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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.

I’ve wanted to make a shoal bass trip for a long time and this trip provided me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Once we finished the redeye slam I knew we would probably need at least one more bass species to close out the Georgia bass slam and I knew exactly which species I wanted to target.  Shoal bass are native to the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins, but have also been introduced in the Ocmulgee River.  The Upper Chattahoochee was en route to the cabin from where we camped so that’s where we headed.

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Where we chose to fish the river there weren’t a ton of shoals, but it had some and they were close to an access point, plus there was a tributary we could fish as well.  We usually do better on smaller water so I figured this spot was our best shot at a shoal bass.

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I was able to catch a couple of juvenile 8″ fish that I think were shoal bass below and above this riffle.  Having never caught a shoal bass though I wasn’t 100% on the ID, I wanted to catch a no-doubter.

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Lucky for me I got a hold of a no-doubter.  As I floated the crawfish pattern through the tail end of a pool above the riffle and close to the shore I had a really good strike from a fish.  After a solid strip set I was into a good fight.  The fish made it easy on me and decided not to head downstream, instead heading further up into the pool.   I was able to corral the fish and grab it’s bottom lip.  Boom, shoal bass success!

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It may have only been a 13.5″ fish, but I’ve been wanting to catch that fish for a long time.  We kept fishing the rest of the shoals without any more luck so we hit the tributary stream.

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It was good looking water, but not very productive, I didn’t catch anything else and Blake wasn’t able to land a shoal bass.  Kind of a bummer that Blake wasn’t able to also get the Georgia bass slam, but we were looking forward to getting to the cabin and shifting our focus to trout.  Next time we fish for shoal bass we’ll have to find a nice big shoal complex which will probably mean making a float to put ourselves in more habitat for longer.

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For the last few years the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club and Massey’s Outfitters have gotten together and offered one of my favorite kayak fishing events, the Massey’s BCKFC Fish Pics Tournament.  It’s an 11 month long CPR style (catch-photo-release) tournament that starts on Jan 1st of each year and is free to members of the BCKFC.  It has two divisions, one for conventional tackle and one for fly fishermen, and each division winner is awarded a kayak at the end of the year.  You heard that right, a tournament with essentially free entry awards two kayaks!  Other awards are also given out for the biggest fish in each category – redfish, trout, bass, and flounder.  I love this style of tournament because now every trip becomes a potential winning trip.

Last year I started off hot, catching some big redfish in January.  This 42.25″ red was good enough to land me the award for biggest redfish in the conventional tackle division.

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In the fly division, I took home 2nd place overall with the help of a 35.5″ redfish also caught that same day in January.

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My bass and my trout weren’t the biggest, but they were enough to eek out a 2nd place finish.  They were both caught during my week long stay in St. Bernard in October.

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This past year was the most participation that the tournament has ever seen, which was around  40 people total, so as you can tell, it didn’t take much for me to place.  It’s a shock to me that more BCKFC members aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity and submitting fish from their trips.  Maybe this year the tournament will see even more growth.

For more information on the Massey’s BCKFC Fish Pics tournament or to start competing, sign up to become a member at www.BCKFC.org.