Conifers and hardwoods reflect symmetrical patterns down pristine shores, connecting the shoreline to intrusive waters filled with rocks, foliage and stumps. There are no buildings, homes or businesses here, just nature’s beauty commonly found on Minnesota or Wisconsin lakes.
Wads of thread thin minnows with a few gizzard shad and crawfish offer fish a daily smorgasbord. Walleye, strippers, spotted or largemouth bass, white bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, several species of huge catfish, an occasional trout and big bluegill give anglers exquisite fishing on 40,100-acre Lake Ouachita in southern Arkansas.
Lake Ouachita is Arkansas’ largest lake, created when Blakely Mountain Dam was built to provide hydroelectric power and flood control, impounding waters of the Ouachita River near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The lake is surrounded by the beautiful Ouachita National Forest, pure, pristine Ozark timberland. Noel Vick claims this unique lake as his favorite. That’s high praise from a professional fisherman that has fished lakes across the entire country and is a Minnesota transplant.
“The fish are fat here,” Vick said while clenching a good cigar between his teeth. “The trick to finding Ouachita’s bigger fish is following the wads of shad.”
Ryan Lilly and David Hadden traveled from Maine to sample some of Ouachita’s fishing in their Old Town Predator kayaks made specially for fishing with rod holders, a bracket for electronics and stability for white-capping lakes. There were few other boats on the lake and they owned the shorelines to fish for bass and big crappie with Zman Ned Rigs and an assortment of crankbaits.
Lilly quickly propelled his kayak across a large bay to fish behind a long, abandoned wooden dock in exceptionally shallow water. He cast a Ned rig, a small plastic worm on a lead-head jig, into a shaded corner and was immediately rewarded by a good strike.
A two-pound spotted bass grabbed the lively-looking morsel and tried to dive back under the dock. He controlled the fight on his spinning outfit and soon released the nice bass. Spotted, often called Kentucky bass, may be identified by running your finger over their rough tongue. Largemouth bass have smooth tongues.
“Nice bass,” Lilly said. “But I’m looking for his grandmother. There are four or five-pound spots in this lake.”
Lilly and Hadden were searching for big strippers to live the fantasy of catching a 40-pounder from their kayak. One can only imagine the kind of fight where a fish would tow their boat — quite an experience.
The following day Vick and I found a hungry school of spotted bass that inhaled our Ned rigs on a submerged gravel hump. We caught eleven in the two to three-pound range during a hot 30-minute period before the school moved away. The bass really put on a scrap on this unique lake.
Lake Ouachita flooded parts of an historic region. Small skirmishes were fought here during the Civil War. Some fights likely happened where the 48,000-acre lake sits within its 970 miles of shoreline. Foundations from Buckville, Arkansas including a church, a general store, cemeteries and many home foundations are now fish-finding structure as was illustrated by the Raymarine Dragonfly 5 graph, a lightning-fast processor that showed peaks and valleys of this unique lake.
“Trolling this lake is interesting,” Vick said. “You can troll from 90-feet to shallows in seconds and then back over deep water. The deepest point is 200-feet, and it’s not unusual to find fish suspended in 10- or 15-feet depths over deep water while following food sources. The area is filled with hills and valleys highlighted by stumps, rocks and old structures that hold fish, especially big strippers.”
Points, secondary points, flats and coves add to the fishing area’s rich structure. Deep slate walls that promise deep water under the surface and a few islands are excellent hot weather or winter spots, especially for walleye. Schools of white bass or other quality species may turn up anywhere pursuing wads of thread thin minnows. Big fish could be suspended over deep water or on the bottom.
Lilly hooked a nice stripper later in the second evening on a Livetarget Shad Crankbait, but from a larger boat several miles down the lake from our accommodations at beautiful Mountain Harbor Resort. The strong fish made several slashing runs and dives that would make a submarine commander envious.
“Can you imagine fighting a fish like that in a kayak,” Lilly asked. “I’ll bet that fight would last two hours. Strippers don’t give up, but just keep fighting.”
Vick has caught big strippers from a kayak and understands Lilly’s passion.
“Few experiences equal that kind of fight,” Vick said. “There are times when you just hang on and take the ride and times when you are fighting the fish. Landing big fish in a kayak can be tough.”
Kayak manufacturers paid attention and created boats rigged up for fishing or hunting. Fighting big fish in light-weight boats has become the new fishing challenge. The Predator weighs 86 pounds and has a weight capacity of 425 pounds.
Modern-day kayaks have evolved into sportsmen’s hunting and fishing crafts. For example, Old Town's Predator features 13 feet and 2 inches of length and 36 inches of width, is very difficult to turn over — I tried. These new crafts are loaded with live wells and fishing rod holders. Duck hunters, too, are using this craft for slipping into shallow areas where waterfowl feed.
Lake Ouachita provided us with excellent bass and crappie fishing, but we had trouble catching strippers from areas where nine were caught two days before. But that is what makes fishing for large trophies interesting. There are never any guarantees.
Want to try fishing Lake Ouachita? Call Mountain Harbor Resort at (870) 867-2191 or check their website at: www.mountainharborresort.com. You can contact Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism about fishing this beautiful lake at: (501) 682-7606.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.