Seven Great Arkansas Fishing Destinations
Summer is the perfect time for a road trip to some of the state's best fisheries.
Vacation time is here in the Natural State, and it’s a great time to look at our favorite fishing destinations.
Tucked in the middle of the Little Rock/North Little Rock suburb of Maumelle is Lake Willastein, a neat fishery that is largely unknown outside the community.
Fishing pressure is light for largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish. Best of all, the entire lake has public bank access to wide swaths of water willow and other aquatic grasses.
An asphalt walking trail surrounds the lake, which is in two segments. The bridge separating the lake segments is a pinch point for fish and is popular for fishing, as is the bridge on the northwest side.
Bluegills will spawn during the full moon. You can catch them from the bank with crickets or nightcrawlers dangled under bobbers on the outside edges the vegetation.
Lake Willastein is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Gasoline motors are limited to no more than 9.9 horsepower making it ideal for kayak fishing. A kayak launch ramp is near the park entrance next to a fishing pier. A conventional boat access is on the upper portion of the lake near the picnic area and playground.
If You Go
Hatchet Jack’s Sport Shop, 5827 Crystal Hill Rd. B, in Little Rock is near Maumelle and contains a vast assortment of rods, reels, lures and live bait.
A fine Hot Springs fishery, Lake Hamilton supports largemouth and Kentucky bass; striped bass, white bass and striped bass/white bass hybrids. Catfish and, of course, bluegill and redear sunfish can also be found there.
Most of the shoreline is privately owned, but public bank fishing is available on the southeast side at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fish hatchery. Another public access is below Blakely Dam, which separates Lake Hamilton from Lake Ouachita, and also in the Lake Hamilton tailwater below Carpenter Dam near the fish Hatchery.
The fish hatchery also has a large fishing pier that’s “sweetened” with brushpiles that provide habitat primarily for bluegill and crappie. Largemouth bass are frequently caught there, as well.
During full-moon periods, bream spawn in the areas bankside cover. You can catch bluegills with live crickets and worms under bobbers or by retrieving tiny plastic tubes and swimbaits over the tops of the brush with 1/32-ounce jigs.
Below Blakely and Carpenter dams, the Game and Fish Commission stocks rainbow trout in the fall. In May, trout can still be caught from the bank with prepared baits like Gulp! Alive! and Powerbait, and jigs tipped with waxworms.
Stripers inhabit these waters, too. A Long A Bomber stickbait in rainbow trout pattern might hook a striper weighing as much as 50 pounds.
If You Go
Trader Bill’s, a prominent sporting goods store about a mile from Lake Hamilton, has a vast array of tackle and lures. Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters is the authority for kayak fishing in the area.
GREERS FERRY LAKE
Nested in the Ozark foothills near Heber Springs, Greers Ferry supports largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass, as well as white bass, catfish and bream. It also holds the world record for walleye and hybrid stripers, and it remains one of our most popular hybrid fisheries.
Greers Ferry Lake is a bank fisherman’s dream. It has 10 campgrounds and day-use areas that offer unrestricted bank fishing access and boating access. At Mill Creek, Devil’s Fork and Choctaw recreation areas, you can wade fish the flats.
You can catch almost all of the lake’s gamefish species from the shore, especially at night when bass, walleyes and even hybrids move close to the bank to feed on crustaceans and baitfish.
On the other side of Greers Ferry Dam is a world-renowned trout fishery that held the world record for brown trout (40 pounds, 4 ounces) for more than 20 years. Bank fishing for trout is possible throughout John F. Kennedy Park in low water, and a walk through the trout hatchery alone is worth a visit.
If You Go
Golden Outdoors at 1520 Bypass Rd., is the major tackle supplier in Heber Springs. Fly fishermen can obtain gear, fishing trips and hire a fishing guide for the Little Red River at The Ozark Angler, located in Heber Springs at 659 Wilburn Rd.
The western most of the three major White River reservoirs, Beaver Lake is the center of outdoor recreation in the northwest Arkansas “metroplex” of Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville.
Like Greers Ferry Lake, Beaver is a Corps of Engineers impoundment that features 11 developed recreation areas. All offer outstanding bank-fishing access and boating access.
Hickory Creek Recreation Area is on a large cove behind Hickory Creek Marina, and the bass fishing there at night around the buckbrush is superb this time of year. With a Cotton Cordell C.C. Shad –– a tiny lipless crankbait –– I frequently catch largemouth up to about 3 pounds, which gives an ultralight spinning rig all it can handle.
In the middle and lower sections of the lake –– Prairie Creek, Starkey and Rocky Branch Recreation areas –– chances are good for hooking striped bass and hybrids.
Full-moon periods in April, May and June are prime times for catching bluegills in the shallows. Indian Creek is near Beaver Dam. In May, thousands of bluegill beds make the bottom of Indian Creek look like a moonscape. Again, Hickory Creek and War Eagle recreation areas are also prime spots for panfishing.
On the other side of Beaver Dam is a good trout fishery in the Beaver tailwater. Wade-fishing is good when the hydropower generators are idle, and there’s good bank fishing from the dam to Parker Bend.
Bentonville, the glittering home of Walmart, has the world-acclaimed Crystal Bridges art museum. You can also catch an Arkansas Razorbacks baseball game at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks always have a few future Major Leaguers on the roster.
If You Go
Visit the ruins of Monte Ne, a resort that was inundated when Beaver Lake was flooded in the 1960s. In low water, the ruins are accessible from Monte Ne Recreation Area.
BULL SHOALS LAKE
Bull Shoals Lake, the largest and easternmost of the White River impoundments, has everything Beaver Lake has, and more of it. Its walleye fishery is the best in the state, but it also boasts giant white bass, hybrids and stripers. It also has some of the state’s biggest smallmouths.
The Bull Shoals tailwater is the world’s most famous trophy trout fishery, and now, before the crowds arrive, is the best time to experience it.
Bull Shoals has seven recreation areas. Two are in Missouri, but you can buy a Border Lakes permit and fish the lake in both states without having to buy a separate Missouri non-resident fishing license. The recreation areas are large and offer spacious bank fishing access.
In late spring and early summer, the lake level is likely at capacity, which means large amounts of bankside brush will be inundated. Bass and panfish concentrate in this cover. You can catch bass with spinnerbaits, swim jigs and swimbaits with concealed hooks. Panfish will take live crickets and worms under bobbers, as well as Roadrunners and 1/16-ounce marabou jigs retrieved through gaps in the cover.
I’ve caught a lot of crappie by anchoring a boat outside the cover and fishing light marabou jigs under balsa slip bobbers.
If You Go
Experience local artwork and maybe get some fly fishing tips at Duane Hada’s Rivertown Gallery. Hada, a legendary fly fisherman, is an accomplished talented artist who specializes in plein air painting.
Between Arkadelphia and Bismarck is DeGray Lake, a smaller version of Lake Ouachita.
In May and June, DeGray’s hybrid fishing is outstanding, especially in the mornings when big schools chase shad on the surface.
DeGray also supports an excellent crappie fishery that is overlooked by anglers that gravitate to the better known crappie haunts at lakes Ouachita and Greeson.
Crappie anglers have sunk brushpiles all over DeGray. You can find them with an electronic graph and catch a limit of slabs before noon, or you can charter a crappie trip with Family Fishing Trips (www.familyfishingtrips.com). Its guides have created many of the lake’s brushpiles and know which ones are hot at any one time. I have fished with Daryl Morris and Tammy Richardson, and I recommend them enthusiastically.
Like other Corps of Engineers lakes, DeGray’s water level is usually pretty high in the late spring, so fish will be hunkered in shoreline buckbrush and other cover. That means you can catch largemouth bass, crappie and panfish from the bank at nine Corps of Engineers campgrounds.
As at other lakes, the campgrounds also have dedicated swimming areas.
If You Go
DeGray Lake State Park is another option that has an award-winning golf course and lodge with an award-winning restaurant.
LAKE FORT SMITH
One of the state’s great unknown fisheries, Lake Fort Smith is a 1,490-acre reservoir near Mountainburg whose size nearly doubled when the dam was raised to connect Lake Fort Smith with adjacent Lake Shepherd Springs.
The two lakes were excellent bass, crappie and panfish hotspots when they were separate, but they are even better combined. That’s because the water level was raised to combine the lakes, which inundated a lot of new cover and revitalized the food chain.
Frog Bayou feeds the upper end of the lake. In May, giant crappie concentrate along the channel, while chunky largemouth and spotted bass are near the bluff and boulder areas.
The old dam that once separated the two lakes remains. It was breached and is now underwater, but it attracts a lot of fish, as well.
Lake Fort Smith, which has cabins for visitors that don’t want to camp, offers generous bank fishing at the camping area, day use area and boat dock area. The habitat is steep and rocky, but in June you can catch bream in the boat dock cove by fishing live crawdads, crickets or worms on bottom rigs with a 1/4-ounce weight and a dropper line for the bait.
In low-light hours, you can catch bass prowling the shoreline with jerkbaits and swimbaits.
If You Go
Fort Smith is a short drive to the southwest. There you can find a restaurant for every taste, along with movie theaters, nightclubs and live music. The Old Fort Days Rodeo is a major rodeo with events that take place throughout May. Casinos are across the Arkansas River in Roland, Okla.
The weather will be hot soon, so enjoy Arkansas at its best right now.