LITTLE ROCK BELLA VISTA - Rain falling Sunday morning was neither a surprise nor a deterrent for a bass fishing trip on Loch Lomond with Aaron Jolliff of Rogers.
This rain-drenched spring, if one hasn't been fishing wet, he probably hasn't been fishing.
Certainly, that has been the case with droves of anglers who have stayed away from Beaver Lake through three flood surges and persistently high and muddy waters.
The Bella Vista lakes, on the other hand, have been looking good and fishing strong all along, thanks to spillways that have allowed runoff to pass through, leaving the waters mostly clear andcompletely fishable.
Loch Lomond in particular has had one of its best springs in years for bass action, especially for lunker largemouths.
It started on a rainy Tuesday afternoon when a fishing friend had the trip of a lifetime. Wishing to remain anonymous because he had sneaked off from work, he found himself alone on the lake in the driving rain.
He also found the largemouths stacked where water was running into the lake from small drainages. Casting a spinner bait, he caught about threedozen bass, many weighing 3-5 pounds along with lunkers of 7 pounds, 10 ounces and 8-6.
"If I had been fishing a tournament, I could have had five bass weighing more than 30 pounds," he bragged.
That Tuesday just happened to mark the beginning of the torrential deluge that would produce Northwest Arkansas' worst flooding since 1982.
It wasn't long before Jolliff was hearing regular reports about Loch Lomond lunkers from customers at his Hook, Line & Sinker tackle store in Rogers. Naturally, he soon joined the action.
The fishing remained good through the second flood of April 10.
"It's still awesome," Jolliff reported a couple of weeks ago.
Although the big-bass bite had slowed a bit by last week, he was still encouraged about our chances when we set out Sunday. If anything, he thought the cool, cloudy and breezy conditions would help more than hurt.
Fishing from the bow of his new20-foot Skeeter bass boat, Jolliff had at hand six rods and reels rigged with different lures to test a variety of fishing patterns.
Although the lake level was obviously a bit high, the green-tinted water was clear enough to see 2-3 feet below the surface.
It was clear enough, in fact, to see bass beds onthe bottom in the first cove we fished near the Tyree launch ramp.
"The spawn is just getting started, and this just might be the day the big females decide to get on the beds," Jolliff said.
Some beds were vacant and a few were being guarded by small males. Nevertheless, Jolliff thought he was onto something when he spotted a nice-sized largemouth on a bed next to a boat dock.
In sight-casting mode, he dropped a green pumpkin jig-and-craw on the 1 bed and had a 2/2-pound female pounce on it.
Thereafter, we would see many other beds with and without bass elsewhere on the lake, but none with the lunker female we were seeking. Jolliff eventually theorized the cooler weather may have caused a temporary lull in the spawn.
While searching the bass beds, however, Jolliff tried casting a plastic worm and soon caught a half-dozen small bass. I was having similar success with a green lizard dragged ever so slowly along the bottom.
"Well, the little ones are biting, but we need that big one," Jolliff said.
With about 20 bass caught and released, we thought we were onto something when we moved into the back of a small creek, where Jolliff switched to casting a Jackal swim bait.
Retrieving the lure slowly to make it wobble along the surface, he was soon rewarded with a mighty surface strike and the catch of a leaping largemouth weighing about 3 pounds,
"Boy howdy, if swim baits are what they want, we'll get that big one for sure," Jolliff pronounced enthusiastically.
Well, a few more bass wanted it, but no lunkers.
Between catching small bass, wewere kept entertained with wildlife watching, such as the unusual sight of a mink scampering along the shore. The bird-watching, however, was especially prolific, with frequent sightings of wood ducks, purple martins, goldfinches and other colorful species.
As always, the backyards of the large, new homes around the lake provided many examples of interesting things that could be done with landscaping, such as creating waterfalls or completely covering the ground with multicolored gravel arranged in intricate patterns. One mansion had the gravel arranged in a pattern of huge, curling waves.
With about 30 bass caught and released, we thought we were onto something when Jolliff began casting a flashy spinner bait alongside boat docks and soon caught a female largemouth ofabout 2 1 /2 pounds.
"If they are turning to spinner baits, we're in business," Jolliff enthused.
Business, unfortunately, didn't get any better than that one decent bass.
With about 40 bass caught and released, we thought we were onto something when Jolliff moved to a steep, sloping shoreline where he began flipping a jig-and-craw next to logs, laydowns and stickups.
Within a few minutes, he hooked a largemouth of nearly 3 pounds with an unusual color pattern of large, black patches scattered over its body.
Some other bass likedthe jig, but none bigger than the first.
WAITING ON BEAVER LAKE
During the day of fishing, Jolliff spoke of the travails anglers have suffered on Beaver Lake over the past six weeks.
Muddy water has been nearly a constant problem, especially for those trying to catch white bass and crappie in the White River and War Eagle Creek arms of the lake. Last week, for example, the white bass were stacked below War Eagle Mill and the water was just getting clear enough for great fishing when the creek was hit with another flash flood.
The high water, of course, has made the black bass hard to find and harder to reach through wide expanses of trees and brush along the flooded shorelines. Some fishermen were finding themselves fishing in backyards, bumping into lawn furniture and birdbaths.
Most Beaver Lake regulars have simply stayed off the lake.
"My business at the store is the slowest I've seen in 10 years," Jolliff admitted.
Nevertheless, he has high hopes for the weeks ahead.
"As soon as the lake drops some, settles out and clears up, the fishing could be phenomenal," Jolliff said. "All you'll need to do to catch fish is throw a spinner bait or Fluke back in the brush."
Closing in on 50 bass caught and released on Loch Lomond, we decided it didn't make any difference what kind of lure we threw. All of our offerings caught all kinds of bass except big ones.
What we were into was simply good fishing action.
"We could have probably done the same on some of the other Bella Vista lakes," Jolliff said.
That'll do until the floods stop.
Outdoors, Pages 39, 42 on 05/01/2008