Mr. Whiskers can provide basis for many outings

Keith Sutton Contributing Writer Published July 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Keith Sutton / Contributing Photographer

Fishing the Arkansas River in Little Rock and North Little Rock often produces great catches of catfish like this nice blue cat caught by Matt Sutton of Alexander.

Catfishing is a sport with a high relaxation quotient. No need to be in a hurry. Just find a shady spot on the bank and kick your shoes off, sit a spell. That’s one reason catfish are the second most popular sportfish in Arkansas.

Another great thing about catfishing is the fact that you can combine it with a fun family vacation almost anywhere in Arkansas. Just hitch up the boat and trailer, throw in your tackle, and you’re ready to fish.

If Mom and the kids like catfishing, too, then take them along. If not, let them help you launch the boat

and unhitch the trailer so they can ride off and check out the local action they like best — shopping, tourist attractions, swimming areas and more. Everyone’s happy. The vacation is a success.

In most places, you don’t even need the boat. Rent one, or fish from the bank.

Check out these ideas for an outing this summer.

The Arkansas River and Little Rock

Little Rock offers many family attractions within minutes of the Arkansas River, one of the best big-cat honeyholes in the state. Giant blue cats, flatheads and channel cats inhabit the river, and you don’t need a boat to catch them. Excellent bank-fishing access is available at Murray Park, Riverside Park and River Mountain Park on the Little Rock side of the river, and at Cook’s Landing and Burns Park on the North Little Rock side. If you’re after jumbo blues and channel cats, bring along a cast net to catch a few shad or skipjacks for bait. Want to try for a monster flathead? Bait up with small live sunfish caught from the river. You’ll want a long rod to make long casts, and a heavy-duty spinning or spincast reel that’ll hold up to the power runs of big cats in the current. Bring a lawn chair, too, and a cooler full of drinks. This is laid-back catfishing at its best.

Nearby attractions include Wild River Country, a super-fun family swimming park, just a mile off the river at Cook’s Landing, at the junction of interstates 40 and 430. The state Capitol, Territorial Restoration and the Old Statehouse are just minutes away, and the River Market district in downtown Little Rock offers shopping and attractions of all sorts. In the evening, take a riverboat cruise and enjoy dinner while cruising the river. You can camp at Maumelle Park, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility right on the river bank on the west end of town, or go in style at one of several hotels, where you can walk out the backdoor and be catfishing in minutes. The Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau has information on all this and more at www.littlerock.com.

Lakes Dunn and Austell, Village Creek State Park

Village Creek State Park, Arkansas’ largest, is tailor-made for families who love the outdoors. Five hiking trails lead through the beautiful hardwood forests atop Crowley’s Ridge. There are sandy swimming beaches, shaded picnic areas, playgrounds, baseball and multiuse fields, a driving range, pedal boats and a 2,000-acre wilderness area. The interpretive center offers The Discovery Room, featuring exhibits of prehistoric artifacts and wildlife. And park interpreters are on hand year-round to guide you on nature hikes and present a variety of outdoors-oriented programs.

Best of all, if you’re a catfishermen, Village Creek has two fishing lakes, Dunn and Austell. Both are well-known among Arkansas’ bass and bluegill fans, but unbeknown to many, these small waters also serve up superb catfishing for big blues and channels. Just stroll down the hill from your campsite or cabin, and give ’em a try.

In summer, catfish on these twin lakes frequent deep-water domiciles during the day, moving to shallow-water haunts to feed on shad, crawfish and other forage animals at night. On Dunn, look for catfish around brushy points and in coves with dense stands of dead timber. The arm of the lake running north from the boat dock is productive at times, 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.

Look for Austell lunkers hiding around stumps, beaver lodges and fallen timber in the lake arm running north from the swimming beach. This arm has produced several of the lake’s largest catfish. Also productive are shallow timbered flats adjacent to 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 to the riprapped dam.

Both lakes are restricted to electric motors only. Restaurants and motels are available in nearby Wynne and Forrest City. The park offers 10 modern housekeeping cabins and 104 fully equipped campsites. For more info, visit www.arkansasstateparks/villagecreek/.

The Diamond Lakes and Hot Springs

For more than 450 years, people have traveled to Hot Springs to enjoy the pleasures offered by the 47 natural hot springs. Today, water is still one of the Spa City’s main drawing cards. But most visitors come here not for a bath in one of the city’s hot therapeutic springs, but to enjoy the family-vacation paradise created by the area’s four “diamond” lakes: Catherine, Hamilton, Ouachita and DeGray. Covering a combined total of almost 63,000 acres, these four sparkling impoundments nearby are a magnet for fishermen and water-sports enthusiasts. All offer top-rated fishing for blue, channel and flathead catfish.

To maximize your catfishing time, plan to stay at a state park on Catherine, DeGray or Ouachita. All offer excellent bank-fishing areas; full-service marinas with boat rentals, bait and other fishing needs; plus beautiful campgrounds, cabins and/or lodges. Lake Hamilton, which lies partially within the city limits of Hot Springs, has numerous lakeside resorts with first-class accommodations. Many are set up to cater to those interested in the area’s excellent fishing.

Catfishing on all these lakes is excellent in summer. Fish at night if you can, when catfish are most active. You’ll usually find them near cover and structure in fairly shallow water. Good channel cat baits available at most local bait shops include live crawfish, night crawlers and minnows. Big shiner minnows sliced for cutbait are a first-rate enticement for big blues. Flatheads rarely overlook a freshly caught bluegill presented near dense cover.

The family attractions available in Hot Springs are almost too numerous to mention. A tour of the national park should be first on your agenda, followed with a trip to the Hot Springs Tower, the alligator farm and other local favorites. Go to the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.hotsprings.org to learn more.

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