There are several places in Arkansas that have legendary status when folks talk fishing. Coal Pile is one example.
Look at your handy Arkansas highway map, and you will not find Coal Pile. Get out some county maps like the Arkansas Outdoor Atlas, and you won't find Coal Pile. That Desha County map on the atlas shows something labeled Mud Lake close by Echubby Lake and Silver Lake but no Coal Pile.
All right, Coal Pile is a name that has endured since the steamboat days, and it refers to a backwater of the Arkansas River that has a strong reputation for producing big largemouth bass. Speculation is that fuel for the steamboats was stored there.
The reputation is for real.
Coal Pile came into the news a few days ago when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission closed it to hunting, a part of a somewhat complex negotiation with a private hunting club that owned the land around the water. The private owners gave up claim to the water on the condition that hunting, for ducks primarily, not be allowed.
The AGFC received title to the water, and at this point it is being called Coal Pile Lake by the AGFC.
Although it is closed to hunting, the lake will remain open for fishing and other recreational use. Freddie Black of Lake Village, chairman of the AGFC, commented, "We need to work on getting the entrance to Coal Pile dredged out. It is dangerous now. Bass boats get up on plane and go in at 50 miles an hour if they know the exact spot to hit."
Coal Pile as a whole is fairly shallow, and there is a mud flat across the entrance that interferes with boat travel. Flat-bottom boats can make it with care, but boats that sit lower in the water can't.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the state record for largemouth bass came from Coal Pile, a fish weighing 13 pounds, 2ounces. Late in 1975 the record was broken by a bass from little Charleston Lake in western Arkansas, 13 pounds 4 ounces, and within weeks the big 'un came in - the current state record of 16-4, caught on Mallard Lake in northeast Arkansas.
Coal Pile's reputation did not diminish. When the Bassmasters Classic was held at Pine Bluff in 1984 and 1985, some of the contestants make the long run downstream to Coal Pile, giving up some hours of fishing each day for a chance at a big bass. It did not happen for them.
Each year in the Big Bass Bonanza, the tournament with $100,000 awaiting the winner, several dozen hopeful anglers work their way into Coal Pile. Some of the Bonanzas have been won by fish from nearby backwaters like Merrisach and Moore's Bayou.
For Arkansas bass fishermen, Arkansas Highway 212 is better known as the Coal Pile Cutoff. This is a shortcut from U.S. 65 at Gould to Pendleton, and it skirts the edge of Coal Pile. There is a spot where small boats like flat-bottoms are launched, but it is on land owned by the hunting club.
Seemingly, the problem with the mud flat at the entrance to Coal Pile could be fixed with a few hours work by a dredge.
Yes, but this is connected to the Arkansas River, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What may happen, and we hope is does, is the AGFC and the Corps of Engineers get together, a dredging project is developed, and Coal Pile once again becomes accessible to all recreational boats.
This may already be in the works, although these type projects do not come about quickly. We can stay tuned.