December 01, 2011
By Matt Straw
Last December, I was being taxied through the Ozarks, compliments of Northland Tackle, Frabill, Marcum, and Gaston's White River Resort. Though we caught and photographed some big shell crackers and nice largemouths, the highlight of the trip was a jaunt over to Lake Norfork for stripers.
In past winters, I've made quite a number of sojourns to Norfork and Lake Ouachita for winter and spring stripers. Never disappointing. Most particularly awesome is the memory of so many rises to a waking Cotton Cordell Red Fin. Rises. Right. Sounds like a trout sipping callibaetis off the surface film. A sasquatch throwing boulders at you from the Ouachita Mountains would be a more accurate description of the surface disturbance caused by a striper rising 20 feet or more from submerged trees to crush a muskie-sized minnowbait. Then drag it right back down into those trees.
Arkansas isn't the Keys. No palm trees, coconuts, rain forests, or exotic fruits. But you can have the little umbrella in your drink while enjoying weather far milder than we're accustomed to in Minnesota. And it can be as exotic as you want to make it. During the full moon in February, some of the world's biggest brown trout come, backs out of the water, slashing at bunny strips. You haven't experienced trout fishing until you've dropped a big streamer ahead of a boil the size of a Volkswagon out there in the moonglade.
Or you could go cliff jumping.
Or not. The water will be around 45°F or so, on the average. Like I said. It's not the Keys.
But Arkansas is a great winter destination for anglers. If you really must drop a callibaetis down softly on the surface film, you can do it on the Little Red River. You'll catch more trout with a scud, but I'm just saying. In fact, you'll catch more trout than you've ever caught in a day unless you're just so-so with a fly rod. In which case you should take a drift down the White River and boondoggle a 3-inch, red, plastic worm. The last time we did that we caught 50 rainbows per hour. Apiece.
You can go bass, walleye, or crappie fishing on Bull Shoals or any number of lakes. On many of these reservoirs, bass and crappies are way up the creek channels, alternatiing between shallow coves and deeper channels, sometimes invading water 4 feet deep. Many of the crappies you catch will top 2 pounds and you won't have to drill a hole in the ice to catch them.
Or take the family to the hot springs. In Hot Springs. Maybe that will seem tropical enough. Me? My kids are grown up, but still talking about the hot springs. I'll be on Norfork. Maybe Beaver Lake. Or Ouachita. Fishing stripers. Leave a message.