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Great fishing on Lake Erling but in limbo

Posted: June 27, 2010 - 6:14pm
An unusual seat is on the shore of Lake Erling in southwest Arkansas. Catfish are a favorite target for anglers, but bass, crappie and bream are also productive on the 7,100-acre lake. JOE MOSBY PHOTO
An unusual seat is on the shore of Lake Erling in southwest Arkansas. Catfish are a favorite target for anglers, but bass, crappie and bream are also productive on the 7,100-acre lake. JOE MOSBY PHOTO

Call it a stepchild lake if you want. Lake Erling is in something of a limbo situation, but you can’t tell it from the fishing.

Good catches of largemouth bass, bream and crappie are brought out by area anglers daily, and the catfishing is superb for anglers who know the ropes of that game.

So plentiful are the catfish in Erling that a special Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulation allows a triple limit — 10 channel catfish and 10 blue catfish in addition to the regular daily limit of 10 catfish of any variety.

“Erling is an awesome fishing lake,” said Major Todd Smith of the AGFC, who lived on the lake for eight years. “People work the creek channels, the flats and the trees for catfish. Rod and reels, trotlines, yo-yos — you name it, and they catch the catfish.”

Erling is in southern Lafayette County in southwest Arkansas. Its dam is barely two miles from the Louisiana state line, and the long, slender lake backs up a dozen or so miles. It is a manmade impoundment on Bodcaw Creek, which flows south into Louisiana and eventually to the Red River.

The lake was completed in 1956 by International Paper Co. as a water supply for its large mill at Springhill, just over the line in Louisiana. IP ended this usage a number of years ago, and while the mill, or part of it, is under another operator, the lake water isn’t needed.

International Paper has disposed of much of its Arkansas properties in recent years, included thousands of acres of timberlands which are leased to hunting clubs. There have been talks between International Paper and the Game and Fish Commission about a change in status for the lake, but there are complications. The issue remains in the talking stage.

At 7,100 acres, Erling is larger than Lake Conway, the biggest lake in the nation built by a state agency.

Somewhat elderly for manmade lakes at 54 years, Erling doesn’t show its age with its fish output.

Drew Wilson, district fisheries biologist with AGFC, has supervised his agency’s work on Erling for years. Wilson said, “We had a good spring this year for red-ear and bluegill (bream). It was fair for crappie, OK for catfish and good for bass.”

Bass fishing on Erling is an old and impressive story. Smith said, “They tell me that at one time, Erling was rated the No. 1 bass lake in Arkansas. It still has a lot of good, big bass, and by that I mean some 10- and 12-pound bass. There are a lot of tournaments by local clubs on the lake.”

Wilson described recent electrofishing work on Erling. “The east side of the lake was best for bass, and we found a lot of them around piers.”

Smith said some anglers find good action at the far northern end of the lake and on up into Bodcaw Creek.

Erling’s shoreline is dotted with houses and cabins, and many mobile homes and travel trailers are owned by area residents and used as weekend and vacation houses. There are some subdivision developments.

But facilities for fishermen are in short supply. A handful of boat docks and bait shops are in operation, some of them not full time. Most charge for launching boats, but there is a free launching ramp at Lake Erling Park on the southern end near the dam. This is an International Paper park, not regularly maintained now but popular with lake visitors. 

It’s a site for swimming but without a beach or lifeguards. Swim at your own risk. Picnic tables are in the park, some amid tall grass. Camping is allowed, but there are no electricity, water or restrooms.

Erling got its name from an International Paper vice president, Erling Riis, who was involved in its creation.

The principal access routes to Erling are Arkansas Highway 29 to the west from Lewisville to Bradley and on the east by Arkansas Highway 53 from Stamps to the Louisiana line. Cross highways are Arkansas 160 on the south end of the lake and Arkansas 360 at its northern end.

Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at jhmosby@cyberback.com.

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