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Time to get a plan: Plentiful hunting and fishing will make 2021 pass quickly

by Bryan Hendricks | January 3, 2021 at 2:33 a.m.
Arkansas has great trout fishing in world-renowned waters like the White and North Fork rivers but also in seasonal waters like this spot on the Ouachita River.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

Many of you discovered or rediscovered the outdoors in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that was just a beginning. Here are a few ideas to take you a little deeper into our state's outdoors delights. Instead of a monthly guide, we offer a thematic menu to help you plan your year.

Duck hunting

The longest of the state's three duck hunting segments runs from Dec. 26, 2020, through Jan. 30. Cold, wet weather will bring the biggest portion of ducks into the state, and an abundance of water will enable ducks and hunters to spread out more than they could earlier in the fall.

Arkansas has plenty of public places to enjoy exciting duck hunting. The most famous and most popular is Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area near Stuttgart, but there are many others, including many that are lightly hunted.

The backwaters along the entire length of the Arkansas River offer outstanding duck hunting, especially if it gets really cold and freezes sheetwater and green tree reservoirs.

The White River National Wildlife Refuge near Clarendon is also excellent, as is Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge in south Arkansas. An excellent place that gets overlooked is the Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita Wildlife Management Area in Union and Ashley counties. There are a lot of remote, hidden holes that attract ducks, including some great green timber areas.

A favorite in northeast Arkansas is Shirey Bay Rainey Brake WMA. It's locally popular, but it's not nearly as crowded as Bayou Meto.

Along the Arkansas River Valley near Russellville, a visit to Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA is worthwhile. Galla Creek WMA is another overlooked destination that has been largely forgotten due to habitat degradation, but those willing to look for them can find hot pockets for ducks.

Trout Fishing

It's never too cold or too warm to fish for trout in Arkansas. The tailwaters below our major reservoirs are stocked liberally with rainbow and brown trout, and they maintain constant temperatures in the low- to mid 50-degree range.

I always begin my year with a trout fishing trip on the White River with several friends. We concentrate on the section between Rim Shoals and the confluence of the Buffalo River. The habitat contains deep holes, long rocky shoals, and narrow sluice runs between big boulders. You can beach a boat on the boulders and fly fish the runs, which empty into deep holes. These are also great places to use Power Bait or Berkley Gulp. I also like to troll stickbaits in the deep holes for big brown and big rainbow trout.

Trout fishing is also excellent in the spring, summer and fall. Summer is a great time to catch a giant brown trout on sculpins during the daytime or at night with big streamers.

For better chances at bigger trout, visit the North Fork of the White River, which empties into the main stem of the White at the town of Norfork. This is one of the most acclaimed stretches of trophy trout water in the world. Walk-in access is available at Norfork Dam and also near the mouth of the river.

While you're there, take a youngster fishing at Dry Run Creek. It's a short stretch of tumbling water below the Norfork National Fish Hatchery. It's slam full of giant trout, but only youngsters age 16 and under and adults with disabilities are allowed to fish there.

Overlooked in The Natural State's pantheon of world-class trout waters is the Little Red River near Heber Springs. Rainbow trout are plentiful, as are giant brown trout. It is very popular in the summer, but you can have it pretty much to yourself in the winter and early spring. The most obscure is Mirror Lake at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area. Its spring-fed waters support rainbow trout. It's a put-and-take fishery, but a few evade anglers long enough to reach impressive sizes.

Our seasonal trout waters are worth visiting, too. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks selected waters with rainbow trout in cold weather, providing opportunities around the state. Rock Creek in Little Rock's Boyle Park is one such place. Others include the Ouachita River below Blakely Dam (Lake Ouachita), below Carpenter Dam (Lake Hamilton) and below Remmel Dam (Lake Catherine), and also in the Little Missouri River at Albert Pike Recreation Area near Langley, and also the Little Missouri tailwater below Lake Greeson.

Visit the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website (agfc.com) for a complete list of seasonal trout fisheries.

Turkey hunting

The spring turkey season in most of the state runs April 19-May 9. While turkey hunting is a tough proposition in Arkansas, you can improve your prospects by drawing a permit for a controlled turkey hunt on a wildlife management area.

Turkey hunting is also available on demand on the Ozark National Forest and Ouachita National Forest. The portions of the national forests that are easily accessible by road are very heavily hunted. You can improve your odds dramatically by getting as far from the roads as possible and hunting the backcountry areas.

Some of the best turkey hunting is in the Gulf Coastal Plain. If you are a member of a deer hunting lease in Deer Management Zone 12, your lease probably has a better than average number of turkeys and low hunting pressure.

Striped bass fishing

Spring and early summer are the best times to catch big striped bass and also white bass/striped bass hybrids in our lakes and rivers.

Giant stripers inhabit lakes Ouachita and Hamilton, and also lakes Beaver and Bull Shoals. From February through April you can catch them on topwater lures and by trolling jerkbaits.

In late winter and early spring, you'll find stripers in the headwaters and major lake tributaries. They go into the skinny water for a false spawn and then return to the middle portions of the lakes in the spring.

Right now, you can also catch them in the warm water discharge area below the Arkansas Nuclear One power plant near Russellville.

In the summer, stripers retreat to deep water and hang out just beneath the transitional zone between warm and cold water known as the thermocline. Catching them requires getting a bait deep. That requires heavy weights to troll jigs and swimbaits. You can also use heavy spoons.

Smallmouth bass

Arkansas has plenty of streams that harbor smallmouth bass. The best fishing begins in the spring and continues through fall.

Crooked Creek is the most celebrated smallmouth stream in Arkansas. The Buffalo National River is the most popular. Excellent fishing is also available on the Strawberry, Mulberry and Kings rivers and all forks of the Spring River.

Excellent fishing in the Ouachita region is available on the Caddo, Ouachita and Saline rivers.

The state's biggest smallmouths inhabit our big reservoirs. Beaver, Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry are our best, but big smallmouths also inhabit a small portion of Lake Ouachita.

Largemouth bass

You can find largemouth bass in every corner of the state and all points between, in big lakes, small lakes and ponds. They inhabit big rivers, small rivers and creeks. It would take many articles to scratch the surface, and that's why we're here. Come back soon, and come back often to find out where and how to catch them.

You can catch striped bass in shallow water from February through June in many of our big reservoirs but also in over- looked areas like the Ouachita River below Remmel Dam. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/ Bryan Hendricks)
Duck season runs through the end of January, and you can enjoy it in the greentree res- ervoirs of southeast Arkansas and on the Arkansas River. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/ Bryan Hendricks)
Smallmouth bass fishing is phe- nomenal in the state in spring, summer and fall. The best way to enjoy it is wade shing on an Ozark highland stream. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/ Bryan Hendricks)
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