Take me to the river

Bass fish­ing great all day in cen­tral Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - OUTDOORS - BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

Day­time bass fish­ing is dead slow on our reser­voirs right now, but it’s very good on the Arkansas River.

If you can en­dure op­pres­sive heat and hu­mid­ity, the Arkansas River is one of the few places where you can catch bass all day. That’s be­cause the river is a dy­namic sys­tem that ex­hibits a full range of water con­di­tions in its var­i­ous pools over the course of a day. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you can ex­pe­ri­ence some mem­o­rable mo­ments.

Win­ning $2,000 is cer­tainly mem­o­rable, as Ricky El­lis of Cabot and Alan Ste­wart of Sherwood did July 15 when they caught five weigh­ing 16.49 pounds to win the sec­ond an­nual Big Buzz Bass Tour­na­ment on the Arkansas River.

They caught their fish in the Lit­tle Rock Pool, which is the most un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated sec­tion of the McClel­lan-Kerr Nav­i­ga­tion Sys­tem. That weight is com­pa­ra­ble to a good bag at Lake Dar­danelle, which is one of the best bass lakes in Arkansas.

Even bet­ter was the 18.63-pound bag that Jonathan Evans and Kenny Baugh caught in Pine Bluff Har­bor to win a Sherwood Bass Club tour­na­ment July 15. They also took Big Bass hon­ors with a 6.2-pounder.

Fish­ing the river suc­cess­fully re­quires close ob­ser­va­tion and aware­ness of water con­di­tions from one end of a pool to an­other. El­lis said he checks water flow data con­stantly, not just to know how much cur­rent is flow­ing, but to know if water is ris­ing or fall­ing in the up­per, lower and mid­dle por­tions.

Matt Lea of Con­way, an ac­com­plished Arkansas River an­gler, also said that cur­rent and water flow are the keys to de­ci­pher­ing the river’s daily fish­ing pat­terns.

“You fish it dif­fer­ently at 20,000 [cu­bic feet per sec­ond], 30,000, 50,000 and 60,000 through 85,000,” Lea said. “Fish will be in the strong­est part of the cur­rent most of the time, and there’s al­ways a cer­tain level of cur­rent that big fish want.”

Cur­rent force-feeds bass, El­lis said, and he scans his elec­tronic graph look­ing for shad. If he doesn’t see them, he won’t fish that spot.

Ob­ser­va­tion can key you in to small sub­tleties that in­ex­pe­ri­enced an­glers will ig­nore or miss al­to­gether, like a flock of birds div­ing in the dis­tance. A ca­sual eye might no­tice the birds and leave it at that. An ex­pe­ri­enced eye knows they are div­ing on shad, and when birds dive on shad, bass are feed­ing from be­low.

“I love it when I see giz­zard shad jump out of the water be­cause I know what’s un­der them,” El­lis said.

Wing dams, or jet­ties, are the river’s most prom­i­nent fea­tures, and also the most de­pend­able bass-hold­ing struc­tures. Lea said he usu­ally spends the first hour of a fish­ing trip work­ing the jet­ties be­cause they al­ways hold fish.

“Right now, the river is at 20,000 [cfs],” Lea said. “I still start shal­low on jet­ties on the top and bot­tom.”

If jet­ties aren’t pro­duc­tive, Lea moves to an­other struc­ture.

Ty­rone Phillips of Lit­tle Rock and his part­ner Fred Martin of North Lit­tle Rock won the Fish ’N Stuff TNT bass tour­na­ment Tues­day night on the Arkansas River. Phillips agreed that jet­ties are the best places to start a bass fish­ing trip, and they can also be the best places to end one.

“They still got to eat no mat­ter how hot it is,” Phillips said. “Lately I’ve re­ally been slow­ing down and fish­ing the fronts and edges of jet­ties where sand comes over the edge. Any­time I see fish come up, I’m go­ing to throw a fluke and work it all the way back to the boat.”

His fa­vorite col­ors are reds and greens, and the amount of weight he uses de­pends on how deep the fish are and how they re­act to a fall­ing bait.

“The bet­ter fish have been com­ing from around the bot­tom, so you re­ally just have to slow down, even on the hook­set,” Phillips said. “A lot of­times a fish just grabs the tail, and some­times I have to shake the bait so fish will get it. I’m throw­ing 10-inch worms, and a lot times it comes back with half of it miss­ing.”

Gary Hub­ble of Alexan­der said that sand at­tracts a lot of bass in the sum­mer be­cause sand is lighter col­ored than rock, which means it re­flects heat in­stead of ab­sorbs heat. Sand is cooler, so use it to get some re­lief from the heat.

“I guar­an­tee you those fish will get on sand this time of year, and in the morn­ings you can catch them on top­wa­ters,” Hub­ble said.

Quincy Houchin, who won the Fish­ing League World­wide Costa Se­ries tour­na­ment on Lake Dar­danelle in the spring, is a top­wa­ter afi­cionado. He also said sand is a good place to fish this time of year. He likes the Whop­per Plop­per and The One, by Pay­check Baits.

“If I’m catch­ing them on sand, I stay on it all day,” Houchin said. “I might throw a crankbait some, but they’ll hit it all day, and they’ll come from a long way to get it.”

Top­wa­ters can be dicey this time of year be­cause there’s so lit­tle cur­rent, Houchin said. If fish don’t hit on top, he said he fishes brush and other sub­merged cover with a large worm.

Hub­ble said he’s no­ticed a lot of small, sub­keeper bass in the Arkansas River this year.

“The river is pro­duc­ing a tremen­dous amount of small fish,” Hub­ble said. “You can go through 20-30 small fish be­fore you catch a keeper, and you can catch 50 fish a day.”

Lea and El­lis have no­ticed it, too, and that bodes well for the fu­ture. To­day’s small fish are to­mor­row’s big fish.

High water dur­ing the spawn­ing sea­son might have some­thing to do with good pro­duc­tion, but Lea and El­lis said it could also be at­trib­ut­able to the bass fin­ger­lings that an­glers re­lease ev­ery year dur­ing the Arkansas Big Bass Bo­nanza. The Arkansas Game and Fish Com­mis­sion tra­di­tion­ally gives an­glers par­tic­i­pat­ing in the tour­na­ment bags con­tain­ing 100 fin­ger­lings to re­lease wher­ever they wish. Nat­u­rally, they re­lease them in their fa­vorite fish­ing holes, which en­sures even dis­tri­bu­tion in good fish­ing places.

Skep­tics say it’s a gim­mick, and that re­leas­ing fin­ger­lings in this man­ner only pro­vides meals for big fish.

El­lis dis­agreed.

“If they can get to grass, they’ll sur­vive,” he said.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

The Lit­tle Rock Pool is the most lightly re­garded sec­tion of the Arkansas River for bass fish­ing, but you can catch a lot of fish within sight of the Lit­tle Rock sky­line in July and Au­gust.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

Ty­rone Phillips of Lit­tle Rock says it’s im­por­tant to take it slow and be pa­tient when fish­ing Arkansas River jet­ties in the sum­mer.

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