes is varied. Some are on well-maintained, all-season roads. But some smaller backwoods lakes are accessible only by four-wheelers or by anglers on foot. A few of the larger oxbows have concrete or steel ramps, but launching in the vast majority is a matter of backing a trailer down a mud entry or sliding in a cartopper. For that reason, it's best to fish from small, shallow-draft johnboats.
During high water periods in spring, overflows often cause roads to be closed, so if you plan to pay a visit to any of the refuge lakes in spring, it's best to check road conditions first by phoning the refuge headquarters in St. Charles (870-282-8200). Maps, regulations and other information can be found here.
We've covered only half a dozen of Arkansas' best bassin' hotspots. the angler who does some homework will find many more lakes and rivers serving up bass. Others include the Arkansas River from Ft. Smith to the Mississippi River (largemouths and spots); the Caddo, upper Ouachita and Saline Rivers in the Ouachita Mountains (smallmouths); the Buffalo National River and Kings River in the Ozarks (smallmouths); Lake Chicot near Lake Village in southeast Arkansas (largemouths); Millwood Lake in southwest Arkansas (largemouths); lakes Hamilton and Catherine near Hot Springs (largemouths); and Bull Shoals Lake (largemouths, smallmouths and spots).