Here in The Natural State, we love autumn angling. Summer’s blistering days have passed, and cooler temperatures make times on the water very pleasant. The foliage transforms from emerald green to a colorful palette of reds, yellows and oranges. Summer’s throngs of boaters and swimmers have disappeared, and summer-fattened fish are in prime condition and actively biting.
We hope to catch fish when we go fishing, of course, but if the action isn’t great, we don’t worry much about it. Enjoying time on the water in beautiful weather and scenic settings is foremost on our minds, and if we land a few lunkers or some fish to eat … well, that’s just gravy.
Nice thing is, we’ll probably catch some good fish when we find a chance to go. Largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass are cruising the shallows again, looking for easy prey. Crappie, bream, walleyes and catfish are fattening up for the lean winter months ahead. Stripers, hybrid stripers and white bass make easy targets as they bust through surface-running schools of shad early and late in the day. And during this glorious season, trout fishing in our cold mountain tailwaters is as good as it gets.
We can catch fish this season in almost any body of water in Arkansas, but some places are naturally better for certain types of fish, including these.
Little Red River Trout
Sitting on the Little Red River on a beautiful morning last fall, I watched a pair of bald eagles soaring above the river. They swung low, spooking a flock of wild turkeys before landing in a sycamore at the river’s edge. On the water below them, 20 bufflehead ducks were diving beneath the river’s surface to feed on some unseen bounty. It was a captivating scene. And while I watched these wild creatures, I was catching trout as fast as I could cast.
The Little Red River below Greers Ferry Dam at Heber Springs is like that in autumn. The river’s rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout thrive on cold water, so the season’s often cool weather doesn’t stop them from feeding actively. On most fall days, limits come easy, whether you’re fly-fishing on the shoals, casting spinners or jigs, or using live bait like night crawlers and waxworms. An autumn fishing excursion allows you to enjoy some quiet time at a world-renowned fishing destination, and in nearby Heber Springs, you can enjoy everything from great shopping and dining at various locations to sights of trout as long as your leg at the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery.
Several outfitters operate on the Little Red. One I can recommend from experience is Lindsey’s Rainbow Resort, which offers cozy cabins with fireplaces and Jacuzzis, a superb restaurant, fishing supplies, boat and motor rentals, and complete guide services just off Arkansas 25 below Greers Ferry Dam. For details, visit www.lindseysresort.com.
Arkansas River Bass
It was a trip I’ve never forgotten. At a fall writer’s gathering put on by PRADCO Fishing, I teamed up with Virginia bass pro Rick Morris for a day of fishing on the lower Arkansas River near Pendleton. Our fellow anglers were targeting the river’s abundant largemouth bass, but Rick wanted to show me how to catch some nice spotted bass he’d found the day before.
I knew “Kentuckies” inhabited the Arkansas but had never caught many. Under Rick’s tutelage, however, that changed. Casting spinnerbaits and crankbaits to the shallow, cover-strewn edges of sandbars, we caught dozens, including many 3- to 4-pounders. There were some nice largemouths in the mix, too, including a couple of 5-pound-plus hawgs.
Fall bassing is excellent in all the river pools from Fort Smith to the Arkansas’ juncture with the Mississippi on The Natural State’s eastern border. When the river is high, anglers usually fish backwater sloughs and off-river lakes where topwater plugs, buzzbaits, minnow-imitation divers and crankbaits garner strikes from bass around timber, rocks, pilings and vegetation. Jig and pigs work great around fallen logs and treetops.
With more stable water conditions, backwaters are good early and late with topwaters, buzzbaits and plastic worms. Midday patterns revolve around the main river channel and include working riprap with crankbaits, worms or spinnerbaits, and flipping shoreline cover with worms.
My favorite stretch is 10,600-acre Pool 2, where Rick and I fished. This pool sometimes produces 8- to 10-pound largemouths, plus lots of husky spots. Fishing the main river is productive at times, but I usually target one of three off-river oxbows here: Moore Bayou, the Coal Pile or Merrisach Lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides nice campgrounds nearby that are perfect for a fall overnighter.
Visit the Fishing section of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website, www.agfc.com, for more information.
Lake Greeson Crappie
Lake Greeson is one of those wonderful destinations the crowds seem to have overlooked. This 7,000-acre Corps of Engineers lake has been around since 1950, but its location in the Ouachita Mountains of Pike County is far enough off the beaten path to keep Greeson out of the spotlight and help it retain a serenity and scenic beauty that make it a special joy to visit, especially if you’re an ardent crappie angler.
Greeson serves up some of the state’s best fishing for largemouths, spotted bass, white bass and stripers. There’s also good fishing for catfish, bream and even walleyes. In recent years, however, local fishing guides have helped make Greeson best known as one of the nation’s top destinations for crappie. Slabs weighing 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds will keep your pole bent almost any time you visit, but fall fishing really shines, with anglers taking home big catches of these good-eating panfish. On a recent early October visit, my friends Alex Hinson, Jerry Blake and I kept 38 slabs and released twice that many. All were caught dropping jigs and minnows around the lake’s many bamboo and cedar fish attractors.
A wide variety of fun outdoor activities can be experienced nearby, including hunting for gems at Crater of Diamonds State Park, trout and smallmouth bass fishing on the Little Missouri River, whitewater canoeing, dirt bike and ATV riding on a 31-mile trail, and hiking and sightseeing in the Ouachita National Forest. Hot Springs National Park, just a 45-minute drive east, offers great shopping, restaurants and tourist attractions. A great base for your adventures is Self Creek Marina at Kirby, which has cozy lakeside cabins with fireplaces and hot tubs. For more information, www.selfcreek.com.