With the itch to take a trip and a weekend set aside, Blake and I set out for Arkansas after work one Thursday earlier this month. We drove 7 hours to a campground in the Ouachita National Forest and set up our hammocks as fast as we could to maximize the time we’d have to sleep. Just like everywhere else in the South, western Arkansas is hot in the summer, even at midnight. Despite the heat I slept pretty well and woke up to a sweet lakeside campsite.
We aren’t much on fishing lakes so we headed on over to a nearby river where we met Jason who drove over from Little Rock to fish with us for the day. This trip was all about smallmouth bass, a fish Blake has never caught before. We were hoping to catch both the Ouachita strain and the Neosho strain on this trip – two unique forms of smallmouth found in Arkansas. First up was the Ouachita, which are found on a few different rivers that run south off the Ouachita Mountains.
The river was beautiful. I feel like I say that about every river, but this one seemed special. It was a classic freestone river, with water as clear as any you’ll find in the South. There was a riffle at our point of access that was too appealing to pass up so that’s where we started fishing. The riffle was chock full of boulders and loads of bait darted around as we moved upstream. Upstream of the riffle was a long pool and as we continued further it was clear this was the set up – riffle, long deep pool, riffle. We caught a few sunfish (some were massive green sunfish), but it took a while before we figured out the smallmouth.
We got to a point where a tributary emptied into the river and it was there that Blake caught the first smallmouth on a RLD.
Blake explored the trib a bit further and caught a few more fish, while Jason and I focused on the main stem of the river.
It was in the bubbles to the left of the run above that I finally caught my first Ouachita of the trip. It hit a streamer almost as soon as it hit the water.
Blake met up with Jason and I soon after and we continued our way upstream. As we got further from our access point the river got prettier and the fishing got better. This is nearly always the case, but we tend to get caught up fishing a new river right where start wading because it just looks too good to pass up.
I tried several different flies out early to try and establish a pattern, covering the water from top to bottom. What I ended up using most was a crawfish pattern tied on a jig style hook that Blake had tied for me prior to heading to West Virginia last year. Blake had good success on a RLD, the crawfish loved it too.
Not wanting to set up camp again in the dark we parted ways with Jason and left the river some time in the mid-afternoon. I really wish I had budgeted more time for that river, it was an awesome one, definitely somewhere you could spend a whole weekend. We only saw a few other people when we were leaving too. I’ll be back at some point. Right now though we had to drive north to the Ozark Mountains and Ozark National Forest to make it into a watershed that held Neosho smallmouth.