Faulkner County folks are thinking about fishing. It is natural, Weather is beginning to warm, grass shows signs of greening, trees and shrubs are budding.
With these early indications of spring come the best of crappie, white bass, largemouth bass, bream and catfish action. In reality, the event centers more on anglers getting into action than the fish themselves turning on.
Early spring fishing’s appeal partly involves the fish coming into more shallow water, where it’s easier for the average angler to catch them. Deep-water fishing isn’t for everybody. It’s difficult for some, tiresome for others. But when the fish are shallow enough for casual fishermen to use corks or bobbers as aids in telling of something biting the bait on a hook, the interest climbs.
As one can imagine, spring fishing season arrives on a somewhat south to north course in Arkansas. The bream in Lake Millwood in the southwest corner of the state will turn on earlier than they will on Lake Norfork, in extreme northern Arkansas. But more of a yardstick than geography is depth and type of the lakes. Shallow lakes warm up sooner than deep lakes. This may be more of a factor in the Millwood versus Norfork bream example. They are both U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes, but Millwood is generally shallow and “dark.” Norfork is deep and clear.
Lake Conway is both shallow and “dark.” This means it could be a little earlier for spring fishing than some other lakes.
Spring is spawning time for Arkansas’ native fish. This excludes trout. Walleye are generally in their spawning activities by mid-March, and white bass are spawning by latter March. Striped bass, cousins of the whites, make spawning runs near the same time as white bass, but actual spawning of stripers takes place only on the Arkansas River, not in the lakes. Black bass, meaning largemouth, spotted and smallmouth, come along in April, as does bream of several species. Catfish are late April or May spawners.
Good spring fishing doesn’t always hinge on spawning activity. The fish are more active in warmer water than in cold water.
Some rules of thumb for spring fishing include movement of water as well as its temperature. Spring is a time of rains, resulting in runoff into lakes and rivers. Veteran anglers go out after a rain and look for places where water is coming in from fields and hillsides.
The incoming water brings with it food in several forms. Animal life in the water feeds on this food, and the larger animal life feeds on the smaller types. At the top of this aquatic food chain are the predator fish, the bass, crappie and other varieties anglers seek.
Fly fishermen have an axiom of “matching the hatch,” meaning using a fly that imitates an insect the fish are feeding on. The same principle works for other types of fishing and for other baits. Some fishermen cut open the first fish of the day they catch and examine its stomach contents. This can tell them to use something resembling a crawfish instead of an imitation shad for largemouth bass.
There is another yardstick used by experienced anglers to find fish in the spring. They begin working their bait near the bottom of the lake or river and gradually move up, fishing more shallow, until they locate their quarry. It is often more efficient than starting shallow and going deeper.
Keep in mind also that the water warms up more slowly than the air. A few warm days with cool nights won’t change the water temperature significantly.