April 19, 2016
Summer vacation is approaching, and it coincides with some of the year's best fishing in Arkansas.
Right now you and your family members can catch black bass, stripers, hybrids, crappie and trout within an hour of any of our largest cities and towns.
From the mountain regions to the Arkansas River Valley to the Mississippi River Delta, Arkansas has a fishing vacation to suit any family.
Lakes Bull Shoals, Norfork and their respective tailwaters offer the most diverse fishing opportunities in Arkansas, but they also are convenient to a wide range of family-friendly recreational opportunities on and off the water.
The White River below Bull Shoals Dam and the North Fork of the White River below Norfork Dam are two of the world's most famous trophy trout fisheries. It is possible to catch a world-record brown trout below Bull Shoals, but both rivers also contain trophy-sized rainbow and cutthroat trout, as well as limited numbers of northern brook trout.
Fly-fishermen can catch trout on dry flies, nymphs and streamers.
Big trout often hit big stickbaits when the river rises, but you can catch stocker-sized rainbows for the frying pan on wax worms and prepared baits such as Power Bait or Trout Krilla.
Although the White River fishes "big," it is easy to fish from the bank at Bull Shoals White River State Park below the dam, and at any of the bankside resorts like Gaston's White River Resort, Stetson's, White Buffalo Resort, and Sportsman's White River Resort
For big-water fishing, Bull Shoals Lake is one of the state's hottest spots for catching trophy stripers. Norfork Lake, directly east, is another traditional striper hotspot.
If trophy walleyes excite you, Bull Shoals is one of the best lakes in the United States, and Norfork is very good as well.
Both lakes are excellent for catching 3- to 6-pound smallmouth bass. This month you can catch them on wide-bodied, deep-diving crankbaits, twistertail grubs on lead ball jigs, and on Carolina-rigged lizards on the lakes' pea gravel points.
Youngsters can fish from the banks anywhere at Bull Shoals, especially at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. They'll most likely catch bream and catfish, but there's always a chance of hooking a monster striper, white bass, black bass or even a walleye.
Dry Run Creek below Norfork Dam is probably the best youth fishing spot in America. Surplus water from the Norfork National Fish Hatchery drains into Dry Run Creek, which is stocked with large numbers of brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout. Only kids age 15 and younger and disabled adults can fish there, and it is loaded with monster trout. All of it is bank accessible.
Along The Way
Aside from fishing, lakes Bull Shoals and Norfork are excellent for water skiing, snorkeling and scuba diving. You can rent personal watercraft, wakeboards and most other water toys at Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock at Lakeview, on the lake side of Bull Shoals Dam.
The Norfork National Fish Hatchery is a major federal trout hatchery, and kids love looking at hundreds of thousands of trout.
For family lodging, one of the best deals in the region is at Lighthouse Point Resort, which is part of the Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock package. You can choose as fancy a room as you want, or rent the spacious lake house. For more information, contact Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock at 870-445-4424 or click bullshoalslakeboatdock.com.
Restaurants and cinemas are in nearby Mountain Home. In nearby Branson, Mo., Silver Dollar City is a major Ozark-themed amusement park with all kinds of rides, including some great roller coasters, and craft shops. Branson also has live entertainment, from major recording artists to traditional country revues.
GREERS FERRY LAKE/LITTLE RED RIVER
Many anglers bypass Greers Ferry Lake and the great trout fishery in its tailwater to go to the White River. That's an injustice because they are excellent family destinations within 90 minutes of Little Rock and its suburbs.
Avid trout anglers know that the Little Red River below Greers Ferry Lake produced a 40-pound, 4-ounce brown trout in 1992 that held the all-tackle world record until 2009. That Michigan fish weighed 41 pounds, 7 ounces, but guess what? Arkansas Game and Fish Commission electroshocking crews have caught and released at least one brown trout that's considerably larger.
The Little Red is the only trout stream in the world that flows through cypress bottoms, and it contains good numbers of brown and rainbow trout, as well as some brook trout.
Much of the Little Red offers great wade-fishing when the hydropower generators aren't running. Nymphs are always productive for browns and rainbows, but you can catch rainbows from a boat by drifting Power Eggs.
An excellent bank fishing spot for kids is at the drainage pipes beneath the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery. Multitudes of trout congregate in the highly oxygenated runoff, and you can catch them with any kind of bait you want to throw, from corn niblets to Power Eggs to stickbaits to nymphs.
Greers Ferry Lake is one of the Natural State's best lakes for catching hybrid stripers. It holds the all-tackle world record for hybrids, thanks to a 27-pound, 5-ounce monster that Jerry Shaum caught in 1997. Greers Ferry also holds the world record for walleyes.
Along The Way
Like Bull Shoals and Norfork, Greers Ferry Lake is deep, clear and clean — perfect for family recreation. It is very popular for water skiing and scuba diving.
You can rent ski boats and pontoon boats at several marinas on the lake, including Dam Site Marina (damsitemarina.com) and Heber Springs Marina (hsmarina.net).
The Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery, at John F. Kennedy Park beneath Greers Ferry Dam, is a major trout hatching and grow-out operation and is a popular tourist attraction.
In the evenings, you can enjoy formal or informal dining at a number of restaurants around Heber Springs. One of my favorites, especially for lunch, is Cafe Klaser, on the Little Red across from the Barnett Access.
This scenic highland reservoir between Arkadelphia and Bismarck is considered one of the Hot Springs' Diamond Lakes, but it is a world apart in many respects.
DeGray is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Hot Springs tourist trade, but it offers a full range of family activities on and off the water.
Covering about 14,000 acres, DeGray Lake offers excellent fishing for hybrids, crappie, walleyes, and, of course, largemouth bass.
It hybrids run in big schools, and you can enjoy hours of exciting fishing in the mornings catching fish weighing between 3 and 7 pounds.
"Big Sam" Richardson (501/844-0524) is a consistently successful guide who specializes in catching hybrids with his homemade spoons.
DeGray Lake contains a lot of big crappie, and you can catch them at hundreds of brush structures around the lake. June is a great time to catch crappie from brushpiles, and guide Tammy Richardson (870-356-8251) is one of the best.
You can catch largemouth and Kentucky bass on DeGray this month with your favorite baits. The lake contains mostly rocky structure with some standing timber. And you can even catch bass on the same brushpiles that hold crappie.
Along The Way
Your base should be DeGray Lake Resort State Park, which has facilities for tent and RV camping. Its lodge is a high-end but affordable hotel. You can also rent yurts for a more private experience.
Besides fishing, water lovers can rent ski/deck boats, party barges, canoes and kayaks — solo and tandem — from the state park marina.
The park also has a full-service gift shop, interpretative programs and horseback riding. The one-hour rides cost $30 per person.
If you want to sharpen your golf game, the park also has an excellent golf course, a disc golf course and, of course, a restaurant. For more information about accommodations and rates, click www.degray.com.
We love Lake Dardanelle for its excellent bass fishing, but also because it offers such a rich mix of family entertainment in multiple packages.
Lake Dardanelle is consistently the most productive bass fishery in Arkansas in all categories. It is the most popular destination for bass tournaments and has hosted several top-end Bassmaster events.
The Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza, held every June on the entire length of the Arkansas River, is the largest amateur bass tournament in America. It pays $100,000 to the angler who weighs in the single largest bass over the three-day event. The winning fish in 2014 was caught in the upper part of Lake Dardanelle, on a plastic worm.
Popular fishing areas are in the strip pits near Highway 7 north of I-40, in Dardanelle Bay and Delaware Bay. If the water is stable to rising, you can catch them in grass mats, or off the generous amounts of riprap along highway rights of way and railroad rights of wayLake Dardanelle also is an excellent place to catch striped bass, white bass, crappie and bream.
Along The Way
Family-friendly entertainment is abundant off the water in the area, and you can take your pick from three fantastic state parks.
Petit Jean State Park (petitjeanstatepark.com) is atop Petit Jean Mountain and offers tent camping, RV camping, cabins and yurts. Mather Lodge is available for those who desire a hotel experience.
Fishing in the park is available at two small lakes, Bailey and Roosevelt. You can rent fishing boats, kayaks or pedal boats.
No visit to Petit Jean is complete without a visit to the Museum of Automobiles, which was founded by the late former Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.
A few miles to the west is Mt. Nebo State Park. It's a bit more rustic than Petit Jean, but like Petit Jean, it has a great trail network for hiking and playgrounds and interpretative programs from the park naturalist.
On the banks of Lake Dardanelle, is Lake Dardanelle State Park. It has campgrounds, cabins, playground, gift shop, and swim area. It is minutes from shopping, dining and evening entertainment in Russellville.
VILLAGE CREEK STATE PARK
For great fishing and family recreation, Village Creek State Park is one of the greatest overlooked treasures in Arkansas.
It sits atop Crowley's Ridge, an ancient loess formation that rises above the Mississippi River Delta.
Avid bass anglers are well familiar with lakes Austell and Dunn — two of our best trophy bass lakes — that are within the park.
Though only 80 acres, Lake Dunn gave up a 16-pound, 5-ounce largemouth in 2012. It would have been a state-record, but the AGFC disqualified the fish when the angler was found to be fishing without a license.
Lake Austell, an 85-acre lake within the park's boundaries, gave up a 15-pound, 12-ounce largemouth a few years ago, and so obviously these lakes have impeccable credentials.
They're basically big ponds so they are easy to fish, especially for bank-bound youngsters. Channel catfish and bluegills are abundant from the bank, but the possibility of catching the bass of a lifetime is ever present.
Along The Way
Lake Village State Park is the second largest state park in Arkansas, and it has everything for a family vacation. It has 96 campsites with water and electricity.
The park has a number of hiking trails. The terrain is gentle, so it's easy walking for youngsters. Horseback riding is available on trails that are open year 'round. A horse camp with stalls is open year 'round, too. For more information, call 870-238-9406.