During these waning days of fall, most sportsmen are chasing whitetails, greenheads, cottontails and bushytails. But this time of year is also an often overlooked time for great fishing in The Natural State.
Just last week, I spent a couple of days fishing for trout on the White River near Mountain Home, and it drove home the point that fishing isn’t just a spring and summer affair in Arkansas.
Fishing with Steve “Wildman” Wilson, my colleague and friend at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, I spent a Thursday afternoon and Friday morning on the river with Richard Cross, the founder of an extremely productive lure called the White River Zig Jig.
By the time we left the river at noon last Friday, we had caught and released dozens of fish, including several chunky brown trout, two of which exceeded 20 inches.
(Just to prove I’m not making this up, I encourage you to tune in to KARZ, channel 42, at 9 a.m. Sunday or to KARK, channel 4, at 11:30 p.m. Sunday for “Talkin’ Outdoors at the Corner Café.”)
Cross’s lures played a big role in our success. After taking up jig fishing for trout in the 1990s, something went wrong at the company that was producing his favorite jigs, and Cross was unable to purchase the lures he’d been using with great success on several northern Arkansas tailwater trout streams. So he started making his own, and a happy accident spawned the Zig Jig. While developing the lead head for the jigs, the mold produced an asymmetrical head. But instead of tossing out the batch, Cross took them to the river and discovered the trout couldn’t resist the erratic action created by the lopsided
jig head. The Zig Jig looks like a standard marabou jig, but the unbalanced head makes it fall with a zigzagging action that trout, for whatever reason, find irresistible. (More information on the Zig Jig is available at www.zigjig.com.)
Cross calls the presentation the “Pop and Drop.” The jigs ranged in size from 1/8 to 3/16 ounce. We fished them by casting from the boat at a slight downstream angle, allowing the lure to drop until it neared the river bottom, and then we popped the jigs up through the water column with a sharp lift of the light spinning rods we were using. We repeated the retrieve all the way back to the boat, with the vast majority of fish hitting the jigs on the drop. It was a simple but effective technique. There wasn’t much to it. Instead of setting the hook, the fish usually hooked themselves as we lifted our rod tips for the “pop” part of the presentation.
Although I’ve rarely fished with such an effective technique, the presentation was just part of the formula for success. Lack of fishing pressure, no doubt, played an important role.
For obvious reasons, you just don’t see as many anglers on the water this time of year, and that means reduced fishing pressure and a better chance to trick a trout into biting.
Instead of the constant disturbance of boat traffic and angling pressure, Arkansas trout go largely undisturbed during the winter months. We saw two bank anglers at the boat ramp at Wildcat Shoals on our first afternoon of fishing and just two other boats on the water between Wildcat and the Narrows. On our second day of fishing at Rim Shoals, we didn’t see another angler all morning.
Another highlight of trout fishing this time of year is the potential to catch trophy brown trout. Brown trout, unlike stocker rainbow trout, reproduce naturally in our state’s tailwater trout streams. They make their annual spawning runs between October and January. And while I’m against fishing for actively spawning brown trout, December is a great time to catch fish in staging areas before they move onto spawning shoals. And with a little extra care and easy handling, the staging fish are no worse for wear when they’re rapidly returned to the river.
And you won’t find a more beautiful fish in Arkansas waters than late-fall brown trout. Their golden skin is punctuated by black and red spots that shine brightly under the autumn sun.
Browns fight much harder than rainbow trout, perhaps evidence of their wild heritage as opposed to the rainbow’s fish-hatchery lineage.
But you don’t have to drive all the way to northern Arkansas to enjoy trout fishing. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been bringing trout to the state’s urban fisheries for the last decade as part of the agency’s Family and Community Fishing
During the winter months, the AGFC delivers rainbow trout from its Jim Hinkle Spring River Hatchery near Mammoth Spring to small city park ponds in all corners of Arkansas. Just last week, the AGFC stocked several hundred rainbows in the Martin
Luther King Jr. Park Pond in Pine Bluff.
When water temperatures drop in December, smaller water bodies such as the park pond can sustain trout until temperatures increase in the spring. The AGFC releases fish throughout the winter months, frequently replenishing the stocks throughout December, January and February.
Anglers 16 years and older are required to have a fishing license, and any angler who plans to keep trout must also possess a trout permit. The daily limit on rainbow trout is five.
Bundle up and get outside. The trout are closer than you think. And you just might have the trout waters to yourself this time of year.