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December 1, 2022 Comments Off on Small waters fish big: Anglers beat tough odds on storied stream Featured, Fishing, Latest

Small waters fish big: Anglers beat tough odds on storied stream

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

When this trio of fishing friends gets together, they’re armed with two fishing rods each and an array of lures made for Ozark streams. What they don’t have is a boat.

Legions of anglers float the Kings River and fish from canoes or kayaks. Joel O’Hearn and Doug Stewart, both from Little Flock, and Greg Stanfill of Lowell prefer fishing on foot. They walk the bank and thoroughly pick apart each fishy looking spot on a mission to catch and release small-mouth bass, the prized fish on Kings River.

The three got together on a freakishly hot afternoon Oct. 21 to fish the Kings, one of their favorite streams. On a normal afternoon in late October the men might wear waders, but opted for shorts to occasionally walk into pools of cool water on this 87-degree autumn afternoon.

For this trip, they traveled to a section of Kings River where Arkansas 143 crosses the stream near Grandview in Carroll County. There’s a pay access here where the landowner, for $10 per car, lets anglers cross private property to reach the stream. The access and pay box is on the south side of the bridge at the top of the hill near a house.

O’Hearn and Stewart each carried two spin-cast outfits while Stanfill toted a spin-cast rod and a fly rod. Soft plastic lures are usually tied to the their fishing lines.

Stanfill reached in his lure pouch to show a selection of Ned rigs. These short, stubby cigar-shaped soft plastic baits work well on streams, he noted. One color, pink, stood out. A pink Ned rig is a newcomer to his fishing kit.

“It’s the rookie of the year,” Stanfill testified.

On one trip to a different Northwest Arkansas stream, Stanfill caught 40 smallmouth bass with the pink lure.

O’Hearn gets a world of satisfaction by catching smallmouth bass on top-water lures he makes himself. He’s been crafting his own lures at home for decades. They draw angry strikes from smallmouths, as he would prove later in the afternoon.

From the access, Stan-fill and Stewart walked and fished upstream while O’Hearn and another fishing friend headed downstream. O’Hearn stopped to work a sun-splashed pool. The Kings River was typical autumn low. Most pools weren’t more than knee deep. The angler and lure craftsman aims his casts where the sun doesn’t shine.

“I gravitate toward fishing the shade,” O’Hearn said. “That line where the shade and sun meet.”

The pool didn’t look big enough to hold any fish and none could be seen. Two cranks of the reel and O’Hearn set the hook on a feisty smallmouth. Now the fish was easily seen thrashing underwater and splashing on the surface. With that fish in hand, O’Hearn used some markings on his rod and measured his catch — a solid 15-inch smallmouth bass.

Fine as that was, fishing was tough under the hot, bright sun. The trio worked water for one-half mile upstream and downstream of the bridge with not much to show for it. Time for a move. The three hopped in O’Hearn’s pickup for a short drive to the public J.D. Fletcher Kings River access five miles upstream at the U.S. 62 bridge. Their fourth fishing friend called it an afternoon and headed for the house.

Stanfill later texted a stellar fishing report.

“We waded a good ways downstream from the 62 bridge, and the fishing was good,” Stanfill wrote.

O’Hearn caught a 17-inch smallmouth on one of his hand-crafted top-water lures. He capped the day with an even larger fish, an 18.5-inch smallmouth that is the biggest he’s caught in his life.

Later in the week, we asked Jon Stein, area fisheries supervisor with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, about that trophy small-mouth. Stein said the fish was between 8 and 12 years old.

Big fish do indeed swim in small waters.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwaonline.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip.