The Best Of Greers Ferry Bassin'™
September 24, 2010
Greers Ferry offers up a great mixed bag of largemouths, spots and smallmouths that's perfect for the angler who loves anything and everything to do with bass. (April 2007)
Greers Ferry guide Tommy Cauley shows off a largemouth from a recent trip on the lake.
Photo by John Felsher.
Looking somewhat like a lopsided, leaning "M," Greers Ferry Lake dominates the north-central part of Arkansas across parts of Van Buren and Cleburne counties at the edge of the Ozarks near Heber Springs.
Nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains about two hours from Little Rock, Greers Ferry Lake contains populations of every species of game fish available in Arkansas except stream trout. However, the tailrace of the Little Red River, the primary source for Greers Ferry Lake, holds good populations of rainbow, cutthroat, brown and brook trout.
The lake has produced two current state records and one world record. Jerald C. Shaum landed a 27-pound, 5-ounce hybrid striped bass on April 24, 1997. Clark Stevenson caught an 11-pound, 5-ounce lake trout on Dec. 15, 1997. Al Nelson caught the world record walleye, a 22-pound, 11-ounce fish, on March 12, 1982.
"Greer's Ferry is fair for largemouths and occasionally produces a big fish, but it's pretty good for smallmouths and spotted bass," said Carl Perrin, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologist in Mayflower. "It produced a few 14-pound largemouths and at least one 15-pounder that I know about. We stocked Florida bass into the lake years ago. The biggest smallmouth probably weighed about 5 pounds. The biggest spotted bass would be in the 4- to 5-pound range."
Fed by three rivers and numerous creeks, the 40,000-acre lake offers anglers plenty of deep water and about 460 miles of shoreline. Greers Ferry actually resembles two lakes. The deeper lower lake around Heber Springs resembles a huge inverted "V" with plenty of tributaries feeding it. "The Narrows," a river-like channel, connects the upper and lower halves of the lake. The upper lake near Fairfield Bay looks more riverine, with channels cutting through rocky bluffs and hills. In the spring, muddy run-off from numerous tributaries can stain parts of Greers Ferry Lake, especially in the northern half.
"In the past 10 years, the water clarity has gone down hill," said Tommy Cauley of Fish Finder Guide Service in Bee Branch. "It has a great influx of water in the spring that stains the lake. It used to be stained just on the upper lake, but the water is becoming more stained throughout the lake. Stained water is a good thing for fishing. The lake is getting more fertile than it has been and that's good for fish."
Stained water actually helps the largemouth bass fishing on the lake. Bass become spooky in very clear water. While a smallmouth prefers clear water, a largemouth can live comfortably in stained water, holding tight to structure and ambushing any prey that passes too close.
"The largemouth population has come back in recent years while smallmouths have held their ground," Cauley said. "Largemouth bass fishing is getting better. In a tournament, a good five-fish stringer will weigh about 20 pounds. The lunker will be in the 4- to 8-pound range. People occasionally catch 10-pounders. I caught a 10.4-pounder on a Wiggle Wart in the spring of 2005. The lake still has some Florida bass from stockings years ago."
A bass can see much better underwater than a human, so what looks nearly opaque to an angler might provide enough visibility for a bass to feed. Still, throw baits that thump and rattle in stained water. A spinnerbait with a large Colorado blade or a rattling crankbait might do the trick.
"Fish adapt to muddy water," said Bill Dance, a legendary angler and host of his own television show. "They become object oriented in a muddy environment. In stained water, I fish single-bladed black spinnerbaits and wobbling crankbaits. Black holds its identity better than any other color in muddy water. Make repeated casts to the same spot in muddy water. The fish hears the sound and starts looking for the source of that sound. If I throw the bait once and pull it out of there, the fish can't find it. If I throw it back to the same spot again and again, the fish can home in on the source of the sound."
Suspended particles in water absorb and radiate solar heat, making dark waters warm faster. In addition, warm southern winds usually blow toward the northern shorelines of lakes. Therefore, largemouth bass generally begin spawning first in the northern half of Greers Ferry Lake each spring. As the season progresses, the spawning season moves southward to the deeper, clearer waters. The spawn generally ends in Peter Creek at the southern end of the lake near the dam at Heber Springs. Even in a particular area, bass don't all spawn at the same time.
"In April, the lake has some spawning bass, some post-spawn and some pre-spawn bass," Cauley explained. "Some fish will be deep and some will be shallow. Fish hit a little bit of everything. On the northern end, I fish with Rat-L Traps, jerkbaits, jigs or Carolina rigs in the spring. Bass also hit topwaters, crankbaits and spinnerbaits."
For spring largemouths, fish in Five Fingers, Devil's Fork and Salt creeks or in any of the lower creeks including Vick's Creek, Big Peter and Little Peter Creek. Also, throw a few lures into any main lake pocket on the south end of the lake south of The Narrows.
In the spring, bass use these creek channels for navigation just as people use highways. They move up the channels to the spawning flats and then use them to return to deeper water. Depending upon the season, people can intercept the fish as they stage before spawning or return to the depths after the spawn ends.
"In the spring, people need to keep up with the bass as they transition from different areas and patterns," said Mike Wurm, professional bass angler from Hot Springs. "It's almost a day-to-day situation. Bass go between the spawning flats and deep cover. Fish the transition areas where the water goes from deep to shallow. When bass start leaving the spawning areas, creek channel bends are a good place to intercept them. In the spring, the ends of the bends where the channel goes into the bend and out of the bend are always more productive than the middle of the bend."
Although the lake contains some stumps and standing timber, rocks form the dominant largemouth cover. People often fish rock piles off the ends of points, especially where a point juts into a creek channel with good access to both deep and shallow water.
"Any point with shallow sloping water on one side that drops rapidly into deep water o
n the other side, is a high percentage point," Dance said. "Fish instinctively use channels to migrate to feeding areas and spawning areas. A channel point combines an underwater highway that draws fish and an extended point that offers fish access to deep or shallow water."
Sometimes, fish hold on the shallow side of a point. At other times, bass prefer the deep water, perhaps 20 to 30 feet. Cauley recommends starting shallow in the spring and then working out toward deeper water. Often, people make the mistake of only fishing a point from the deep side, throwing toward shallow water. Pulled back toward the boat floating in deep water, lures only pass through the strike zone briefly. However, if people position their boats close to points, throw toward the deeper slopes and work baits back toward the shallows, they might find better action as their lures remain in the strike zone longer.
"Establishing the right depth is the key to fishing points," Dance said. "People could fish the best lures in the world, but if they fish in the wrong place, they won't catch anything. A bad lure fished at the right depth will catch some fish. When I approach a point, I use a series of fan casts to establish a depth. A point with a fast drop is always going to be the most productive point."
In the spring, bass feed heavily upon crawfish, which provide an excellent source of protein for spawners. Therefore, throw baits that resemble crawfish around deep points. Stick to browns, reds and oranges. Later, bass switch to bream and shad. Throw chartreuse and blue in late spring and shad colors in the summer.
Greer's Ferry contains very little grass. The state began an effort to increase the amount of grass in the lake, Perrin said. Biologists planted vegetation on some muddy flats and surrounded these patches with cages to things from eating the grass. If the grass spreads, it could produce better spawns and enhance fishing in the future.