Fishing lore says it’s bad luck to catch a fish on the first cast. Catching one on the second? Bring on the luck.
The day’s first crappie bit Mike McBride’s small jig on cast No. 2 during a sunny, picture perfect April morning at Lake Fort Smith. The parade of fish that followed was like a conga line of crappie dancing its way into the livewell of McBride’s aluminum boat.
Lake Fort Smith, situated 10 miles south of Winslow, is McBride’s favorite crappie lair when the tasty panfish move shallow and get eager to bite as spawning nears. McBride fished his way along bushes and stick-ups in shallow water on the upstream end of the 1,400-acre reservoir.
Brush could be seen poking above the water, with much more below. Any wood cover is a magnet for crappie during spring. McBride, of Winslow, fished a 1/16th-ounce jig 3 feet under a small foam bobber. He winched in crappie after crappie working the jig close to the cover.
Water is usually clear at the picturesque lake. McBride found it muddy on this trip after substantial rain earlier in the week. His go-to lure in muddy water is a jig with a black body and chartreuse tail. A blue jig with white tail gets the nod in clear water.
“This lake is loaded with 8- to 10-inch crappie,” McBride said, adding another fish to his livewell. Crappie tend to be on the small side, but the number caught can be phenomenal.
At Lake Fort Smith, a 10-inch crappie is a big crappie, the angler testified. Statewide crappie regulations apply. The daily limit is 30 crappie of any size.
By noon, he and his fishing partner had caught at least 80 crappie and kept 36. Anglers in boats nearby appeared to have similar success.
“You may not catch a trophy here, but you can sure catch a nice mess to eat,” McBride said.
Good crappie fishing at Lake Fort Smith is still going strong in May, McBride confirmed last week. They’re biting in shallow water around brush on the upper part of the lake.
“Fishing is a little slower, but the numbers are good,” he said.
It’s no wonder that most anglers come to Lake Fort Smith to catch crappie, said Heather Johnson, an interpreter at Lake Fort Smith State Park.
“Crappie fishing has really taken off the last two years. I think word is out about the secret little fishing hole we have here,” said Johnson, who fishes the lake herself.
Black bass fishing is good, too, she said. Largemouth and spotted bass swim in the lake.
“The average depth of the lake is 80 feet, so sometimes it can be a challenge to find where they are staging,” she said.
Largemouth bass tend to be near the bottom 15 feet deep or shallower. Spotted bass like to suspend 10 feet deep or so over deeper water, Johnson added.
“I’ve not had much luck using top-water lures for bass. You pretty much need to use a creature bait” like a jig and pig or plastic worm, she said.
It’s possible to haul in a lunker. David Thrasher of Rogers will never forget a 10-pound largemouth he caught at Lake Fort Smith several years ago. It’s the biggest bass of his life.
“I was in my inflatable kayak and using a jig along the bottom right across from the marina. I got this big old strike and reared back,” he recalled. “That bass was so big, I was almost scared to reach down and grab it.”
The beauty of Lake Fort Smith could be the main draw for fishermen and other boaters who come to the lake and park. It is one gorgeous waterway.
Ozark National Forest and Lake Fort Smith State Park surround the reservoir. The beauty of the Boston Mountains is stunning from the water, a campsite or hiking trail. The lake has a pleasant wilderness feeling with few signs of civilization.
There’s even a waterfall to see after a rain. From the boat ramp, travel across the lake to the opposite shoreline. Turn right and go one-half mile. The cascade is tucked away in a small rocky bay.
Lake Fort Smith is a water supply for the city of Fort Smith. Swimming isn’t allowed, Johnson said. Neither is any kind of boating where a person might enter the water.
Personal watercraft and stand-up paddleboards aren’t allowed. Canoes and kayaks are OK, Johnson said. There are no horsepower restrictions on outboard motors.
At Lake Fort Smith, there’s no limit on beauty to see from the water or land.
Lake Fort Smith State Park
Camping, fishing, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking are popular activities at Lake Fort Smith State Park 10 miles south of Winslow on U.S. 71.
The park has a visitor center, 30 campsites, 10 cabins, a swimming pool and a marina with boat rentals. There are pavilions and picnic sites.
The western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail is at the park.
Source: Arkansas State Parks