Three strikes and you’re out. Out floating the Kings River, that is, after getting flooded out twice.
Rain poured a day before the first try. Yet the two determined river rats figured the stream would drop enough overnight for a float-fishing trip. Arriving at the access, they found Kings still running high and muddy. Strike one.
A second attempt the next week never left home plate. All-night rain flooded the river again. Strike two.
There was no strike three on a mild, sunny June 13. The floaters found the Kings River at a perfect level. A lazy drift down its ultra-clear water would be a joy on this ultra-bright day, fish or no fish.
“As far as fishing goes, this is my favorite. Floating down an Ozark stream,” Russ Tonkinson of Rogers mused, lobbing a tube bait into the transparent flow. “Something Arkansas really has going for it is our streams.”
Perfect day, perfect conditions, and now Tonkinson had the day’s first fish, a feisty 10-inch smallmouth bass. Close to the boat, the fish let loose a mighty shake that showered Tonkinson in spray.
“Even the little ones fight! Don’t you love it?”
If Friday the 13th brings bad luck, Thursday the 13th brought good luck in the catching department, and on a new lure to boot.
Tonkinson uses swim baits at Beaver Lake, but he’d never given them a whirl on a stream. Time to experiment.
Swim baits are like a single-tailed grub, only with a paddle-like tail that gives it a swimming action. The day’s biggest smallmouth chomped down on Tonkinson’s 3-inch swim bait like it was the fish’s last meal. The 16-inch bronze beauty was a trophy the angler gently slipped back into its lair.
A 30-fish day of catch and release action floats anybody’s boat. Yet fish aren’t the attraction for most people who float the Kings River. Results of an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission survey of paddlers shows that’s so.
The survey started in March and will run through August, said Jon Stein, a regional fisheries biologist with Game and Fish. Stein and other agency employees are talking to paddlers as they take out after floating.
Findings reveal that most people aren’t fishing. They’re simply floating and enjoying the river.
Stein worked the busy Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. He said 255 people came off the river. Sixteen percent, about 40, were fishing. None of them kept any smallmouth bass.
Few are kept partly because regulations are so strict on Kings River smallmouths. On most of the stream, the daily limit is two smallmouth bass that must be 14 inches or longer. From Trigger Gap to the J.D. Fletcher U.S. 62 access, the daily limit is one smallmouth bass that must be 18 inches or longer.
“So far we’ve done 137 interviews of 300 anglers (one interview may involve one or more anglers) in four months over 47 interview days. Only four smallmouth bass have been kept, and that was some fishermen from Louisiana renting a cabin and trying to get some fish for a fish fry,” Stein said.
He noted that some smallmouths die from being handled or from natural causes.
The popularity of kayaks has increased traffic on Ozark streams like the Kings. People see that and think the stream is being over fished. That’s just not the case, Stein said. Most are just floating.
“If the harvest was high, we might tweak the regulations, but it’s not,” he noted.
Most fishermen interviewed were satisfied with their trip, Stein said. If smallmouth fishing doesn’t seem as good as it once was, it’s because of deteriorating habitat, Stein continued. Tons of silt wash into the Kings during floods when dirt banks erode. Some stretches of river have become wider, more shallow and filled in with gravel over the years.
Major bank stabilization projects are needed to improve smallmouth bass habitat and improve fishing, the biologist said.
One leading bank improvement project was done by The Nature Conservancy at its Kings River Preserve in Carroll County. Bank stabilization and reforestation were involved.
A surprise to anglers may be that some of the biggest Kings River smallmouth bass are caught in March, not May or June. Stein said one angler caught an 18-inch smallmouth bass while he was being interviewed at the U.S. 62 access. He caught and released the fish where Osage Creek flows into the Kings.
Float Kings River
Most floating takes place on 65 miles of the Kings River between Marble Access, east of Alabam, downstream to Romp Hole access where the river empties into Table Rock Lake. Numerous day floats are available in those 65 miles.
Floaters can expect forested banks, bluffs and clear water. The river is Class I and suitable for beginners.
Source: Staff report