The downstream miles of the Kings River take on a mellow mood, where the stream’s clear water meanders through Ozarks countryside before flowing into Table Rock Lake.
Long, quiet pools greet floaters on this lower end of the river. Some are nearly a mile long. Short shoal stretches divide these river lagoons. There’s more paddling here than on the faster water in the middle and upper miles of the Kings.
Most float trips on the Kings River take place on the middle and lower stretches during summer. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has access areas at U.S. 62 bridge, Stoney Point along Arkansas 143 and at Romp Hole north of Berryville. There is a private access at Kings River Outfitters near Eureka Springs and a pay access at the Grandview Bridge on Arkansas 143.
Source: Staff report
The downstream end offers good fishing for smallmouth bass and enough water for floating through most of the summer. A 5-mile canoe trip from the Arkansas 143 bridge at Grandview to Stoney Point access on June 29 proved an ideal way to usher in the Fourth of July weekend.
Temperatures promised to be firecracker hot. So Russ Tonkinson of Rogers and his fishing buddy got an early start. Tonkinson made his first cast before 9 a.m. in the shadow of the Grandview bridge.
There’s a saying that catching a fish on the first cast is bad luck. They’d find out, because a 10-inch smallmouth bass attacked Tonkinson’s Whopper Plopper top-water lure seconds after it hit the water.
A gentle tailwind gave the pair a push downstream, past wooded shorelines, pastures and low bluffs. The Kings River shimmered in the sunshine that drove the temperature to the high 80s by midmorning. Puffs of cottonball clouds brought welcome shade.
The river was low. That meant walking the canoe over several shoals and an opportunity to wade in the refreshing water.
Most of the morning the fish celebrated their independence from our lures. Bites were rare. Perseverance paid off and Tonkinson managed to catch and release a fair number of smallmouth bass on white Zoom Flukes. The soft jerk baits dart through the water imitating a minnow. Plastic worms and tube baits also fooled a few fish.
Above the water, an immature bald eagle soared over the canoe. Black vultures circled in a hazy sky. Herons waded the shallows. This was Tonkinson’s first time on the Grandview Bridge to Stoney Point run.
“It’s beautiful,” he said from his seat in the bow. “I wish the fishing was a little better. But we’re the only ones on the river today, and you can’t beat that.”
The tally was about 20 fish caught and released by the end of the trip. The pair scored a trifecta on black bass, catching all three species — smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass.
Lively Zoom Flukes were Tonkinson’s go-to lure on this trip. Fisheries biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission use them, too. Jon Stein and Kevin Hopkins raved about the lures on a visit to their office in Rogers.
“Kevin wears the smallmouths out on those white flukes,” Stein said. “There was one fish, he knocked that fluke out of the water twice then finally took it. You’d be reeling in a fish on that fluke, and there’d be five other fish following it.”
The smallmouth bass population in the Kings River is excellent, Stein said. It’s one of the top smallmouth streams in Arkansas.
Game and Fish did an electrofishing population study in 2015 that covered more than 30 miles of the Kings River from Rockouse access to Romp Hole access. A total of 233 smallmouth bass were shocked up, measured and released.
“There was one stretch downstream from the U.S. 62 bridge where we shocked up 25 smallmouths and a bunch of goggle-eye in 10 minutes,” Hopkins added. “The biggest was just over 17 inches, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger smallmouths in there.”
The biologists said they hear from anglers who want the Kings River to be all catch and release for smallmouth bass. The daily limit on most of the river is two fish per day that must be 14 inches or longer.
“I don’t think (catch and release) is going to improve the population because so few people keep smallmouth bass,” Stein said. On the Kings River, better habitat could improve the smallmouth population, he added.
Erosion is a problem on parts of the river. That results in tons of gravel and silt entering the river during floods. The situation is better now thanks to landowner efforts and groups such as The Nature Conservancy, which have completed bank stabilization work.
“Catch and release isn’t going to improve the population if you don’t have the habitat,” Stein said.
Bedrock, boulders and cobble rock is ideal smallmouth habitat. Smallmouth bass make their nests and reproduce in gravel areas. “You need some gravel, but not tons and tons of it,” Stein said.
Ernie Killman has operated Kings River Outfitters on the river for 25 years and is an advocate for catch and release. He said anglers do keep legal-sized smallmouth bass.
“I see it here at my landing. It’s so sad when you see it,” he said. “I’ve tried to tell people that if you want fish to eat, keep a bunch of goggle-eye.”
“I think catch and release would be the greatest thing for this river. With everything The Nature Conservancy has done to improve habitat, we’d have world class smallmouth fishing.”
Mark Kottmyer is a frequent Kings River angler who also favors a no-keep rule for smallmouths.
“I firmly believe a catch and release regulation would be a positive move for the future of a great place, the Kings River,” he wrote in an email. “I feel passionately that the gift of being able to release a native smallmouth back to the river is something precious. We should be vigilant in our efforts to ensure the future of the river for generations to come.”
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 08/01/2017