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Arkansas Rivers and Lakes for Spring Fishing

The lakes and rivers of Arkansas are filled with bass just filled with largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass, just waiting for you to catch

Arkansas Rivers and Lakes for Spring Fishing
Arkansas Rivers and Lakes for Spring Fishing

Arkansas in May is a bass angler’s paradise, with excellent fishing available in hundreds of waters from border to border.

The question many anglers ask is, flowing water or still? Should I fish a river or a lake?

The good news is every region of the state has good river-fishing and lake-fishing opportunities for largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass, or some combination of the three. To guide you to them, here are facts about five dynamite duos where a bass-fishing junket is sure to produce good results this spring.

Northwest Arkansas: Lee Creek Reservoir and Lee Creek

I recently fished for largemouths in 634-acre Lee Creek Reservoir in Crawford County with Brad Wiegmann of Springdale and Lawrence Taylor of Van Buren. Despite spring rain showers, the action started quickly. Wiegmann landed a 6-pound-plus bucketmouth right off the bat, and during the four hours we fished, we all followed up with numerous largemouths in the 1- to 4-pound range.

“I come here often to fish,” Taylor said, “and while the bass action is superb, I often have the whole lake to myself. It’s a great place to fish near one of Arkansas’ major metropolitan areas, yet Lee Creek Reservoir remains relatively unknown outside a group of local anglers.”

Lee Creek, which was dammed to create the reservoir, also serves up great bassing. It forms south of West Fork in Washington County, then flows 60 miles to the southwest and its Arkansas River confluence near Van Buren.

Some largemouths and spotted bass are caught here, but most anglers target the stream’s plentiful smallmouths, either by wade fishing or floating in a canoe. A popular stretch starts at Devil’s Den State Park and ends 18.5 miles downstream at Arkansas Highway 59 between Uniontown and Rudy.

Northeast Arkansas: Lake Austell and Spring River

I started bass fishing in Lake Austell the year it first was stocked (1975) and have fished it often since, catching numerous 6- to 8-pound largemouths and losing others I believe were much larger. Located in Village Creek State Park near Wynne, this 85-acre Crowley’s Ridge impoundment has been delighting anglers with a steady yield of 10-pound-plus Florida-strain largemouths since the 1980s, including a 15-pound, 12-ounce monster caught in 1989. There’s a distinct possibility another bass that size could surface.

Look for Austell lunkers hiding around stumps, beaver lodges and fallen timber in the cove running north from the swimming beach. This arm has produced several of the lake’s largest bass. Also productive are shallow, timbered flats adjacent the creek channel running through Austell’s southwest arm, two deep wooded coves on the lake’s south side, and around logs and brush adjacent the riprapped dam.

For top-notch smallmouth action in this region, head for the Spring River near Mammoth Spring. This stream is best known for producing giant trout, but downstream waters harbor scads of hefty “bronzebacks.” Anglers with canoes can put in at Many Islands Camp west of U.S. 63 between Hardy and Mammoth Spring (Fulton County) and float eight miles to Hardy Beach, a public park below the U.S. 62-167 bridge, to sample the best action.

Southwest Arkansas: Lake Ouachita and the Upper Ouachita River

Forty-thousand-acre Lake Ouachita west of Hot Springs is a favorite of thousands of bass anglers. It’s among the few Arkansas waters with healthy populations of all three black bass – largemouths, smallmouths and spots. It’s surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, which makes it one of the Natural State’s most scenic bassing lakes, and trophy-class bass are common.

It’s not unusual to catch a 7- or 8-pound largemouth, and bigger ones sometimes are boated. Big smallmouths are present, but hard to come by. Yet Lake Ouachita has lots of spotted bass to 4 pounds that savvy anglers often catch.

For excellent May float fishing, try the upper Ouachita River above Lake Ouachita. During the decades I’ve fished there, I’ve caught hundreds of smallmouth bass up to 5 and 6 pounds, with many 20- to 30-fish days.

The stretch I float most often extends from Oden to the Rocky Shoals campground. Smallmouth fishing is excellent, but put in early and take out late to get the most from this scenic 10-mile float. The put-in point is the Arkansas Highway 379 bridge just south of Oden in Montgomery County. The campground take-out is at the U.S. Highway 270 crossing.

Southeast Arkansas: Lake Chicot and Arkansas River

Southeast Arkansas doesn’t offer smallmouth fishing, but many lakes and rivers in this region serve up blue-ribbon action for largemouths and/or spotted bass. One of the best for largemouths is 5,300-acre Lake Chicot at Lake Village, and May is a great time for catching these hard hitters. Most will be small, but there will be enough 5- to 8-pounders pulled aboard to keep things exciting.

The lower Arkansas River also attracts many bass anglers to this quadrant of the state, with many heading straight for 10,600-acre Pool 2 upstream from Dam 2 north of Dumas. This pool regularly produces 8-pound-plus lunkers, particularly in river-connected lakes like Coal Pile, Moore Bayou and Merrisach.

Coal Pile is on the right bank of the river (heading downstream) at about Mile 23. This area offers ideal bass habitat, with plenty of log jams, flooded cypress, rocks, channels and flats to fish.

Moore Bayou is three more miles downriver on the opposite side. Flooded timber is abundant, and anglers who like fishing shallow water will find it here.

Merrisach Lake, just above Lock No. 2, is on the Arkansas Post Canal, which leads out from Moore Bayou. Like Coal Pile and Moore Bayou, it is shallow with heavy cover. And like its sister waters, it often produces giant bass.

Central Arkansas: Lake Maumelle and Saline River

For top-notch May bassing in central Arkansas, 8,900-acre Lake Maumelle is hard to beat. You can target both largemouth and spotted bass, eight miles west of Little Rock off Arkansas Highway 10. Both species are abundant and reach hefty sizes.

Many largemouths are still spawning in early May, but the clarity of the water pushes many to spawning areas away from shore in deeper water. Many are caught on deep-diving crankbaits, spinners and jig/pork frog combinations worked around rocky points, stumps and shoreline rubble.

Maumelle’s spotted bass are typically found around underwater structure like stream channels, rock humps, points and piles of gravelly rubble. You can’t beat live crawfish for bait, but the jig-n-pig and other deep-working crawfish imitations are reliable as well.

Want smallmouths? On the Saline River in Saline County, I’ve had great success catching them in May. Several stretches offer good bronzeback fishing, but the best for a one-day float is from Benton’s Lyle Park (on Arkansas Highway 5 at the north edge of town) to the Interstate 30 access (off the eastbound access road at Exit 116). Using enticements such as small jig/spinner combos and tiny crawfish crankbaits, you can expect to catch not only smallmouths, but some nice spotted bass, too.

Fishing regulations differ considerably on the waters I’ve described, so be sure to study the current Game and Fish Commission fishing regulations guide prior to your trip. Visit, where you’ll also find additional fishing information and maps.

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