By AY Staff // Photos courtesy of The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission & AY Readers
If the last bass you saw was named Billy and was hanging on the wall at Flying Fish, it might be time to get out and join the tens of thousands of Arkansans who have found their way back to fishing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the summer and (probably) fall events and activities that normally entertain us are postponed or canceled altogether. Therefore, it is a great time to get back to some of those basic outdoor family activities like hiking, biking and fishing.
You don’t have to own a Ranger bass boat or fish in tournaments to find success bass fishing in Arkansas. It is an activity the whole family can enjoy together at countless public fishing spots around the state. The Natural State has over 96,000 miles of rivers and streams, 600,000 acres of lakes and dozens of community fishing sites for public fishing and water recreation. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), in conjunction with its conservation partners, helps to manage fisheries habitat, improve water quality, enhance access and even stock some locations to ensure that you have the opportunity to enjoy a great day out on the water.
AY About You recently sat down with AGFC staff members to talk fish and give you the inside “lure” for getting out and catching some bass.
AY: What are some of the best places around the state for bass fishing?
AGFC: The Natural State is blessed to have a multitude of great bass fishing destinations that cover every corner of the state. Whether you are fishing from the bank or the boat, or targeting largemouth or smallmouth, these are some great fisheries you don’t want to miss.
• Northwest Arkansas: Beaver Lake (449 miles of shoreline near Rogers) or
SWEPCO Lake (500-acre reservoir near Siloam Springs)
• North-Central Arkansas: Bull Shoals Lake (more than 45,000 acres near
• Northeast Arkansas: St. Francis River (426-mile river east of Jonesboro)
• West-Central Arkansas: Lake Dardanelle (34,300-acre reservoir near
Russellville) or Lake Atkins (752-acre lake near Russellville)
• South-Central Arkansas: Lake Earling (7,100-acre lake near Springhill, LA),
Lake Columbia (2,950-acre reservoir near Magnolia) or Lower White Oak
Lake (1,645-acre lake near Camden)
• Southwest Arkansas: Lake Millwood (29,000-acre lake near Texarkana)
• Southeast Arkansas: Lake Chicot (22-miles long near Lake Village)
• Central: Lake Maumelle (8,900-acre lake near Little Rock)
• East: Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge Lakes (over 160,000-acre refuge across four east Arkansas counties).
• Statewide: Arkansas River
AY: What is the difference in fishing from the bank or a boat?
AGFC: Bank anglers are not at as much of a disadvantage as one might think. The best strategy is to parallel the bank. Fish will generally hold tight to the bank line, so fishing in this manner will increase the time the bait is in the strike zone and cover more productive water. Bank angling also allows you to work an area more precisely than if you were in a boat zooming around to different locations. When bank fishing, walk softly as to not to create loud noises and vibrations that could cause the fish to scatter.
Boat anglers have the advantage of going to more spots in a shorter amount of time and using electronics to find structure and fish, but boat anglers also have the burden of boat payments, extra fuel, electronics and many other expenses.
AY: How do I fish successfully from the bank?
AGFC: One of the best ways to find success fishing for bass from dry land is to fish structure just off the bank. You can fish brush piles, around docks, piers, trees and other artificial structures. Fish relate to structure for many reasons, and anglers can use this to their advantage. Fish will use structure to hide and ambush prey, as well as to be able to “relax” and not use too much energy in situations of high flow.
If fishing in a current, fish will tend to be positioned downstream of an object, whether it is a boulder, stump, or any other object. This will allow them to ambush their prey as it washes through, conserving energy. I like to approach from downstream, if possible, and cast upstream, bringing my lure by the structure. This approach is more natural than the bait going against the current. Jigs and crankbaits are good lure choices in this situation, whether it is a small stream or large river.
In situations where the structure is not visible, such as a brush pile, there are a few options for fishing. One is to fish vertically over the structure using a drop shot rig, dropping the bait into the brush pile. Or, fishing all angles with a Texas-rigged worm or bouncing large crankbaits off the brush.
AY: Do you fish for bass the same way year-round?
AGFC: Fish behavior varies from season to season based on external factors and their lifecycle. Anglers will find more success if they learn to adjust their tactics to the season. Below are some tips and tricks for fishing in the summer and fall.
Summer: The heat can make it tough, but it can also offer some of the best bites of the year. Fish will be dispersed, but you can pinpoint fish early and late in the day in the shallow water with overhead structure like lily pads. During this time of year, many anglers prefer targeting bass with topwater lures such as frogs, poppers and buzz baits in the covered shallows, or to go deeper during the hotter parts of the day with a jig or Texas-rigged worm. To increase the number of bites, it can help to downsize your bait. Focus near current if there is any. This area will have increased oxygen, creating a food chain.
Fall: During this time of year, anglers should follow the food to the fish. Bass are focusing on feeding and putting on weight for the winter. Look for a lot of bug activity on the service or small baitfish, like schools of shad, breaking the service. You can see many anglers using shad imitation baits and fast presentation baits like square bill crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic swimbaits and topwater lures. Look for fish schooling at the surface or use electronics to find schools of fish at lower depths. The deeper fish will generally be near drop off, humps, creek channels or points.
AY: What are some of the major ways the AGFC is managing for black bass today?
AGFC: Roughly four out of 10 bass in Arkansas will die this year, but there’s no need to panic; that mortality rate is pretty common, and some mortality through harvest is actually encouraged to ensure a healthy fishery. That is why the work of our AGFC fisheries team is crucial to maintaining the habitat conditions that black bass need to thrive. Annually, fisheries biologists will conduct fish samples at most U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and AGFC lakes for research. Based on these assessments, these biologists may prescribe the stocking of forage to increase food supply, a change to fish regulations or a range of habitat improvement projects.
Each year, the AGFC fisheries team will conduct several major habitat rehabilitation projects with numerous smaller projects per region. The fisheries team has been focusing on a proven emphasis of strong forage base, habitat improvements that support forage increases, threadfin shad stocking and larger infrastructure reinvestments that have long-term returns, like the Lake Monticello and Lake Poinsett projects.