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Worth the wade: One rod, two feet all anglers need on Ozark streams

by Flip Putthoff | September 7, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
Pat Bodishbaugh of Fayetteville hikes to another fishing spot July 10 2021 along the Kings River. Low water during summer makes for ideal wade fishing on Ozark streams. On this trip Bodishbaugh rarely got into water more than ankle deep, mainly walking the shoreline and covering about one-half mile of the stream. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

It's good to get cold feet in the hot summer when fishing can be tough as nails. Wading a cool Ozark stream beats the dog days heat.

Creeks and rivers might be at their lowest of the year when calendar pages flip from August to September. That's when Pat Bodishbaugh of Fayetteville grabs a spin-cast rod to go wade-fishing at his favorite streams.

He's fond of working the Buffalo National River in late summer in the Ponca and Steel Creek areas. Kings River and War Eagle River are go-to waterways for wading. Some anglers might wonder if there are actually fish in that skinny water. Bodishbaugh knows better.

During a mid-July wading expedition on the Kings River, Bodishbaugh wrangled a 2-pound smallmouth bass from a pool not much larger than a parking space. All manner of sunfish were eager to bite, including colorful "punkinseeds" that are like tropical fish in the Ozarks' streams and lakes.

[DON'T SEE THE VIDEO ABOVE, VISIT: nwaonline.com/97kingsriver/]

It's wade fishing, all right, but Bodishbaugh barely got his feet wet walking the gravel Kings River shoreline, fishing his way from pool to pool. The Kings swirled through rock and gravel at shallow shoals creating the music of flowing water.

"This is all the water you need right here," the angler said, eyeing a rock-filled oval oasis three feet deep. "There could be a 2-pound smallmouth behind any of those rocks."

Small lures get the job done when the water is low. A Rebel Wee Crawfish lure catches every species of fish in the stream. It's one of Bodishbaugh's favorites. Beetle Spins work well. "Black, or orange and chartreuse are good, sort of a crawdad color," he coached.

Bodishbaugh found one of those 2-pound smallmouth bass in one modest pool. A brown Mepps spinner coaxed the fish to bite.

"I guarantee you there's a fish like that in every one of these holes," he testified.

In a couple of hours on a steamy afternoon, Bodishbaugh caught and released about 40 fish. Smallmouth bass from 6- to 12-inches long were valiant fighters, but colorful sunfish made up most of his catch.

"I've caught punkinseeds that weren't much bigger than my lure," Bodishbaugh said.

Nearly every area stream has some public access for float fishing or wading. Most Kings River fishing takes place from the public access at Marble downstream to Table Rock Lake. On this wading trip, Bodishbaugh was way farther upstream, a couple miles above Kingston where the stream is super small.

Looking the area over one day, he crossed paths with a local landowner who gave Bodishbaugh permission to cross his private property to reach the river.

He's been back time and again through the summer, catching and releasing high numbers of fish while walking from pool to pool. Bodishbaugh usually covers a mile or so of water on these trips.

In the late summer heat, good fishing comes to those who wade.

Pat Bodishbaugh of Fayetteville hikes to another fishing spot July 10 2021 along the Kings River. Low water during summer makes for ideal wade fishing on Ozark streams. On this trip Bodishbaugh rarely got into water more than ankle deep, mainly walking the shoreline and covering about one-half mile of the stream.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Pat Bodishbaugh of Fayetteville hikes to another fishing spot July 10 2021 along the Kings River. Low water during summer makes for ideal wade fishing on Ozark streams. On this trip Bodishbaugh rarely got into water more than ankle deep, mainly walking the shoreline and covering about one-half mile of the stream. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Bodishbaugh uses a Mepps spinner to catch and release this Kings River smallmouth bass in July 2021 from pool between two shoals. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Bodishbaugh uses a Mepps spinner to catch and release this Kings River smallmouth bass in July 2021 from pool between two shoals. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Small water produced good fishing for Pat Bodishbaugh in July 2021 on the upstream reaches of the Kings River. Sunfish and smallmouth bass were eager to bite on his fishing afternoon.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Small water produced good fishing for Pat Bodishbaugh in July 2021 on the upstream reaches of the Kings River. Sunfish and smallmouth bass were eager to bite on his fishing afternoon. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Longear sunfish, called "punkinseeds" by most folks, are some of the most colorful fish in lake for stream. Dozens bit Bodishbaugh's small Rebel crawdad crank baits.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Longear sunfish, called "punkinseeds" by most folks, are some of the most colorful fish in lake for stream. Dozens bit Bodishbaugh's small Rebel crawdad crank baits. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Summertime is fishing time for Bodishbaugh when the flow is low on Ozark streams. Low water on the Kings River in July 2021 was a welcome sight for Bodishbaugh when he arrived at the stream.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Summertime is fishing time for Bodishbaugh when the flow is low on Ozark streams. Low water on the Kings River in July 2021 was a welcome sight for Bodishbaugh when he arrived at the stream. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
It's wade fishing, but Bodishbaugh rarely gets in above his ankles when streams are low during summer. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
It's wade fishing, but Bodishbaugh rarely gets in above his ankles when streams are low during summer. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
A pool may hold sunfish and smallmouth bass on the Kings River. Bodishbaugh works an oasis of water in July 2021 near Kingston.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
A pool may hold sunfish and smallmouth bass on the Kings River. Bodishbaugh works an oasis of water in July 2021 near Kingston. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Small water produced good fishing for Pat Bodishbaugh in July 2021 on the upstream reaches of the Kings River. Sunfish and smallmouth bass were eager to bite on his fishing afternoon.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Small water produced good fishing for Pat Bodishbaugh in July 2021 on the upstream reaches of the Kings River. Sunfish and smallmouth bass were eager to bite on his fishing afternoon. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Pools upstream of shoals proved good fishing for Bodishbaugh in July 2021 on the Kings River.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Pools upstream of shoals proved good fishing for Bodishbaugh in July 2021 on the Kings River. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Bodishbaugh likes low water when he goes fishing on Ozark streams like the Kings River.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Bodishbaugh likes low water when he goes fishing on Ozark streams like the Kings River. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
More News

Where to wade

Buffalo National River, Kings River and War Eagle River are fine streams for wade fishing, but there are more.

Buffalo River has plenty of access all along the stream. Kings River has ample access, including Marble, Rockhouse, U.S. 62, Stony Point and Romp Hole access areas. There’s an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission access on the War Eagle River near Clifty and public access at Withrow Springs State Park.

Some streams, including Kings and War Eagle, also have private-property access points where anglers pay a modest fee.

Source: Staff report

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