Locks and dams along the Arkansas River allow access to some of the best fishing in the country. Pools formed by these are stocked by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission with sport fish such as bass, crappie, catfish and bream, making the river a popular location for major fishing tournaments such as the Arkansas Big Bass Classic. Thirty-seven public access points from the western border to central Arkansas provide easy river entrance for the recreation boater or fisherman and are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The shallow, backwater areas adjacent to the Arkansas River are a great early season bass hot spot. You can find these backwaters almost anywhere along the river from Fort Smith to Arkansas Post. However, the lower ends of the 12 navigational pools generally contain more backwater areas than the upper ends of those pools because the water level is higher relative to the river bank in the lower ends of the pools. Saugers and whites up to three pounds are a common catch on the Arkansas River during winter. Fishing tailwaters is the way to load a stringer, with those below Ozark, Dardanelle and Murray dams among the best. Be on the water at night or just before dawn and dusk for best success.
Stripers are caught along the entire 320-mile length of the Arkansas River in Arkansas, from the river’s mouth in Desha County to Fort Smith on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. In spring, they migrate upriver into the tailwaters below river dams. Slack-water periods, when few or no gates are open, are great times for fishing with medium-weight tackle and live minnows. Spring fishermen also congregate below the Ozark-Jetta Taylor Lock and Dam (L&D) on the lake’s upstream end and below Dardanelle L&D which impounds the lake.
In addition to making the wide tree-lined river more enjoyable, the navigation system also created two lakes, which are recreation havens for outdoors enthusiasts. Ozark Lake covers 10,600 acres and extends 36 miles along the Arkansas River. The shoreline of the lake varies from steep bluffs and tree lined banks to open farm lands and level fields. Ten parks, three of which are day-use-only, offer a total of 157 campsites along the lakeshore. Lake Dardanelle, home to Lake Dardanelle State Park, is one of the most popular lakes in Arkansas for fishing tournaments because of large populations of catfish, white and largemouth bass, bream and crappie. Dardanelle stretches some 50 miles through the Arkansas River Valley and has over 34,000 acres of boating and fishing waters.