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Arkansas Fishing: Five Lakes you have to try!

Bull Shoals Dam, Arkansas Fishing

The state of Arkansas is blessed by beautiful scenery as well as excellent stream/river fishing and some world class lakes. One of the virtues of Arkansas fishing is the diversity of species for which you can fish. In the lakes that follow, you will learn that various bass species, trout species, catfish species, walleye, crappie, and panfish species, plus some others, all await you. The lakes featured here are not in a ranked order, but represent what are arguably the best the state has to offer.

Lake Hamilton

Located not too many miles southwest of Little Rock is a beautiful medium sized lake with some of the best fishing diversity to be found anywhere. At about 7,500 acres, it is not one of the bigger Arkansas lakes, but it's beautiful and the fishing is great. It is also located in one of the prettier parts of the states not far from Hot Springs.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are both pretty good, depending on time of year and water conditions.  Crappie are also quite good. Walleye fishing can be quite good of the more typical warmwater species are not what you are after. Catfish are targeted quite a bit in the warmer months by Lake Hamilton fishermen.  Spotted, white, and triped bass are quite good in Lake Hamilton. The upper end of Lake Hamilton even offers some trout fishing opportunities!

Lake Ouachita

This enormous lake is located just northwest of Lake Hamilton in beautiful Ouachita National Forest and the Arkansas portion of the Ouachita Mountains.  This massive lake is particularly well known for stripers and great largemouth bass fishing and has consistently been ranked in America's Top 100 bass fishing lakes.


Walleye fishing is another great option. Despite being so excellent for walleye fishing, the pressure is relatively light, and the state of Arkansas is continuing to work to enhance the fishery by doing things like opening a hatchery.


Bull Shoals Lake

Another lake that offers a great diversity of fishing opportunities is Bull Shoals, which straddles the northern border of Arkansas and then extends a little ways into Missouri.  It is not too far away from Branson, Missouri. Just over the Bull Shoals dam is some of the best trout fishing anywhere for rainbow and brown trout. The lake holds excellent fishing for stripers, largemouth, and walleye, as well as many other species.

The upper section of the lake from Powersite Dam to Beaver Creek is the place to go if you're looking to get a taste of everything the lake has to offer. Walleye, white bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and spotted bass are the most sought after species in this part of the lake, but there are many others.


Just below Powersite Dam is a popular area that is easily accessible by boat or by foot called the Pothole. This pool in actuality reaches a short length below the dam, but the section of the lake for several miles below the dam usually goes by this name. March through June is prime time here, with great numbers of walleye, white bass, and trout, and crappie stacked up in this riverine area below Powersite Dam. 1/32 ounce white jigs are very popular here, as they work very well for all of the species listed above. Nightcrawlers are also popular for those seeking all species. By late June, most of the Walleye and White Bass have moved for deeper waters, but the area just below Powersite fishes quite well for black bass and rainbow trout in from Late June through mid- October, providing you fish early or late in the day.

At Beaver Creek, the classic bass fishing waters of Bull Shoals Lake begin. There are some true hogs in the middle and lower lake, and the current Missouri state record largemouth was caught here. During the summertime, the bass tend to hold in the 10 to 25 foot range during the day, and often fall victim to drop shot or Carolina rigged soft waters of Bull Shoals Lake begin. There are some true hogs in the middle and lower lake, and the current Missouri state record largemouth was caught here. During the summertime, the bass tend to hold in the 10 to 25 foot range during the day, and often fall victim to drop shot or Carolina rigged soft-bait.


Walleye fishing is also very good in the lower lake. Walleye fishing is very different than in the upper lake, but it is arguably as good or better. Daytime fishing during the summer will pretty much require a boat. Some troll, and some fish the deep water with a slip bobber rig using nightrcwlers or minnows as bait. Night fishing is by far best in the summer. The most effective technique is to fish anywhere a light shines upon the water, especially around docks. Shad are attracted to these areas, and walleye follow. Minnows and night-crawlers are best in this situation.


Trout fishing can also be had in the lower lake, near Bull Shoals Dam. This is purely a boat fishery, and nighttime fishing is best. Most people fish nightcrawlers or corn thirty to fifty feet deep. This is a relatively untapped fishery, but it is very productive, as 30,000 rainbow trout are stocked into the lake each spring. Many survive for many years after stocking and grow quite large. Catfish abound. Most are channel catfish in the two to fifteen pound range, but there are some blue catfish in the lake as well, some of which reach the fifty pound mark. White Bass, Crappie, and Bluegill also are often targeted.


Norfork Lake

While we are in the region of Bull Shoals Lake, we cannot help also including Norfork Lake as an Arkansas fishing lake you must put on your list.  Like, Bull Shoals, Norfork is mostly in Arkansas, but extends into southern Missouri's Ozarks as well.  The upshot, is that like Bull Shoals, Norfork is one of the most diverse fishing lakes to be found anywhere.

Walleye in Norfork Lake are plentiful and a great option for winter and spring fishing. The common assumption is that walleye are concentrated entirely at the mouth of the lake in February through March. There are indeed great opportunities there. But according to local guides, walleye are also found throughout the lake year 'round, saving a long trip up the lake.  Methods used include trolling small jigs (1/16 oz or 1/8 oz tipped with a minnow). Also, try a walleye worm harness.

Crappie is also an excellent option in the cooler months on Norfork.  On Norfork, numbers are not always insanely high, but any disappointment you feel about this will be more that compensated for by size.  12 inch to 15 inch crappie are well within the normal size range.

The keys to catching these hogs are structure, finding the right depth, and presenting the right bait. To locate brush piles, look for blue and white signs on the shoreline.  They will be about the middle of the pile which will be normally somewhere between 50' and 150' in length. The piles will be out about just far enough to stay slightly submerged at low water.

After finding a brush pile, work on finding the depth where fish are biting.  Then work on presenting the right colored crappie jigs. That is the order to do things. Then keep in mind, once you have that figured out and the fishing slows, it is time to move on to a new brush pile.

Striper fishing in Norfork is pretty awesome, but the clear water can add a degree of challenge during the colder weather months.  The deal is that the fish are shallower in the cooler weather and the water is so clear that the heavy duty gear normally used for stripers will not get the job done.  So, the challenge and the fun is to catch them using 6-10 lb test line on a reel with a GREAT drag.  

During summer when the fish are at thermocline levels (40-60 feet), you can go back to the heavier gear...downriggers, etc.

For an excellent article on fishing Norfork for bass in all conditions, I cannot do better than the information you can find here.  You will find info from one of the locals on depths, baits to use for bass during differnt times of the year, and more.

Lake Monticello

As largemouth fishing is huge in the South, and Arkansas is certainly no exception, I wanted to go with one lake that is a topnotch option pretty much purely for largemouth.  There are a couple of options we could have gone with - it's kind of a toss-up between Millwood and Monticello. 

Both have introduced Florida strain largemouth bass and both regularly produce 10+ pound fish.  Monticello is about 1400 acres, and as recently as 2010, the AGFC was stocking upwards of 100,000 fish per year.  

Walleye Worm Harness
Walleye Worm Harness
Bull Shoals Powersite Dam
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