February 03, 2011
There are an amazing number of fish and fishing locations around our state. Here are some of the ones that deserve your attention this year.
Before Arkansas became the Natural State in the 1980s, we called it The Land of Opportunity. That moniker perfectly describes this year's outlook for fishing in the Ozarks, the Delta and everywhere in between. Following are prime fishing trips for each month that we hope will inspire you to enjoy our incredible fishing opportunities throughout the year.
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The Kings River in northwest Arkansas doesn't get much press or fishing pressure, but it's one of our best (and most beautiful) smallmouth bass destinations. Winter is the season for big fish, few boats and bald eagles soaring overhead.
The Kings River flows north for 90 miles from the Boston Mountains (Madison County) into Table Rock Lake. If you're serious about big fish, focus on the 12-mile trophy zone from Trigger Gap (Carroll County) to the U.S. Route 62 bridge, where few anglers exercise their right to keep one fish per day over 18 inches. When the Grandview gauge hits 3 feet, the river is perfect for paddling and fishing. (See www.usgs.gov and click on Arkansas for statewide gauges.)
Winter fishing requires patience. Bronzebacks feed in cold weather, but they're not in the mood to play chase. Jigs dressed with plastic grubs are local favorites; cast into holes and let them sit. And sit some more. Nudge them a time or two and don't let a soft take fool you; 20-inch smallies can nibble gently before exploding into a tail-walking battle when you set the hook!
White Oak Lake
We like the fertile, shallow lakes of south Arkansas, where the water (and a crappie's urge to spawn) heat up early in the year, and White Oak Lake in Ouachita and Nevada counties has produced good numbers of crappie, and more than its share of barn-door specimens for decades. This year should be no exception, and we hear the Florida bass are thriving there, too.
Access the 1,645-acre lower lake (north of State Route 387) from White Oak Lake State Park or ramps off State Route 24 to the north. Public access to the 1,031-acre upper lake is off Highway 387 and County Road 306. Move from spot to spot quietly and quickly until you find fish. A teammate will help you fish jigs of different colors (or minnows) at various depths and distances from cover until you find the right combination. Then slow down and probe every nook that matches your pattern. More often than not, reliable ol' White Oak will reward your patience with the makings of a memorable fish fry.
After years of intensive stocking and projects to designed to restore backwater spawning areas, Arkansas River largemouth bass have prospered since the lean 1990s. And while you'll find plenty in every pool, we can't ignore two legendary areas -- Lake Dardanelle to the north, and Coal Pile and Pendleton to the southeast.
Dardanelle covers 34,000 acres that most folks access from Dardanelle State Park (on the Pope County side off State Route 326) or from a smaller section of the park across the river in Dardanelle (Yell County) off State Route 22. Passing barges may rock your world, but their wake also dislodges crawfish and baitfish from riprap. Take advantage by casting anything that looks like natural bass food into the sloshing waves.
At the Pendleton access in Desha County, expect to see a new bass tournament facility, and familiar stalwarts such as the Coal Pile and Moore Bayou oxbows in Pool 2 (above Dumas) will continue to spoil fishermen with bruiser bigmouths. Lizards and jigs are the best for sight-fishing to bedding bass; bump crankbaits off submerged cover in deeper water after the spawn.
A look at May, June, July, and August are on page two
Last year we saw more dazzling photos of big smallmouth bass than during the previous five years combined, and Crooked Creek surrendered most of them. It arises south of Harrison (Boone County) and flows westward for more than 50 miles into the White River in southeast Marion County, forming a dream confluence where you might catch 18-inch smallmouths and 5-pound trout on successive casts.
Access is excellent between Pyatt and Yellville, with at least seven public ramps that enable comfortable floats of 10 or fewer miles per day. Good shoreline fishing and both ends of a 3-mile loop of the creek are accessible from the AGFC's education center at Yellville.
Crawfish, minnows and sculpins keep Crooked Creek's bronzebacks fat and sassy, and so any hard or soft baits that imitate them are wise choices. Because the creek has general 14-inch length and two-fish daily limits for smallmouths mixed with 18-inch trophy zones and an immediate-release area near the education center, most anglers simply photograph their smallies and keep panfish or catfish for dinner.
For those with strong hearts and arms to match, 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita in Garland and Montgomery counties is our top pick for catching striped bass up to 50 pounds, and they'll be feeding on the surface during June. Find the bait -- threadfin shad up to 4 inches and gizzard shad that can reach a foot or more -- and hungry stripers will be nearby.
While locations vary day to day, peak feeding periods occur reliably during the first and last two to three hours of daylight. A rainbow-trout-colored C10 Red Fin is the classic Ouachita striper lure. Cast them to the edges of schooling fish, but downsize when the stripers gorge on threadfins. Silver spoons take fish that suspend in deep water over humps or the lake's plentiful treetops.
Stripers often break in the mornings near Brady Mountain Marina on U.S. Route 270 and the Buckville and Iron Fork recreation areas. The original river channel (Little Fir or Highway 27 recreation areas) and South Fork of the river (near Mt. Ida) are also worth exploring.
All our catfish species are on the homely side (at least until they're dressed in a suit of cornmeal with a side of coleslaw), and flatheads may be the most beauty impaired of them all. But they're excellent game fish, routinely reaching double-digit weights (the state record from the Arkansas River weighed 80 pounds) and bearing succulent flesh.
Flatheads, also called Appaloosa catfish for their dappled, camo appearance, thrive in rivers, but you often have to follow the
m into dangerous cover or currents. Instead, we prefer the safe and familiar confines of 6,700-acre Lake Conway (Faulkner County), which has an unrivaled record for producing 60-pounders. Access to Conway and its public landings is off Interstate 40 at Mayflower or from roads off State Route 286.
Flatheads relish live shad or sunfish fished on the bottom. Start in deep holes near feeders, including Gold, Little Cypress, Palarm, Panther and Stone Dam creeks. Cast to rootwads and downed timber with sturdy gear and let the fish swim with the bait. After it pauses to swallow, set the hook and hang on!
Cold water drawn through Norfork Dam doesn't have time to warm much during the North Fork River's five-mile run into the White River, but brown trout fishing will be blazing this month. In August 1988, anglers landed 34- and 38-pound browns within six days of one another.
When the water's high, there's no better place to catch burly browns on 6-inch Smithwick Rogue jerkbaits. Cast black- or blue-backed models to the shore, weedbeds and next to logs while a guide or partner controls the boat, drifting downstream a bit slower than the current. When the water falls, fly anglers wade and cast tiny scuds or Chuck's Emergers, a local pattern, on 6X tippets. For generation information, call (870) 431-5311.
Big browns love crawfish, minnows or sculpins harvested from the river. Bait minnow traps on a quiet shoal the evening before you fish and catch sculpins on spinning gear with No. 16 fly hooks tipped with bits of redworms. Gently lob bait among logs and root wads and into the deepest holes you can find.
Discover best fishing options for September, October, November and December on page three
In September's transition from summer to fall, hybrid striped bass roam Greers Ferry Lake in north-central Arkansas like packs of starving wolves. And when they find prey, acres of water erupt as if churned by a giant eggbeater, producing astonishing topwater action.
Imitate threadfin shad with 1/8- and 1/4-ounce lipless crankbaits and 4-inch poppers and jerkbaits in baitfish colors. For suspended hybrids, count down fast-sinking tailspinners such as a Little George until you make contact. And make sure you adorn jigs with bulky, glittery soft plastics to imitate slow-falling scales from injured shad; they'll trigger reaction strikes. Finally, try in-line spinners up to 1/2-ounce; they're all-purpose lures you can skitter on top, flutter at mid-depths and jug vertically.
Last September, anglers fishing over standing timber frequently reported 100-fish days. Most of Greers Ferry's 40,000 acres are in Cleburne County, which features two dozen accesses. Mill Creek, Cove Creek, Hill Creek and the Devil's Fork areas are traditional hotspots, but canvass any main-lake points with binoculars early or late in the day to find fish.
Blue Mountain Lake
Channel catfish are so widely distributed in Arkansas that we wouldn't be surprised to step on one in a mud puddle. In addition to populating practically every lake, river, creek and pond, they'll eat anything that sticks to a hook and are excellent table fare. During fall foliage time, one of the prettiest places to catch them is on scenic and quiet Blue Mountain Lake in west-central Arkansas.
As a flood control lake on the Petit Jean River, Blue Mountain fluctuates from 3,550 to 11,000 surface-acres, but the lake's plentiful catfish aren't going anywhere, except maybe into your frying pan. The lake straddles the Logan-Yell county line below Mt. Magazine (a 30-minute drive north) and sits between the Ozark and Ouachita national forests. Waveland Park, Lick Creek (Yell County) and Ashley Creek, Hise Hill and Third Bridge recreation areas (Logan County) offer ramps, camping and more.
Autumn colors typically peak there in late October if you can tear yourself away from the catfishing for a driving tour. Check the Web site www.arkansas.com for foliage reports.
Lake Atkins, a 750-acre Pope County reservoir, is the state's northernmost outpost for Florida-strain largemouths, which typically do better in more southerly lakes. However, they've taken root since 2002, providing spectacular action for bucketmouths in the 3- to 6-pound range, with several 10-pounders each year.
Many anglers head straight for the marked brushpiles where the catching can be unbelievable, even when boat after boat proceeds from one to the next. But you'll find plenty of Florida bass in other areas, including the spillway to the east, coves on the north shore and the Horsehead Branch channel to the west. Our best buddy will have to forgive us for sharing his top bait there in recent years: A pumpkin plastic worm on a standup jig.
Public access is good, with seven ramps and two handicapped-accessible fishing piers off State Highway 324 and SH 105. The lake has a good bream population, too, but it's hard to catch them on small artificials because the lake's Florida bass youngsters are so aggressive -- a nice problem to have!
One of our favorite winter fishing strategies has nothing to do with patterning fish. Instead, we pattern hunters and go fishing when the majority of Arkansas sportsmen are in the deer woods or duck blinds, and we expect Horseshoe Lake in east Arkansas to fish well for crappie despite some water-level problems in recent years.
This U-shaped Mississippi River oxbow in southern Crittenden County features stands of ancient cypress trees that attract crappie and other game fish. It's also full of manmade fish attractors, including boat docks, homemade PVC structures, store-bought artificial trees, submerged piles of natural Christmas trees and lengths of bamboo sunk in buckets of hardened concrete. Don't say we didn't warn you; run your boat with caution if the water's low and bring plenty of terminal tackle.
The usual crappie offerings -- minnows and jigs dangled around structure with long poles and light wire hooks you can straighten if you get snagged -- work great there. Access is via private ramps off State Route 147. The lake is 6 miles east of Hughes on State Route 38.
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If you're able to look back at the end of the year and remember a few really good fishing trips, congratulations. You've made the most of our Land of Opportunity!