Trio com­pletes trout fish­ing mis­sion in Lake Hamil­ton tail­wa­ters

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

In or­der to catch trout with­out driv­ing to north Arkansas, an­glers can scratch their itch at the sea­sonal trout fish­eries in cen­tral and south­west Arkansas.

JONES MILL — If you want to catch trout with­out driv­ing to north Arkansas, scratch your itch at the sea­sonal trout fish­eries in cen­tral and south­west Arkansas.

Dur­ing late win­ter and early spring, the Arkansas Game and Fish Com­mis­sion stocks rain­bow trout in the Oua­chita River below Blakely Dam and Car­pen­ter Dam, which form lakes Oua­chita and Hamil­ton, re­spec­tively, and also in the Lit­tle Mis­souri River below Lake Gree­son. Trout are also stocked in the Lit­tle Mis­souri River at the Al­bert Pike Re­cre­ation Area, and in the por­tion of Rock Creek that flows through Boyle Park in Lit­tle Rock.

These wa­ters are cold enough to sup­port trout in the win­ter and early spring, mak­ing this an ideal time to re­fine your trout fish­ing skills with­out the rig­ors of a long road trip.

Shane Good­ner of Hot Springs, owner of Catch ‘Em All Guide Ser­vice, spe­cial­izes in catch­ing rain­bow trout in the Lake Cather­ine head­wa­ters below Car­pen­ter Dam. It’s a user-friendly fish­ery for bank fish­ing and wade fish­ing, but a boat al­lows you to reach the most pro­duc­tive ar­eas.

Good­ner’s boat, a 16-foot alu­minum flat­bot­tom with a 9.9-horse­power out­board, is con­fig­ured for this arena, and ex­pe­ri­ence has taught Good­ner how to nav­i­gate the nar­row shoals be­tween the boat ramp below the dam to the trout-rich pool up­stream.

“That chute is only about 3 feet deep, and you can get hurt if you don’t know what you’re do­ing,” Good­ner said Mon­day as he pre­pared to host Ray Tucker and me for a morn­ing of fish­ing.

For safety’s sake, Good­ner re­quired Tucker and me to wear life­jack­ets while un­der­way. That’s ad­vis­able any­time, but es­pe­cially in the 46-de­gree wa­ter below Lake Cather­ine, where sud­den im­mer­sion can im­mo­bi­lize mus­cles and force a per­son to gasp and in­hale wa­ter.

Wade fish­ing can also be per­ilous in hard cur­rent like ex­isted Mon­day when En­tergy op­er­ated one hy­dropower gen­er­a­tor at the dam.

“It’s pretty slick along the bank, with a lot of bro­ken and jagged rocks,” Good­ner said. “If you get out too far, that cur­rent can sweep you off your feet.”

The trout stock­ing sea­son be­gan in Jan­uary, and most trout stocked early in the year are very small, Good­ner said.

“They start stock­ing big­ger trout in March, and by May they’re pretty much gone,” Good­ner said.

Be­sides an­glers, stocked rain­bow trout must also evade striped bass and walleyes that mi­grate to the tail­wa­ters. Some trout sur­vive all these per­ils to es­cape to Lake Cather­ine’s cold depths, where they grow fairly large.

Good­ner’s method for catch­ing rain­bows is sim­ple, and it catches rain­bow trout any­where. He uses light-ac­tion spin­ning rods with light Carolina rigs. His reels are spooled with 6-pound test line, with a 1/8-ounce tung­sten weight on the main line above a ball-bear­ing swivel.

“Tung­sten weights are ex­pen­sive, but they’re worth it,” Good­ner said. “These rocks will beat up a lead weight and cre­ate jagged edges that can cut your line. It’s Mur­phy’s Law for that to hap­pen when you’ve got a big fish on the line, so it’s best to bite the bul­let and in­vest in tackle that won’t break your heart.”

Past the bar­rel swivel is a 12- to 14-inch leader and a bar­b­less Ga­makatsu hook. Many baits will work on this setup, but Good­ner prefers Berke­ley Pow­erBait nuggets.

“They look like fish eggs, and trout are hard-wired to eat fish eggs,” Good­ner said as he ma­neu­vered his boat into a rag­ing eddy of cross cur­rents below the dam. Wa­ter surged side­ways across the dam face. At the other side of the river, it swirled and curled down the orig­i­nal Oua­chita River chan­nel, but a large vol­ume of wa­ter also branched away and fol­lowed the shoal down the north bank.

“Trout are all in here,” Good­ner said. “They get be­hind rocks and in all these lit­tle seams to get out of the cur­rent like they would in any other stream. There lit­er­ally is not a bad place in here to fish.”

With dual an­chors fore and aft, Good­ner made fast his boat per­pen­dic­u­lar to the cur­rent to cre­ate a sta­ble fish­ing plat­form. He in­structed us to make short casts di­rectly down­stream.

“Reel in your slack quickly and let the sinker get to the bot­tom,” Good­ner said. “Those Pow­erBaits are light, and they hover above the bot­tom and wave around ev­ery which way. Trout can’t re­sist them.”

If the sinker snags a rock, gen­tly pull it free.

“A trout will of­ten jump on it as soon as it comes free,” Good­ner said.

As soon as you feel a bite, set the hook and reel fast.

“Don’t set the hook with a side­ways sweep,” Good­ner said. “That will pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth. Pull the rod back, straight past your ear.”

It took a few missed fish to get the hang of it, but then the catch­ing be­came al­most au­to­matic. That’s when we saw the value of bar­b­less hooks.

“Trout swal­low this rig,” Good­ner said. “That’s OK if you’re go­ing to keep trout to eat, but if you’re go­ing to re­lease them, a bar­b­less hook won’t in­jure the fish.”

Re­mov­ing a hook is easy. With for­ceps, move the top Pow­erBait nugget out of the way and push the hook shaft down to free the hook. It takes mere sec­onds.

All the while, Tucker and Good­ner ha­rassed, jeered and goaded each other mer­ci­lessly, much like they did two years ago on our wade fish­ing trip on the South Fork of the Oua­chita River. We com­bined to catch 86 high-qual­ity bass that day. We all con­sider it our great­est trip ever, in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively, and it in­spired Good­ner to name our three­some “Seal Team Three.”

Our num­bers were a lit­tle off Mon­day. We caught and re­leased only 55 trout, drop­ping our av­er­age to 71.

For an ob­scure sea­sonal trout fish­ery in south­west Arkansas, that’s not too shabby.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

Shane Good­ner of Hot Springs in­spects one of 55 rain­bow trout he caught and re­leased while fish­ing with the au­thor and Ray Tucker of Lit­tle Rock on Mon­day in the head­wa­ters of Lake Cather­ine below Car­pen­ter Dam near Hot Springs.

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