Anglers get themselves in hot water whenever they cast a line at Swepco Lake, a waterway that’s hot-tub warm all winter long.
The reason is the Flint Creek Power Plant, which looms on the east shore of 500-acre lake, situated just west of Gentry. Water is drawn from the reservoir to create steam in the production of electricity. It flows back into the lake at about 100 degrees.
More fish than bass
Black bass are the most sought after fish at Swepco Lake, but anglers can catch other species.
Jon Stein, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fisheries biologist, said the lake has a healthy population of sunfish, including redear, bluegill and green sunfish. Channel catfish and flathead catfish can also be caught.
Directions: The boat ramp and parking lot are located west of Gentry on Cripps Road. From Gentry, follow Arkansas 12 three miles to Cripps Road. Turn south and go three miles to the ramp and parking area.
— Staff report
That outflow keeps the lake springtime warm on the coldest winter days. The fishing can be down right hot, too.
Warm water means largemouth bass grow all year, but these aren’t your run of the mill bass. The bass at Swepco Lake are the Florida strain, which grow fast and big and only thrive in warm water. South Arkansas is the edge of the northern range for Florida bass, but they do well in tepid Swepco Lake, said Jon Stein, fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
“They wouldn’t do well at Beaver Lake. They’d die off,” he said. He and biologist Kevin Hopkins manage the fishery at both lakes.
Here it was Feb. 17, and Stein cast his lure into water that swirled at a pleasant 80 degrees. Hot water flowed from the power plant in a run of wild whitewater pouring into the lake. A chunky 2-pounder bit Stein’s lure, one of a dozen Florida bass he’d caught this morning. He liked what he saw as an angler and a biologist.
“You look at these fish, and they’re all fat and healthy,” he said. “And these Florida bass really fight.”
A few Northern strain largemouth bass swim in the lake, but the majority are Florida strain, Stein confirmed. Northern strain bass live in Beaver and the region’s smaller lakes.
Now and then Stein comes to Swepco and fishes with electricity. He and Hopkins electrofish the lake to monitor the health and number of bass. Fish are stunned, netted and measured, then released.
“When we electrofish and catch 150 bass per hour, that’s a healthy population. Depending on the year, we usually get 180 to 200 per hour at Swepco,” Stein said.
Some 40 percent of those are 15 inches or longer. It’s possible to catch trophy bass 8 pounds or larger at the lake, Stein said.
The warm water means bass spawn in January at Swepco.
“We’ve been here electrofishing in March and have caught three-inch fingerlings that hatched in January,” Stein added.
Bass he caught this day were all 12 inches or larger, including one pushing 3 pounds. Soft plastics ruled the day, with plastic worms, tube baits and lizard-looking baits like the Zoom Tiny Brush Hog all bringing bites. Fishing was good all over the lake.
Bass bit in the sunshine, but the biggest brutes feed after dark, said Kenny Stroud, a Swepco regular from Siloam Springs.
“They move up to feed in shallower water at night,” Stroud said. Big baits catch big bass under the stars. Plastic worms 10 to 12 inches long, four-inch tube baits, or hefty jig and pigs are good to use. Stick with dark colors, Stroud said.
Try a black spinner bait at night or a shad-colored spinner bait during the day, especially if it’s windy. And the breeze usually blows at Swepco.
Any shad-imitation lure is good to use, because threadfin shad are the primary forage at Swepco Lake, Stein said.
Fishing hasn’t always been as good as Stein found it on this February trip. Around 2006, the threadfin shad population plummeted at the lake. Bass were always looking for food.
“You could catch 20 to 50 bass a day,” Stein said, but most were skinny and all about 12 inches long.
Back then, all bass caught at Swepco had to be released. The lake was overpopulated. Game and Fish changed the regulations to let anglers keep 10 bass per day of any size, except only one could be 18 inches or longer. That regulation stands today. Stein said it has helped the fishery.
“There are fewer fish. It’s a much more balanced population now. We want people to harvest those smaller bass,” Stein said.
He’s monitoring the bass population but also threadfin shad numbers to make sure bass have enough to eat. He and Hopkins plan to do a gill-netting study for shad at Swepco. Shad, from two to three inches long, will be caught in the gill net’s fine mesh. That’ll give the biologists an idea of the number of shad in the lake.
Judging from the bass Stein caught on this day, the largemouths are doing well at Swepco Lake.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAFlip.
Sports on 03/14/2017