Located just an hour outside of historic Hot Springs, Arkansas, Lake Ouachita (pronounced Wah-shi-tah) offers 40,000 acres of outdoor adventures too numerous to mention in one article. The lake’s French- Indian name means “big hunt”, but the big hunt here is not for animals, but for fish.
The lake is a trophy spot for striped bass and is loaded with largemouth bass as well. Crappie fishing is also outstanding here, especially in the spring and winter months when the fish are easier to locate. Lesser populations of smallmouth bass, walleye and catfish also draw anglers to these crystal clear water in the central part of the state.
Lake Ouachita is deep and clear. The average depth is around 50 feet with spots as deep as 200 feet. It was created by impounding the Ouachita River with the Blakely Mountain Dam and is surrounded by the beautiful Ouachita National Forest. Besides fishing, the lake is extremely popular for recreational boating, scuba diving, sailing, house boating and just about any outdoor activity you want. Most any kind of watercraft is available for rent on this lake as well.
This lake has almost 1,000 acres of shoreline, a crooked, rugged rocky shoreline that offers varied and excellent habitat for fish. There are also an abundance of shallow water areas around islands that are top fishing spots.
Stripers are a favorite of fishermen here because they grow big and fight like a freight train. Just like the largemouths, striped bass will move into the creeks in the spring for the spawn. By summertime they will start schooling in large groups and the hotter it gets, the tighter the schools will become. In extreme hot conditions, the fish will be shallower than most anglers would think because oxygen can get low in deeper waters. The areas mid-lake to the dam is where you’ll find most of the action then.
Anglers go west in the lake for the best action during the winter when live bait becomes the best bait and fish move into deeper water around main channels and creek bends. You can fish a variety of techniques and catch fish, including downlining, free lining, trolling or casting, depending on what lure and area you choose to fish.
Catching black bass is popular around grass beds and aquatic vegetation here. The fish relate to variations in the grass, like points, holes, indentions and irregular stretches of grass where they can hide, but still ambush prey. Grass is abundant in most areas of the lake near the shores, around many islands, and the best traditional areas are in waters 12-18 feet deep. Bass fishing much shallower than that is difficult because of the extremely clear water.
Fishing on top of the grass with a jig or worm or some type of jerk bait is best on sunny days in the spring and summer. You can locate the grass on electronics, but a good pair of polarized sunglasses will also help you see what you are fishing.
Shallow water fishing in the spring is best in the backs of coves with creeks in them, as well as along shallower channel bends. Fishing exposed rock is good early because these areas warm up earlier. By summertime, the best fishing is early in the morning and late in the evening. If it’s still and the fish are in shallower areas, topwater baits can even produce.
The fish still hang in the same areas in the fall and winter, but can suspend out from the deeper grass and rocks. Fishing crank baits and spinnerbaits work well. Anglers like lures that make noise to get the fish’s attention in the grass. As the water gets colder, successful anglers slow down their presentations.
Deeper water fish around the channels can be caught on big jigs and spoons. In winter, spoons with tail spinners and hair trailers produce well. Some popular areas in the lake for bass include Housley Point, Hotdog and Hamburger Islands, and the Southfork of the Ouachita River. Most good anglers also have good spots at or around Denby Point, Shangri La, Twin Creeks, Muddy Creek, and the area around Little Fir and the Highway 27 bridge.
Crappie have always been a big draw to lake Ouachita. Fishing the mouths of coves and the backs of creeks in 12-20 feet of water works well most of the year. The fish do move shallow in the spring and can be found in 6-10 feet of water on shiners, jigs and small spinners.
There’s also a unique Lake Ouachita Geo-Float Trail that guides boaters around the waters, describing many geological formations unique to the area. The lake is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and numerous access points are available. You can choose from a wide variety of day-use areas and overnight accommodations and visiting fishermen can find a multitude of restaurants, lodging, attractions and activities in Hot Springs, such as the Hot Springs National Park.