Here are some places to fish in our state where the scenery is almost as good as the bass action!
Arkansas is home to many scenic rivers, such as the Buffalo National River, shown here. Anglers can float, enjoy the scenery and catch bass, as Jim Spencer has done. He took this smallmouth on a stretch of the Ouachita near Oden. Photo by Keith Sutton.
It was noon when we pushed our boats from a gravel bar and began Day One of a two-day float down north Arkansas' Buffalo National River. We quickly became absorbed in the scenic Ozark Mountains landscape surrounding the river.
Cold, crystalline water carried us through gorgeous passes cuffed with green hardwoods. Waterfalls cascaded down tall riverside bluffs. Wildlife was everywhere, including elk, deer and colorful wood ducks. As we paddled farther from civilization, we became enveloped in the stark, elemental beauty of this incredibly beautiful mountain realm.
Casting topwater plugs and jigs in pools and riffles, we caught dozens of smallmouth bass. They lurked behind every rock, small fish mostly, 1 to 2 pounds, but occasionally our poles bent against the weight of a 4- or 5-pound bronzeback.
In late afternoon, we pitched a tent on a gravel bar and built a campfire to cook some of our catch. As I smelled the aroma of those fish sizzling in the skillet, I found myself extremely content to be sitting comfortably in the backcountry surrounded by stunning scenery. It was a fun outing I knew I would not forget.
If you get cabin fever this month, perhaps you'll want to plan your own spring bass fishing excursion on one of the Natural State's many beautiful lakes or streams. If so, consider these destinations where fishing is great and the panoramas are breathtakingly beautiful.
BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
The Buffalo River tops the list of Arkansas' best known smallmouth streams. Folks from throughout the country come to float this scenic stream, which was designated by Congress as the country's first national river in 1972. There's no better place to enjoy a peaceful, relaxing float through gorgeous canyons with sky-high bluffs.
The Buffalo is a model smallmouth stream, with clear, fast water and a gravel bottom and boulder beds smallmouths love. Most bass are welterweights, but there are plenty to be caught, and there's always the chance of boating a much larger trophy fish.
A good all-round lure choice is a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce brown leadhead jig dressed with a No. 11 pork frog. Use your rod tip to control lure depth and action, bouncing the bait along the bottom like a scurrying crayfish. Other productive lures include crankbaits fashioned to imitate crayfish and minnows, the smallmouth's favorite prey, and small soft-plastic jerkbaits weighted for an underwater retrieve. Don't overlook live baits, either. Live crayfish, minnows and nightcrawlers, available at many local bait shops, are extremely effective smallmouth baits.
The Buffalo stretches over 150 miles of scenic mountain territory from near Boxley in Newton County to its junction with the White River near Buffalo City in Baxter County. Some of the many float stretches to check out are the Ponca to Highway 7 float (25 miles with access points and campgrounds at Steel Creek, Kyles Landing, Erbie and Ozark); the stretch between Arkansas Highways 7 and 123 (10 miles with accesses and campsites at Carver and Hasty); the float from Arkansas 123 to U.S. Highway 65 (32 miles with access/camping areas at Mount Hershey and Woolum); the U.S. 65 to Buffalo Point float (27 miles with access points at Gilbert, Maumee North, Maumee South and Arkansas Highway 14); and the final stretch from Buffalo Point to Buffalo City (30 miles with a single take-out point at Rush).
For more information, phone Buffalo National River headquarters in Harrison at 870-741-5443 or log on to www.nps.gov/buff/.
UPPER OUACHITA RIVER
A float on the Ouachita River above the community of Sims in west Arkansas' Montgomery County offers chances at high-jumping smallmouths in a storybook landscape of crystalline water, intriguing rock formations and canopies of overhanging trees. The dogwoods and redbuds that bloom in spring make for an unmatched setting of beauty. And with only a sparse human population along its banks, the Ouachita offers a wonderful sense of solitude for the float fisherman.
Nearly 70 miles of the river above Lake Ouachita can be floated when water conditions are right. For smallmouths, I particularly like the 10-mile trip from the Highway 379 bridge just south of Oden to the Rocky Shoals campground at the U.S. Highway 270 crossing. That stretch features incredible scenery, with lots of long, boulder-strewn pools and sparkling shoals to tempt the smallmouth angler. Three- to 4-pound bronzebacks aren't uncommon, and during a good day of fishing, it's not unusual to catch and release dozens of smaller bass.
Most local smallmouth anglers will tell you live crayfish and minnows will outperform all other enticements. But any lure designed to imitate the smallmouth's natural prey will usually prove productive. Plastic worms and salamanders, crayfish- and minnow-imitation crankbaits, and the pork-frog/jig combination are all worth trying.
A major draw of the Ouachita River is its location within the Ouachita National Forest. The Forest Service provides campgrounds, picnic areas and access points all along the river. A detailed river map is available free, along with a list of local canoe rental and shuttle services, in the Outdoors section (click Canoeing/Rafting/Kayaking) at www.arkansas.com.
Where the upper Ouachita ends, Lake Ouachita begins. 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. Recent stockings of smallmouth bass have made that species available on a limited basis, too.Numerous trophy-class largemouths are taken there every spring. There's a distinct possibility of catching a 7- or 8-pounder, and while larger bass aren't common, they do surface occasionally.
Most Ouachita anglers begin their search for spring largemouths "in the moss" in 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 moss to nail it.
Ouachita's spotted bass usually are deepe
r than largemouths in spring, holding on rocky ledges, points and humps as deep as 40 feet. Catch them by dropping live crawfish into their feeding zone. Many lures entice "Kentuckies" as well, including crawfish crankbaits, jig-and-pigs and small spoons.
Productive spring fishing areas include the Joplin, Tompkins Bend, Crystal Springs, Mountain Harbor and Big Fir public use areas on the south side, and Irons Fork, Avant and Buckville on the north shore. For additional information, visit the Web site of Mountain Harbor Resort (www.mtharbor.com) or contact the Mount Ida Chamber of Commerce (870-867-2723, www.mtidachamber.com).
Completed in 1951, Narrows Dam near Murfreesboro backed the waters of 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 can 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 long, 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 there. One I highly recommend is Jerry Blake at Action Fishing Trips (501-844-9028, www.actionfishingtrips.com). For additional information about the lake, visit www.mvk.usace.army.mil/Lakes/lakegreeson/ or contact the folks at Self Creek Marina, 870-398-5000 or www.selfcreek.com.
LAKES DUNN AND AUSTELL
On the other side of the state, just west of the Memphis metropolis, there's another retreat where you can enjoy laid-back fishing for lunker largemouths this season. Village Creek State Park near Wynne includes two fine bass lakes, Dunn and Austell. Those lakes have produced some of the state's all-time biggest bucketmouths, including dozens of bass in the 10- to 13-pound range, and one lunker just shy of 16 pounds. Superb fishing is just one facet of Village Creek, however. The park is nestled in the beautiful hogbacks and hollows of Crowley's Ridge, a landscape so peaceful and pretty you'll find it difficult to keep focused on the fishing.
These two upland waters are small, with Dunn covering 65 acres and Austell 85. Despite the lakes' diminutive sizes, however, local anglers catch lots of 6- to 9-pound bass during spring. Reports of 10-pound-plus lunkers still surface now and then, despite the fact that anglers who catch fish that size would prefer the world not know about the fabulous fishing at these honeyholes.
On Dunn, look for fish around brushy points and in coves with dense stands of dead timber. The arm of the lake running north from the boat dock can be productive, but most anglers have their best luck fishing the small, heavily timbered fingers jutting into the eastern shore, across the lake from the swimming beach. On breezy days, concentrate your efforts around the numerous points in that area, where shad and other baitfish stack up and attract feeding bass.
Look for Austell lunkers hiding around stumps, beaver lodges and fallen timber in the lake arm running north from the swimming beach. That 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 rip-rapped dam.
Top spring lures are weedless offerings because the fish tend to hole up in the tightest cover they can find. Try plastic lizards or worms, jig-and-pork combinations and slow-moving spinnerbaits.
Village Creek State Park lies between Wynne and Forrest City on State Highway 284. Signs on park roads direct you to the lakes, each of which has a concrete boat ramp and easily accessible bank-fishing areas. Gasoline motors are prohibited, but an electric trolling motor is ample to get you around. The lakes are open year 'round from daylight until 10 p.m. Phone the park at 870-238-9406, or visit www.arkansas.com, for more information.
LOWER ARKANSAS RIVER
Most people wouldn't think of adding the Arkansas River to lists of the Natural State's most scenic fishing spots. As the river nears the end of its 1,460-mile journey, however, it passes through a beautiful world of cypress lakes, marshes and quaint riverside towns that help make that portion of the Arkansas one of the state's favorite destinations for bass fishermen.
When it's trophy largemouths they're after, most anglers visit 10,600-acre Pool 2, also known as the Wilbur Mills Pool, upstream from Dam 2 north of Dumas. This pool regularly produces 10-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 logjams, flooded cypress, rocks, channels and flats to fish. Moore Bayou is 3 more miles downriver on the opposite side. Flooded timber is abundant, and anglers who like fishing shallow water will find it. 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.
Go to www.recreation.gov and use the Recreation Search to look for Pool 2 in Arkansas.