Natural State offers opportunities for bass and bream, crappie and cats right now

Keith Sutton/Contributing Writer Published April 13, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Keith Sutton/Contributing Photographer

Lake Ouachita often produces huge largemouth bass for visiting anglers, like this hawg caught by Chris Elder of Mount Ida.

Arkansans differ in many ways, but most of us have one thing in common: we love spending time on the water. We love fishing in it. We love boating on it. And at times, nothing beats just sitting beside it and savoring the view while we wait for a fish to bite.

Fortunately, we have plenty of waters for these delightful pastimes. The Natural State encompasses 20,000 miles of streams and 600,000 acres of lakes. You need not travel far to enjoy the many aquatic environments where great fishing, fun and adventure await those who’ve earned time for relaxation.

When planning your April outdoor itinerary, consider the following Natural State destinations for some memorable angling action. These scenic waters are blue-ribbon hot spots for bass, catfish, crappie, bream and more.

Lake Ouachita bass

This big blue impoundment, sprawling across 40,000 acres of the Ouachita Valley west of Hot Springs, has often been described as the cleanest lake in America. Anglers call it bass-fishing paradise. High-jumping largemouth and spotted bass are common catches in Ouachita’s clear waters, and stockings of smallmouth bass have made that species available, too. Bass fishing is excellent year-round, but in-the-know anglers always fish in April, the month when big bucketmouths are easiest to find and catch on their shallow-water spawning beds.

Deep-diving, minnow-imitation crankbaits fished on the edges of Ouachita’s submerged weed beds often nab spring largemouths. Plastic worms and lizards are favorites, too. Rig each with a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce leadhead jig, then swim the worm around the weed beds and get ready for action. Spinnerbaits are superb April enticements for bass near logs, stumps and other near-shore cover.

Ouachita’s spotted bass and smallmouths are usually found deeper than largemouths in spring, often on rocky ledges, points and humps. Some may be 40 feet down, and the best way to catch them is by dropping live crawfish into their feeding zone.

You could catch the bass of a lifetime here. Anglers regularly tussle with 6- to 8-pound largemouths, and while 10-pound-plus specimens aren’t common, they do surface occasionally.

Info: Lake Ouachita State Park, (501) 767-9366,

Old Town crappie

Want crappie? Most of us do. These delicious panfish rank just behind largemouth bass in Arkansas popularity polls, and in April, Old Town Lake near West Helena is one of the best places to catch them. Arkansas 44 in Phillips County leads straight to launch ramps at the small town of Lakeview.

You’ll need a small boat to squeeze between the cypress trees and reach the shallow waters where Old Town crappie spawn in spring. Sometimes there’s barely enough water to float your boat, but a jig or live minnow fished beneath a bobber won’t sit long before shooting out of sight. It’s common to start fishing at daybreak and have a 30-fish limit weighing 40 pounds or more by noon. Fun fishing it is, and when you dig into the deep-fried fillets, you’ll know the true meaning of the word scrumptious.

Info: The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission District 4 office in Brinkley, (877) 734-4581.

Conway cats

When it comes to catfishing, this 6,700-acre Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake in Faulkner County ranks among the nation’s best, and if you’re among the thousands of Natural State anglers who love fish with whiskers and baby-smooth skin, April is the prime time to visit. Bait your hook with a live sunfish, and chances are good you’ll enjoy a battle with one of Conway’s abundant flatheads — ugly but delectable denizens often weighing 30 to 60 pounds. Big blue cats swim here, too, and 2- to 10-pound channel cats are as common as bluegills by a boat dock. Lake Conway regulars often catch 300 to 400 pounds of catfish a week using enticements such as chicken liver, minnows, catalpa worms, shad and even hot dogs.

This stump-filled lake two miles east of Conway can baffle first-time visitors. Everything looks pretty much alike, so it’s hard to decide where to fish. A sonar fish-finder, or a visit with a bait-shop proprietor, will help you pinpoint the best areas, particularly inundated lakes and creek channels like Adams Lake, Greens Lake and Palarm Creek. These are excellent locations for bait fishing with a rod and reel. No boat? You can fish from one of several public piers scattered around the lake.

Info: For a map and more information, visit

Bear Creek redears

April marks the start of spawning season for one of the state’s most beloved panfish: the redear sunfish, or shellcracker. Many waters harbor healthy populations of this bluegill relative, but the best of the best may be Bear Creek Lake, a 625-acre impoundment in the St. Francis National Forest near Marianna. This popular Crowley’s Ridge fishing hole produces numerous redears in the 1 1/2-pound class each year, and occasional whoppers exceeding 2 pounds.

Veteran Bear Creek redear rustlers look for fish on shallow nests in the lake’s many fingerlike coves. To catch redear, a live worm or cricket is fished with only a split shot on the line so the bait sinks to the bottom where redears always feed. When spawning beds are found, it’s not unusual to catch a dozen fish by casting repeatedly to the same spot. Redear spawning peaks during the full-moon period in April and May, so that’s when most anglers fish here.

Info: Mississippi River State Park, (870) 295-4040, www.arkansasstateparks/mississippiriver.

Beaver Lake white bass

Spring fishing for white bass is hotter than a jalapeno in the tributaries of this big Ozark Mountains lake near Rogers and Eureka Springs. During March and April, these powerful panfish swim upstream to spawn. Schools containing thousands of fish provide fish-a-minute action for savvy anglers. Hot spots include the three forks of the White River, War Eagle Creek and many smaller Beaver Lake tributaries. On a recent April visit, a friend and I fished the turquoise-blue water below Blue Spring falls near Eureka Springs and caught hard-hitting white bass on nearly every cast.

Nab whites by casting a lure that imitates their favorite food, shad, and bringing it in with a stop-go retrieve near the bottom. Good enticements include jigs, spoons, spinners and crankbaits. Savor the fight, remove the fish, and quickly cast again. Whites often strike as soon as your lure hits the water, and here, it’s possible to catch 1- to 4-pounders for hours on end. Rarely is fishing so fun.

Info: The Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association, (888) 398-3444,

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