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March is prime time for fishing

by Bryan Hendricks | March 18, 2021 at 2:10 a.m.
White bass fishing is red hot right now on lakes and rivers across Arkansas. You can catch them from boats, canoes, kayaks and from the bank with basic light tackle. Lake Maumelle is an excellent destination for anglers in Central Arkansas. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

Spring is here, and that means it's fishing season. With coronavirus social distancing protocols still in effect for the foreseeable future, fishing remains an ideal way to boost physical and mental health in the Natural State.

Our recommendations begin in March, but our climate is right for year-long fishing. Excellent largemouth fishing is available anywhere, anytime on big lakes, small lakes, rivers and streams. Smallmouth bass and Kentucky bass, too.

We've got giant stripers in our big lakes and on the Arkansas River. We've got big white bass/striped bass hybrids on many lakes, and white bass practically everywhere. We have some of the best walleye fishing in the country, as well as some excellent saugeye and sauger fishing.

We have some of the best trout fishing in the world in the White River tailwaters, but we also have some excellent cold-weather seasonal trout fisheries in southwest Arkansas.

Catfish? They're everywhere. Ditto for crappie, and double ditto for bream.

We offer a few options for March, and we'll be back every week with a few more to assist you in your travels around the state.

White Bass Everywhere

White bass are spawning all over the state, making them easy to find and catch from the bank and from boats.

In Central Arkansas, the white bass run on Lake Maumelle is legendary. You can catch them right now in the Big Maumelle River arm at the west end of the lake. Central Arkansas Water allows kayaks on the Big Maumelle west of the Arkansas 10 Bridge. There's also good bank fishing from the public access area on Arkansas 10 near the Arkansas 113 intersection.

A powerboat allows you to fish the entire lake. Any kind of a small, shad colored sassy shad style swimbait on a light ball jig will catch white bass anytime. Small crankbaits and inline spinnerbaits are excellent, too.

White bass are also running up the tributaries on Lake Ouachita, and white bass fishing is red hot right now on Lake Hamilton. In western Arkansas, Vache Grasse Creek near Fort Smith and below the dams on the Arkansas River are excellent places to fish.

White River Brown Trout

Whatever trout fishing experience you want, the White River satisfies, from stocker size rainbow trout for the frying pan to trophy brown trout for photo memories.

Catching big browns once depended largely on current from the hydropower releases from Bull Shoals Dam, but not anymore. Savvy anglers have figured out how to catch them in any amount of flow.

When the river is rising, anglers catch big browns with big stickbaits on spinning tackle. Fly fishermen catch them with big streamers on heavyweight rods. I catch some of my best browns with the Sebile Stick Shadd in natural shiner color. It's a lipless jerkbait that sinks to about 4 feet, and at 5/16 ounce, you can cast it a mile. Its belly has a slight keel that makes the lure dive and dart when you jerk the rod tip. It has rattles, but the body cavity also contains glitter suspended in a clear, heavy solution that flashes brilliantly underwater. The liquid flows back and forth through the body, so it constantly changes the center of gravity and makes the lure move unpredictably.

When water is high and muddy, cast stickbaits in clear water next to the bank and jerk it through the mudline. Browns prowl these transition areas looking for an easy meal.

In low water, soaking a dead sculpin on a dropper rig at the bottom of a shoal is irresistible to big browns and big rainbows, too. On Memorial Day 2020, I caught a 22-inch rainbow and several browns longer than 20 inches fishing with guide Craig Yowell. Low water is uncommon in March, so you need to be there when it happens.

Lower White Oak Largemouths

Lower White Oak Lake, the centerpiece of White Oak Lake State Park, is one of the state's best bass fisheries, and March is a prime time to be there.

Though small compared to major Corps of Engineers reservoirs, Lower White Oak Lake is fairly shallow, but it is full of bass habitat. The most prominent cover is in the form of downed trees. Bass hover beside the trunks and among the limbs. You can catch them with a plastic worm on a 1/4-ounce ballhead jig. It is important to cast toward the trunk and retrieve outward to avoid snagging. Deep rock structure is also present in parts of the lake. Bass also concentrate over sand boils that form small, open humps.

In March, bass will be spawning. Look for areas with hard bottom along the banks, as these are prime spawning areas.

Small bass often school in the evenings, and you can catch them on topwater lures.

Ouachita River Rainbows

For fast trout fishing action, a put-and-take fishery on the Ouachita River below Carpenter Dam is an excellent destination that's convenient for anglers in Central Arkansas.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks thousands of rainbow trout below Carpenter Dam in the winter. When the hydropower generators are idle, you can catch trout from the bank using Berkley Power Worms or Power Eggs on Carolina rigs. Light tackle is essential. You need a light-action rod and light line no larger than 6-pound test.

Kayaks allow safe access to the entire tailwater in low water. When the generators are running, swift current makes fishing and boat handling difficult, but you can still catch fish from powerboats.

A Carolina rig allows the bait to ride above the river bottom. A dropper rig, with a 3/8-ounce or 1/2-ounce Dipsey sinker, is even better. Trout usually swallow the bait on this kind of rig before you feel the strike, so the hook will imbed deeply. Use a barbless hook if you intend to release your trout.

Walleyes are in this area as well, which is a nice bonus. Striped bass also are present in small numbers. A 20-pound striper on light tackle will give you the fight of a lifetime.

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