Trio completes trout fishing mission in Lake Hamilton tailwaters
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.
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.