Down the lazy river

Easy does it for float­ing lower stretch of Kings River.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FLIP PUTTHOFF

The down­stream miles of the Kings River take on a mel­low mood, where the stream’s clear wa­ter me­an­ders through Ozarks coun­try­side be­fore flow­ing into Ta­ble Rock Lake.

Long, quiet pools greet floaters on this lower end of the river. Some are nearly a mile long. Short shoal stretches di­vide these river la­goons. There’s more pad­dling here than on the faster wa­ter in the mid­dle and up­per miles of the Kings.

The down­stream end of­fers good fish­ing for small­mouth bass and enough wa­ter for float­ing through most of the sum­mer. A 5-mile ca­noe trip from the Arkansas 143 bridge at Grand­view to Stoney Point ac­cess on June 29 proved an ideal way to usher in the Fourth of July week­end.

Tem­per­a­tures promised to be fire­cracker hot. So Russ Tonk­in­son of Rogers and his fish­ing buddy got an early start. Tonk­in­son made his first cast be­fore 9 a.m. in the shadow of the Grand­view bridge.

There’s a say­ing that catch­ing a fish on the first cast is bad luck. They’d find out, be­cause a 10-inch small­mouth bass at­tacked Tonk­in­son’s Whop­per Plop­per top-wa­ter lure sec­onds af­ter it hit the wa­ter.

A gen­tle tail­wind gave the pair a push down­stream, past wooded shore­lines, pas­tures and low bluffs. The Kings River shim­mered in the sun­shine that drove the tem­per­a­ture to the high 80s by mid­morn­ing. Puffs of cot­ton­ball clouds brought wel­come shade.

The river was low. That meant walk­ing the ca­noe over sev­eral shoals and an op­por­tu­nity to wade in the re­fresh­ing wa­ter.

Most of the morn­ing the fish cel­e­brated their in­de­pen­dence from our lures. Bites were rare. Per­se­ver­ance paid off and Tonk­in­son man­aged to catch and re­lease a fair num­ber of small­mouth bass on white Zoom Flukes. The soft jerk baits dart through the wa­ter im­i­tat­ing a min­now. Plas­tic worms and tube baits also fooled a few fish.

Above the wa­ter, an im­ma­ture bald ea­gle soared over the ca­noe. Black vul­tures cir­cled in a hazy sky. Herons waded the shal­lows. This was Tonk­in­son’s first time on the Grand­view Bridge to Stoney Point run.

“It’s beau­ti­ful,” he said from his seat in the bow. “I wish the fish­ing was a lit­tle bet­ter. But we’re the only ones on the river to­day, and you can’t beat that.”

The tally was about 20 fish caught and re­leased by the end of the trip. The pair scored a tri­fecta on black bass, catch­ing all three species — small­mouth, large­mouth and spot­ted bass.

Lively Zoom Flukes were Tonk­in­son’s go-to lure on this trip. Fish­eries bi­ol­o­gists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Com­mis­sion use them, too. Jon Stein and Kevin Hop­kins raved about the lures on a visit to their of­fice in Rogers.

“Kevin wears the small­mouths out on those white flukes,” Stein said. “There was one fish, he knocked that fluke out of the wa­ter twice then fi­nally took it. You’d be reel­ing in a fish on that fluke, and there’d be five other fish fol­low­ing it.”

The small­mouth bass pop­u­la­tion in the Kings River is ex­cel­lent, Stein said. It’s one of the top small­mouth streams in Arkansas.

Game and Fish did an elec­trofish­ing pop­u­la­tion study in 2015 that cov­ered more than 30 miles of the Kings River from Rock­ouse ac­cess to Romp Hole ac­cess. A to­tal of 233 small­mouth bass were shocked up, mea­sured and re­leased.

“There was one stretch down­stream from the U.S. 62 bridge where we shocked up 25 small­mouths and a bunch of gog­gle-eye in 10 min­utes,” Hop­kins added. “The big­gest was just over 17 inches, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t big­ger small­mouths in there.”

The bi­ol­o­gists said they hear from an­glers who want the Kings River to be all catch and re­lease for small­mouth bass. The daily limit on most of the river is two fish per day that must be 14 inches or longer.

“I don’t think (catch and re­lease) is go­ing to im­prove the pop­u­la­tion be­cause so few peo­ple keep small­mouth bass,” Stein said. On the Kings River, bet­ter habi­tat could im­prove the small­mouth pop­u­la­tion, he added.

Ero­sion is a prob­lem on parts of the river. That re­sults in tons of gravel and silt en­ter­ing the river dur­ing floods. The sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter now thanks to landowner ef­forts and groups such as The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, which have com­pleted bank sta­bi­liza­tion work.

“Catch and re­lease isn’t go­ing to im­prove the pop­u­la­tion if you don’t have the habi­tat,” Stein said.

Bedrock, boul­ders and cob­ble rock is ideal small­mouth habi­tat. Small­mouth bass make their nests and re­pro­duce in gravel ar­eas. “You need some gravel, but not tons and tons of it,” Stein said.

Ernie Kill­man has op­er­ated Kings River Out­fit­ters on the river for 25 years and is an ad­vo­cate for catch and re­lease. He said an­glers do keep le­gal-sized small­mouth bass.

“I see it here at my land­ing. It’s so sad when you see it,” he said. “I’ve tried to tell peo­ple that if you want fish to eat, keep a bunch of gog­gle-eye.”

“I think catch and re­lease would be the great­est thing for this river. With ev­ery­thing The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy has done to im­prove habi­tat, we’d have world class small­mouth fish­ing.”

Mark Kottmyer is a fre­quent Kings River an­gler who also fa­vors a no-keep rule for small­mouths.

“I firmly be­lieve a catch and re­lease reg­u­la­tion would be a pos­i­tive move for the fu­ture of a great place, the Kings River,” he wrote in an email. “I feel pas­sion­ately that the gift of be­ing able to re­lease a na­tive small­mouth back to the river is some­thing pre­cious. We should be vig­i­lant in our ef­forts to en­sure the fu­ture of the river for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fput­thoff@nwadg. com or on Twit­ter @NWAFlip

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

The stretch of Kings River from Grand­view bridge to Stoney Point ac­cess fea­tures long pools and short shoals. Russ Tonk­in­son of Rogers fishes for small­mouth bass June 29 in a quiet pool of the river.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Kings River small­mouth bass had an ap­peti­tie for soft jerk baits on June 29 on a float from Grand­view Bridge to Stoney Point ac­cess. Tonk­in­son used a Zoom Fluke to catch sev­eral small­mouths.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Russ Tonk­in­son tus­sles the Kings River. with a leap­ing small­mouth June 20 on

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