Fishing Lake Ouachita
Striped Bass Fishing Charters
Little Rock is not the only thing worth visiting in Arkansas. With over 2,400 lakes, 47 hot springs, and 15 million acres of forest, Arkansas is also ideal for hikers and nature explorers. After all, Natural State is its nickname.
Arkansas has many gorgeous natural attractions, but the scenic Ouachita National Forest is at the top of everyone’s list. Besides the 40 hiking trails and the treasure hunting spots, this national park is also the home of Lake Ouachita – a man-made wonder.
A home for a variety of fish, Lake Ouachita is a favorite destination among fishing enthusiasts. Continue reading to discover everything you need about fishing Lake Ouachita.
Interesting Facts About Lake Ouachita
With over 40,000 acres of water and 975 miles of shoreline, Lake Ouachita is a sight worth exploring! It is the largest lake in Arkansas as the state shares Bull Shoals Lake with Missouri.
It’s in west-central Arkansas, east of Lake Ouachita State Park, near Mountain Pine, and only 13 miles away from the stunning city of Hot Springs. Around the lake, you can find a variety of wildlife, tree, and plant species as the lake is immersed in 1.8 acres of the picturesque Ouachita National Forest.
Built between 1946 and 1954 by enclosing the Ouachita River, its primary functions are flood prevention and hydroelectric power production. At its best, it can provide 75,000 kilowatt-hours of power.
But it’s also a brilliant vacation destination as it has stunning marinas, fully-equipped campsites, over 200 islands, and crystal clear water. The most enjoyable months are May, June, October, and April, while the least comfortable ones are July and August.
How Good Is Lake Ouachita For Fishing?
Ouachita River forms many lakes and ponds, and the most important ones beside Lake Ouachita are Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine. However, Lake Ouachita is the largest, deepest, and clearest of the three.
The lake has open and deep waters, shallows, tributaries, creeks, and everything needed for maintaining fish diversity. There is a lot of vegetation beneath the surface, left from before the lake existed. As a result, you can find grass and standing timber, which contribute to a livelier ecosystem.
Most importantly, Lake Ouachita has no residential homes around it, although you can camp, stay in a cabin, or rent a houseboat. However, resorts and marinas are in small numbers, so the lake still preserves an authentic wildlife feel.
Is Lake Ouachita Good For Family Fishing Trips?
Even though it sounds contradictory, fishing is not just angling fish. It’s also about relaxing and spending quality time with family members and friends. And Lake Ouachita is the perfect location for taking your fishing trip to a whole other level.
Of course, not all family members are fishing enthusiasts. There are many things at this lake suitable for all ages. There are parks, 5 children’s playgrounds, 10 designated swimming areas, 20 recreation areas, and 93 camping sites.
You can take scuba diving lessons, rent kayaks, take a relaxing boat trip, explore nature around the lake, or stargaze. Marinas like Brady Mountain and Crystal Springs even have beautiful restaurants, providing a unique dining experience next to Ouachita’s stunning clear waters.
Top Targeted Fish Species
Fish Species and Fishing Tips For Ouachita Lake
The lake’s diversity and nature conservation contribute to an exciting fish population. From striped bass to catfish, you can find many freshwater species in the lake. This makes Lake Ouachita the ideal spot for fishing enthusiasts.
What’s best is that different fish species don’t cohabitate. You can hunt for striper in open water areas, bass in creeks, and walleye in humps and ledges. Read on to discover Lake Ouachita’s most popular fish species, along with some fishing tips.
The Best Season For Lake Ouachita Fishing
At Lake Ouachita, you can find all kinds of fish year-round. Most anglers find spring and fall the best seasons for Lake Ouachita fishing. During these seasons, many species move to shallow water – spring for spawning and fall for eating.
However, every species has different seasonal patterns. For instance, spotted bass stays in deeper waters in spring compared to largemouth bass – even in waters 40 feet deep. In these cases, it’s best to use live crawfish as lures, throwing them directly into their feeding area.
Arkansas has strict rules for game fishing, including size limitations for keeping a catch. The limits allow species to thrive in their ecosystem and achieve enormous sizes. As a result, Arkansas is a fantastic spot for trophy fishing.
Since fish species in Lake Ouachita State Park have enough time to grow, you can even catch ones that weigh well over 40 pounds. Of course, this depends on the species. If you like trophy fishing, we suggest searching for striped bass.
Trophy striper enthusiasts love the lake since it has an abundance of monster striped bass. Ouachita is among the best areas for bass fishing and is one of the US’s top 10 spots for largemouth bass fishing.
However, other species grow large too. In fact, the only sportfishing record achieved at Lake Ouachita is when an angler caught a 38-pound channel catfish.
Lake Ouachita Fishing Guides
To see a complete list of great Arkansas Fishing Guides, please click here!
Bass is the most sought-after group of game fish, and it is in abundance at Lake Ouachita. You can find largemouth, smallmouth, and Kentucky spotted bass. There’s also black bass – a type of sunfish. Each kind of black bass has different behaviors and characteristics.
Largemouth – A mostly solitary creature that lurks in shallow waters and gets less active during winter. It jumps out of the water when it’s hooked and is more vulnerable to larger lures.
Smallmouth – Because they like extremely clear waters, they are a sign of a healthy environment. It’s good to note that they hibernate during winter. These fish are not that picky about food, so you can lure them with vibrating jigs, crankbaits, or spinnerbaits. However, they won’t fall for heavy lines.
Spotted bass – They prefer to swim in schools in open, clear waters and can be found in deeper parts of the lake, mostly during winter. When they are hooked, they dive deeper than largemouth and smallmouth.
If you are looking for true bass, you are in luck, as Lake Ouachita is a paradise for fishing stripers. Striped bass is everywhere in the reservoir. In fact, people call this lake the Trophy Striped Bass Lake. With the right amount of patience and the right gear, you can even catch a stripe that’s over 40 pounds.
Sunrise and sunset are perfect periods for catching true bass. The best techniques for catching stripers are down lining, free lining, trolling, and casting. It would help to consider the fish’s seasonal movement patterns when fishing striped bass.
They hang out in creeks and move upstream in early spring. In summer and fall, they are mostly mid-lake, while in winter, they prefer live baits and swim on the main canal. The limitations on striper fishing are 3 stripers per day.
Besides stripers, you can also find white bass. In the winter, they spend time near the bottom, while in summer, white bass hunts food near the surface. The limit on white bass fishing is 25 per day. Hybrids also exist but are currently out of stock.
Lake Ouachita has a lot of black and white crappie, but you can only angle 30 fish per day. Crappie is also known as strawberry bass, white perch, papermouth, and speckled perch. Although resilient, they are worth the fight.
Fishing methods are the same for both black and white crappie. Most anglers use a method called spider rigging. It involves placing multiple rods in different directions to cover the entire area around your boat.
You can place different lures on each of your heavy sinkers to enhance your chances of success. As for baits, crappies would bite anything, from jigs and crankbait to live minnows.
The best thing about crappie is that you can catch them from docks and ramps, especially in fall when they swim closer to shore. In winter, crappie also swims in dense groups near structures.
Sunfish compete among themselves, which makes them relatively easy to catch. In Lake Ouachita, you can find a variety of sunfish, including bluegill, green, longear, redbreast, redear, and warmouth.
Most anglers don’t target this species, which makes them perfect for beginners and families with children. They mostly move in shallow water and around covers like weeds, rocks, and brush. In the summer, they cling to hot shallows, while in winter, they hang around deeper waters.
Sunfish spawn from late May and early June throughout the summer, and some can lay eggs a couple of times per year. In clear waters like Lake Ouachita, you can see their spawning beds in the shallows.
The best way to lure sunfish is with live natural bait – earthworms, crickets, catalpa worms, and grubs. You can also use bread crumbs and artificial bait. Some efficient options are jig-spinner combos and small spinners. However, large sunfish can also bite bass baits like minnows and crankbaits.
Because of their resilience, catfish are ideal for anglers who want to fight for their catch. Their size is what sets them apart. The heaviest catfish caught in Arkansas had 116 pounds.
In Lake Ouachita, you can find 4 catfish species – channel, flathead, blue, and bullhead. Each has a distinct look, characteristics, and seasonal movement patterns.
Channel – Parents guard eggs after spawning, which happens from May to July. Their nests are in undercut banks and natural cavities, and you can lure them with shrimp, crayfish, nightcrawlers, chicken liver, or stink and cutbait.
Blue – They spawn in slightly warmer temperatures (70° to 75°) and lay eggs in brush, debris, and undercut banks. The best time for flathead fishing is from March to May. Use shrimp, cutbait, shad, and cut shad.
Flathead – They hang out at logs, rip rap, and underwater debris piles. They build nests in secluded areas when the water is 72° to 84°. For catching a flathead, hunt at night near underwater objects and use live bait (chubs, bluegills, suckers).
Bullhead – A relatively small catfish with an average weight of less than a pound, bullhead is cheap to conquer. They spawn from May to June and lay egg nests near logs and tree roots. You can lure them with simple baits like catalpa worms, regular worms, and chicken liver.
Catching a gar is a challenge, especially if you are in for trophy hunting. You can find the alligator, longnose, shortnose, and spotted gar at Lake Ouachita State Park.
Alligator gars are the largest freshwater fish in the USA, reaching over 300 pounds and over 10 feet in length. They are dangerous predators for other underwater species and eat frogs, alligators, and other types of fish. You can capture them with bow fishing and trotlines.
The other three gars are not that large or hard to beat. You can use small live bait and nylon strings for longnose and minnows for spotted gar. You can also use fishing bows or spears for a more authentic experience. Both like to spend time in quiet clear waters and like to hunt at night.
Walleyes are all around Lake Ouachita and are considered the freshwater fish with the best flavor. They avoid light and prefer clear and cold waters, so the best time to search for them is at night or on a cloudy day. Usually, you can find this fish type in areas that transition between sand, rocks, and mud.
Walleyes typically stay in deep waters, but when it’s time for spawning, they migrate to shallow waters (from a few inches to 5 feet). Walleyes need 45° to 50° to lay their eggs, which usually happens between February and March. However, the exact time depends on weather and water temperatures.
There are many ways to lure walleye, but live baits and bright jigs work best. When using jigs, throw them at night and wait for the walleye to react. After a while, it will start pulling; however, don’t use force immediately once it does.
Some effective lures for walleye fishing are X and shad raps, Luhr-Jensen Crippled Herring, Rapala Husky Jerks, jigging spoons 1/2 ounces plus, grubs, and hair jigs.
Chain pickerels are best for winter fishing. As the cold air takes over Ouachita, chain pickerels become more active. Because they are resilient and aggressive, chain pickerel is a catch worth bragging about.
They are a part of the pike family and swim in quiet areas with minimal current and rich aquatic vegetation. They prefer to hide in weeds, break lines, and tupelo and cypress tree hollows from where they stalk and seize prey. Their favorite foods are crayfish, frogs, newts, mice, insects, and small fish.
Use live lure, chugger plugs, small spinners, jigs, or plastic worms to lure them. The best way is with a bucket of live minnows, 2 to 4 inches long.
Interestingly, to catch monster chain pickerel, go to Lake Ouachita in the summer. That’s when larger pickerels go into deep waters while smaller ones retreat to the shallow water.
You might have heard stories of an abundance of rainbow trouts in Lake Ouachita. However, you can’t find trouts in Ouachita anymore. Why? After stocking the lake with trouts, walleyes and stripes became enormously large. Some walleyes even weighed over 10 pounds, and some believe trouts were responsible.
Authorities banned trouts to save the ecosystem. Soon after, other fish came down to their typical sizes. However, Lake Ouachita and other Arkansas lakes are still brilliant spots for trophy hunting, especially for striped bass.
Other Fish Species You Can Find
Carp: common and grass;
Shiner: golden, Texas, red, and blacktail;
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Fishing Rules at Lake Ouachita State Park
People stocked Lake Ouachita with an abundance of fish from its very beginning. However, to protect the fish and the ecosystem, there are certain rules for fishing in Lake Ouachita.
Take black bass, for example. The fishing limit is 6 bass per day, and only 4 can be smallmouth bass. Also, largemouth bass should be a minimum of 13 inches long for you to keep it, while smallmouths should be a minimum of 10 inches long. If you catch a smallmouth bass at South Fork, you must release it immediately.
Most species have daily fishing and size limitations, which vary from one area to another. However, these are not the only regulations. You can find strict rules for boating, baiting, tackle, fishing techniques, licenses, and even fish consumption.
By not following the rules, you are endangering the environment and putting your fishing license at risk. Discover all the details in this year’s Arkansas Fishing Guidebook, issued by the AGFC (Arkansas Game & Fish Commission) to ensure you don’t break any laws.
In the meantime, here are some of the most important rules:
- Don’t waste edible parts of fish and wildlife;
- Don’t transport fish or wildlife across states illegally;
- You must have a permit to take specimens for scientific studies;
- Don’t release other non-native species into the water;
- Don’t use a live lure that isn’t native to the lake, hasn’t been sold by a licensed seller, or hasn’t been approved by the AGFC;
- Lock and seal coolers and containers to avoid contaminating the water.
Do I Need A Fishing License?
Everybody 16 years or older needs a fishing license in Arkansas, issued by the Arkansas Department of Wildlife and Fishery, i.e., the AGFC. There are various license types, from daily and annual ones to residential and non-residential ones.
In addition, you can opt for the special Lifetime license if you are 65 years or older and the Marine Lifetime license if you are a retired marine or a disabled marine veteran. The Arkansas fishing license applies in neighboring states as well – Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi.
Factors To Consider Before Lake Ouachita Fishing
Remember, Lake Ouachita is a complex lake with a diverse world underwater. From standing timber, rocky humps, open waters, and a variety of islands, it’s a tough spot to navigate. Take a GPS device or sonar unit with you to avoid getting lost or hurt. Having a detailed, high-quality map is also required.
Another thing to consider is fish variety. If you are looking for a specific species like striped bass, pay special attention to its breeding and feeding habits. Take appropriate tackle and lures while following the area’s fishing regulations. It’s also advisable to make a game plan beforehand so you know what type of fishing gear to use on your trip.
If you are unsure of your navigation skills or don’t have enough fishing experience, you can always ask for help from local fishing guides. Choose a guide with an official AGFC guide license.
Lake Ouachita Map
To wrap it up, here are several of the most common questions about fishing Lake Ouachita.
How clean is Lake Ouachita?
Lake Ouachita is known for its crystal waters. By grading, it is the first cleanest lake in Arkansas and the third in the whole US. The strict camping rules allow the area to thrive in cleanliness without losing its authenticity.
How deep is the lake?
Lake Ouachita is around 36 miles long and has an average depth of 50 feet. The deepest spot is 200 feet and it’s near Blakely Dam. However, the spot’s depth depends on the lake’s water levels, which constantly fluctuate and vary an average of 10 feet per year.
Is swimming allowed in Lake Ouachita?
Yes, swimming is permitted in Lake Ouachita. With crystal-clear waters and surrounded by stunning scenery, swimming in this lake is an experience you will never forget. There are 10 designated swimming areas and 2 beaches – Spring Beach and Lake Ouachita Marina Beach. However, there are no lifeguards at disposal.
What can you explore while scuba diving?
This lake is an exciting destination for scuba diving enthusiasts. Beneath the surface, you can search for a sunken houseboat and sailboat, railroad tracks, and an old school bus (which you can swim through). You can also visit the only underwater memorial in Arkansas. Known as Fearless Rock, it’s built in honor of Navy Seal and Arkansas native Adam Lee Brown.
Are there jellyfish in Lake Ouachita?
In Lake Ouachita, you can find craspedacusta sowerbii – freshwater jellyfish that don’t pose a threat to humans. They are truly a sight to behold, being small (1 inch in diameter) and translucent with white and green tints. You can see them from late May to October while scuba diving or swimming.
Are there alligators in Lake Ouachita?
There are alligators on the Ouachita River, but so far, there have been no alligator sightings in Lake Ouachita State Park. Alligators populate the southern half of Arkansas, as the north is too cold for them. They are most common in Millwood State Park and Arkansas Post National Memorial. Interestingly, alligators don’t attack humans, as decades have passed since the last human attack.
Can you find largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and striped bass in Lake Ouachita?
Yes, largemouths, smallmouths, and striped bass are abundant in Lake Ouachita. An Arkansas angler only needs a license and the right gear. Naturally, finding the right season is also important.
What are you waiting for?
Lake Ouachita Fishing Tournaments
At Lake Ouachita, you can take part in several fishing tournaments. Some charge fees, others are free, but all require a proper fishing license. The most exciting part is that most tournaments have monetary prizes.
You can opt for a solo challenge or a team tournament with your friends and family. Also, you can choose between various contests, from kayak fishing to bass fishing challenges.
Having Fun At Lake Ouachita State Park
Getting bored at Lake Ouachita is not an option. Whether you like hiking, historic sites, water sports, or fishing – Lake Ouachita State Park can satisfy your needs!
Because it has both shallows and open water areas, it’s a brilliant spot for many types of water sports. This includes kayaking, wakeboarding, and water skiing. And because of its deep waters, Ouachita is also a favorite among scuba divers who can explore over 30 distinct diving spots.
Don’t forget that the scenic Ouachita National Forest surrounds the lake. So, when you finish fishing, you can enjoy the shoreline, stargaze, birdwatch, ride horses, visit natural attractions, or explore the many hiking trails available.
The “Trees of the Forest” trail is even wheelchair accessible. You can also explore the 8.5-mile-long “Rabbit Tail Water Trail” or the 16-mile “Geo-Float” trail, which teaches about natural lake formations.
Moreover, you can always visit nearby cities and attractions, too. At Hot Springs, you can even find an alligator farm and petting zoo, zip lining, crystal mines, moonshine-making lessons, and museums. There are other small lakes near this beautiful city, along with thermal baths, historic sites, and a seasonal waterfall.
Accommodation At Lake Ouachita State Park
Whether you want to participate in a largemouth bass tournament or reconnect with nature, Lake Ouachita State Park offers a variety of accommodations. You can choose between 93 campsites, 9 cabins, and 4 camper cabins. However, you can also book privately owned docked boats and hotel rooms nearby.
The state-rented cabins are astonishing as most have 2 to 3 bedrooms, kitchens, and views of the lake. Some even have fireplaces and hot tubs. Since there are only 9 cabins, you must book early as they get packed even before the season starts.
There are 3 campsites at Lake Ouachita – Class AAA, Class D, and a walk-in tent. A lot of them have electrical, water, and sewer hookups. You can also find campsites with BBQs, tables, bathhouses with warm water, and drinking water.