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Arkansas Sportsman
Winter Floats For Natural State Smallmouths

When the fish runs, point your rod tip at it, rear back and punch your hook like you really mean it. Sometimes a brownie's strike sets the hook, but the fish's mouth is so hard that it's a good idea to give your rod a couple of good pokes for insurance. One more thing: Continue your retrieve right up to your rod tip. Bass sometimes come up and hit your lure right at the boat.

Every acre along the Caddo is privately owned, so anglers should be extremely careful about trespassing.

KINGS RIVER
You'll have to look long and hard to find a better winter smallmouth hotspot than the Kings River. Gentle and clear, the river twists through an endless expanse of the rolling north Arkansas Ozarks, usually beneath a canopy of hardwoods. At every bend there's another surprise: a deer at streamside; a deep, dark lunker hole in a gigantic pool below a long, narrow riffle; ducks flushing just ahead of the boat. Such ingredients make a float on Kings River totally delightful and unforgettable, and cold-season smallmouth fishing is superb.


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The Kings River covers 90 miles from its headwaters high in the Boston Mountains of Madison County to the Arkansas/Missouri border. The county road access northwest of Marble is a traditional starting place for many Kings River visitors. After 11 miles of deep pools, overhanging trees, occasional rapids and several large bluffs, floaters arrive at Marshall Ford, an access point northeast of Alabam. The second stretch, from Marshal Ford to Rockhouse, is a 15-mile trip through quiet backcountry. Other floats include the seven-mile stretch from Rockhouse to Trigger Gap; the 12-mile float from Trigger Gap to the U.S. Highway 62 crossing; the 12-mile run from the Highway 62 crossing to Summers Ford (off state Highway 143); and the final four miles to Table Rock Lake.

Action is fast in spring and fall, but the really big smallmouths usually are taken in midwinter. A big advantage of a winter trip is that fishing pressure is light, and guides and accommodations are easy to find in the area.

Concentrate your casts in still pockets, side sloughs and pools. Skip the fast water. Still water with dark shadows in it holds most of the Kings' real lunkers year 'round. Good winter artificials include large tandem spinnerbaits with trailing pork rind, 6- or 7-inch diving minnow plugs, and the jig-and-pig. When the water is clear, try very small spinners with split fly-strip pork rind, or small crawfish-imitating crankbaits.

A SMALLMOUTH BOUNTY
One of Arkansas' most precious yet largely unheralded assets is its wealth of smallmouth bass streams. We've mentioned just a few. Other excellent streams to try this winter include Big Piney Creek, the Cossatot River, Illinois Bayou, the Little Missouri River, the Saline River, the Strawberry River and the Spring River.

Do me a favor, though: If you tell folks about our great smallmouth fishing, tell them to come in the spring, summer or fall. Our winter smallmouth fishing? Well, that's always been a secret 'tween us Arkies. I vote we keep it that way.

For information on outfitters offering canoe rentals, shuttle services and other amenities on the streams mentioned above, log on to www. arkansas.com and follow the prompts. Fishing regulations for each stream are included in the current fishing regulations guide available at license dealers statewide or by visiting www.agfc.com.

(Editor's Note: Keith Sutton is the author of Fishing Arkansas: A Year-Round Guide to Angling Adventures in the Natural State. To order autographed copies, send a check or money order for $28.25 to C&C; Outdoors, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. Arkansas residents should add sales tax.)


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