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story.lead_photo.caption Isaac Anderson of Sherwood caught and released this catfish Tuesday on a tube jig at Lake Willastein in Maumelle. - Photo by Bryan Hendricks

Anglers speak a common language, and the joy in an angler's voice when he catches a big fish is universal.

I heard it at Lake Willastein in Maumelle on Tuesday moments after chatting with Isaac Anderson of Sherwood. I pedaled my kayak under a bridge as I returned to the ramp after a successful afternoon of bass fishing when I passed Anderson, who fished from the bridge.

"Man, you got every base covered," he said, examining the four rods in my holders. "You got a spinnerbait, a crankbait, a frog and a ... what's that other thing?"

"The Whopper Plopper?" I said. "It's the only thing they'd hit today."

"I use those, too!" Anderson said. "What color?"

"It's bluish silver, with a kind of a herringbone pattern on the back," I said.

"I do real well with it in white," Anderson said.

With cloudy skies and a slight breeze, I really thought bass would savage a plastic frog against the grass beds that fringe the entire lake. The water against the bank is surprisingly deep, and I am certain that bass burrow into the grass. There are also small grassy humps, including one at the dam that yielded a 4-pound largemouth for me in the fall. That one hit a Whopper Plopper, as well, but with post-spawn bass likely guarding fry, I was sure they wouldn't tolerate a frog.

They ignored it completely.

I thought they wouldn't be able to resist a big, throbbing spinnerbait with tandem willowleaf blades, either, but they ignored that, too.

"I caught six, all on the Whopper Plopper," I said. "They all got bigger in ascending order. The last two were pretty nice fish."

As I pedaled my Hobie Pro Angler 12 into the bay on the other side of the bridge, Anderson shouted that he had a big one. I looked back under the bridge to see a big fish throwing geysers at the bank.

Anderson whooped and hollered as he struggled to land the fish.

I pedaled back under the bridge about the time Anderson landed a catfish that appeared to weigh about 6-7 pounds. It hit a big tube jig, and while Anderson sought bass, the catfish was a welcome distraction. After photos, he released it.

"I've got to get to work," he said.

For its communal appeal almost as much as its fishing, Lake Willastein has become a favorite kayak fishing haunt when I don't feel like taking a road trip. I used to hang out there in the early 1980s when Maumelle was still a remote outpost, and when Lake Willastein was out in the woods. Now it is surrounded by homes and apartment buildings, with a bustling commercial district on the east side. The entire lakefront is a city park.

The lake is ideal for kayak fishing. Gasoline motors are limited to no more than 10 horsepower, but I have not seen a motorboat there. I have seen only manually powered boats.

A kayak launch ramp is near the park entrance next to a fishing pier. A conventional boat ramp is in the bay near the picnic area and playground. However, it would be difficult to drive a boat out of the bay into the main lake because there's so little headroom under the bridge. I have only a few inches of headroom sitting in my Hobie, and I must lay all my fishing rods flat on the deck.

Fishing pressure is light for largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish. Best of all, the entire lake has public bank access to wide swaths of water willow and other aquatic grasses.

Bass fishing would be outlandish if water covered the bankside grass, but the spillway regulates the waterline well below that level.

An asphalt walking trail surrounds the lake, which is in two segments. The bridge separating the lake segments is a pinch point for fish and is popular for fishing, as is the bridge on the northwest side.

Bluegills will spawn during the full moon, which will be May 18 and June 17. You can catch them from the bank with crickets or nightcrawlers dangled under bobbers on the outside edges the vegetation. They are biting very well right now. A giant bluegill took a swipe at my spinnerbait at the fishing pier near the spillway.

As I fished the east side, a teenage boy prowled the bank with a baitcasting rig and a spinning rig. He used his baitcaster primarily, throwing an enormous segmented, hard-plastic swimbait. Only a big fish would hit such a big lure.

Another fellow started fishing in the bay about the time I launched my kayak, and he more or less shadowed me around the lake. In addition, all manner of people circled the lake on the trail. There were young mothers with small children and people walking or jogging after work. Everyone looked relaxed. Those with partners engaged in easy conversation, except for one woman who chewed somebody out on a cell phone about getting a car towed.

The cove on the south side of the lake smelled like bream beds, but the lake bottom was too silted for spawning habitat. Better spawning habitat is on the north side, where the bottom is hard and gravelly. I caught all of my fish along the dam, and also off the lake-facing side of a brushy island on the south side.

Along the dam, thick grass carpets the lake bottom. Bass surely burrow into that grass for protection and for refuge from sunlight. In early spring and fall, this would be a great place to rip a lipless crankbait across the grass tops. Right now, a chatterbait might be the thing to provoke a few bites.

As tough as the fishing was on Tuesday, I felt satisfied to catch a tournament limit plus one in only a few hours of fishing.

Watching -- and especially hearing -- Isaac Anderson catch that big catfish made my day.

Sports on 05/12/2019

Print Headline: Willastein welcome

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