Feeling the last warm-water fly fishing opportunities dwindling for 2022 before winter sets in, I made an impromptu trip back up to the Ouachita Mountains to target Smallmouth Bass. The last trip I made up there was pretty successful (for a first-timer to the area, and targeting a new species) and I was hoping that some of the tricks I learned in the Louisiana creeks over the summer might also work on the smallmouth streams in Arkansas.
Bass Species in Arkansas
Before I dive in to the fishing report, I think its worth noting that there has been some new research into the species of Black Basses, and in particular this research defined a new species of Smallmouth Bass native to the Ouachita Mountains. This paper, published on June 6, 2022, poses that the smallmouth from the Little River drainage (of which the Cossatot river is a tributary) and the bass from the Ouchita River drainage are two separate species, whereas before they were both described as Ouachita Bass (Micropterus cf. dolomieu Ouachita). The newly described species is referred to by the paper’s authors as the Little River Bass (Micropterus cf. dolomieu Little). I did fish both of those drainages back in April and caught bass in both, so I guess I can add Little River Bass to my life list of fish! It’s fascinating to me how two separate genetic lineages diverged from such a small geographical area. Farther north from the Ouachitas, in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Oklahoma is the Neosho Bass, and in northeast Arkansas is the Smallmouth Bass. Four species in one state sets up for a “grand slam” that would be fun to shoot for one day.
I left Baton Rouge around 8:00 am and arrived at the cabin around 2:30 pm. Since the days are a little shorter this time of year I decided it would be most efficient to drive straight to the cabin and fish the creek there instead of going out of my way and fishing somewhere else first. Luckily the area had gotten about 2 inches of a rain a couple days before my arrival, because there had been about a month or two of really dry conditions before that. The water was still much lower and clearer than my last visit in the rainy season. Even with some more water in the creek it was swimming pool clear. I started by chunking a large streamer into the deep pool, but wasn’t seeing any action. When I eventually started fishing it a little slower, and letting it sink a bit deeper, I finally saw a decent size bass staring it down.
Stare was all he did however, and none of the other fish I started to see were very interested in chasing down the streamer. I had probably thrown 20 casts into the hole, so I’m sure they were aware of my presence, and felt safe enough in the deep water not to flee, but were spooked enough not to bite. I kept working upstream with the same streamer pattern, and did see a school of smaller fish in a tail-out, but after getting them to chase down my fist cast my second cast spooked them in the shallow water. These low and clear conditions were not seeming favorable to the splash of a big fly, so I decided to try a crawfish pattern. Back at the deeper hole, the crawfish was drawing alot of interest. Several bass would watch and follow as I gave the fly a periodic strip back. Finally, after letting it sit a bit longer I got one to commit and had the first fish of the trip in hand!
A quick sidebar on crawfish patterns: I had tied a bunch up for the April trip, but didn’t end up fishing them all that much after having success with white baitfish streamer patterns. After catching this first fish on one, I ended up fishing crawfish patterns for most of this trip. It’s no secret that bass of all kinds love crawfish, but it just hadn’t become a confidence fly for me. I guess I’ll bring this lesson learned back down to Louisiana, because Spotted Bass definitely eat lots of crawfish. Below is a Spotted Bass I caught over the summer that wasn’t finished munching on a crawfish before it also attacked my popper!
Day 2 started off with a beautiful layer of fog over the creeks and up into the mountains. My plans for this trip weren’t necessarily to cover any new ground, but more so to check out the same areas from the last trip under different conditions in a different time of year. The weather was typical fall weather, with lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s. I figured I’d give the water a little time to warm up, and spend the mornings exploring the forest service roads in the mountains and stopping off here and there to take some pictures and mark any good dispersed camps-sites in my GPS app, and then once things had warmed up, start doing more fishing.
The first campsite I came to had a nice deep pool, and although I hadn’t planned on starting fishing this early, I figured it was worth a few casts. I rigged up my little 7’6″ 3-weight fiberglass rod, a great small creek rod, and tied on a size 6 jigged crawfish pattern. The water was pretty chilly as I waded through in my Chacos to a good spot from which to cast, but I was pleasantly surprised when after a few casts I pulled out some absolutely gorgeous Longear Sunfish. I also caught some Striped Shiner, but no bass.
After catching the sunfish I starting thinking maybe I was wrong about the water temperatures needing to warm up, so I headed towards one of the bigger streams in the area to target bass. I waded through some shallow water and was seeing some bait, including alot of crawfish, but didn’t see any signs of bass, so I tried to find some deeper water. Eventually I did find a nice stretch of deep water (maybe 3 or 4 feet), with some nice boulders in the middle, but didn’t see any fish at all after working the water thoroughly with both crawfish and baitfish patterns. I decided to head to a smaller creek that I had fished last trip and in which I had caught some smallmouth.
I found a nice deep pool in the creek, and was able to catch a bass that was maybe 4″ long, but he wriggled out of my hand before I could snap a photo. I was seeing some sunfish in the area, including a school of sunfish pack hunting some small baitfish. which is something I had heard the smallmouth do in the fall. When I first saw them from a distance I thought they were bass, but after casting towards them and catching one I found out they were sunfish, still a really interesting sight to see.
After a while of fishing the creek I gave the bigger river one more try, and maybe enticed one follow from a bass near a deep boulder, but that was all. I am not sure where the bass were hiding, but it was a bit disappointing to catch just one tiny bass all day. I knew there were some bass in the creek by the cabin, so I headed back that way to try a bit before firing up the grill and having a few beers. I was able to lure one bass away from his pack with the crawfish, but couldn’t get any of the larger bass I was seeing to commit. All in all, it was a great day spent exploring a beautiful part of the country during a beautiful time of year, and I caught a few fish. I felt a bit disappointed not catching any decent bass, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.
The game plan for Day 3 was similar to the previous day, explore small creeks early and then transition to bigger waters later in the day. The first stop was a waterfall on a small creek that is a popular photography destination. The pool below looked like it was big and deep enough to hold some fish, so I climbed down to see for myself. Surprisingly, I caught several Creek Chub, of which I hadn’t caught any the day before, and no sunfish. I was in the same drainage as the day before, so this was interesting. Also, the chubs all had a really dark horizontal line down their sides, which they didn’t when I caught a few in April. Mating colors perhaps?
I continued following the road down this creek and found another great campsite along the creek. The campsite was along a large bend in the creek, and there was also a small man-made rock dam creating a big pool. I fished the whole area pretty thoroughly but again caught only chubs.
My next stop was to the headwaters of the main river, which has a nice set of waterfalls. My thinking was that the bigger waterfall would have a deeper plunge pool, and hopefully would be holding some Ouachita Bass. I scrambled down some rocks and made it to the plunge pool. After letting the fly sink down deep into the pool, my first strip back was met with some resistance, but it didn’t feel like much, and after a morning full of creek chubs, I was expecting another. But lo and behold, a small bass came up! I ended up catching a half dozen bass from about the same spot, including a couple nicer ones that I watched dart out from under a big boulder and grab the fly with lightning quickness.
I hiked downstream from the waterfalls for almost a mile, casting to any deeper water I could find, but didn’t see anything. I hiked back up to he truck and drove down to the old Albert Pike recreation area, where I knew there was a really deep hole. I fished it pretty good, saw a couple small bass holding between some big rocks, but got no bites. My original plan was to head to the Caddo or Ouachita rivers in the afternoon, but I decided I’d enjoy covering some new ground and marking campsites more than wading into some bigger rivers to try and catch some bigger bass. After all, I had caught some really pretty Ouachita Bass, and in the very headwaters of their range. I was content to keep exploring the mountains for the rest of the day, so I headed to a forest road I had marked that follows a creek from East to West for about 8 miles right into the heart of the mountain range. This afternoon drive was great, I saw only one or two other vehicles, stopped and fished the creek at any campsites (caught another tiny bass and a few chubs), took lots of pictures, and enjoyed the solitude and nature and the rocky windy roads that are super fun to drive.
Spring or Fall, the Ouachita Mountains are a nice getaway and not too far from home for me, I hope to get back soon! Enjoy more pictures from this last day below!
One thought on “Arkansas, Late October 2022”
Beautiful write up