I took the family down to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the Fourth of July weekend and took the boat along for some tubing and such. I figured as long as I was taking the boat on such a long drive, I’d throw in some gear and see if I could chase some stripers on Lake Ouachita, which is just west of Hot Springs, Ar.
I tried to get some shad to use for bait for a few days, figuring I could locate some fish if I tried hard enough, but I could not find any shad. I guess there is a law in Arkansas where they can’t sell shad for bait. I asked around to see if I could find someone to point me in the direction of a place to throw my cast net, but the responses I got were a little vague and when on vacation, I did not want to spend days chasing bait in foreign territory.
So, after a few days, I decided to grab my gear and try it with artificials. I had hair jigs, trailers and some lures to throw. I did not bring my down riggers or trolling pole holders, which I was really kicking myself for at this point. The plan was to find some fish and jig them up. I started out from the marina with a few spots in mind to check out and talked to a few locals to help get me started. The spot information I received from local fishermen was not necessarily all that helpful because when they would mention somewhere to try, I was not able to find those spots on any map I had.
Lake Ouachita is very large, about 20+ miles long, I think. If you are a first timer, it is a good idea to know where the many marinas are on that lake because you may need to get some extra gas. It is a gorgeous lake to say the least. I saw a lot of scuba divers, spear fishermen, pleasure boaters and such. I have done some spear fishing and that would be a fun lake to give it a shot. Great place to visit and spend some time. Everyone I met was very nice and helpful and open to talking. When you drive by someone in your boat, everyone waves, much like you are on a back country road in Kansas.
I headed out and kept my eye on my depth finder and started seeing some very nice marks about 50 feet down over about 175 feet of water. I slowed the boat down and set up my first rod and tied on a 1.5 oz. white jig with an eel trailer. This was actually a jig I grabbed from my brothers salt water fishing box I figured he had on hand for Dorado, but it looked like it would work well for large stripers. I noticed I had some line messed up on my spool so I wanted to drop the jig to the bottom and reel it back up to set the line on the reel clean, but as my rod was sitting up against the side of my boat with a free falling jig, I noticed the jig stopped falling. I picked up the line by hand and jigged it up and down and noticed it was fish! So, I set the hook by hand and grabbed my rod and fought the fish to the boat. I absolutely in no way recommend setting the hook on a striper by hand, but I in no way expected my first drop on a new lake to be a hook up either! I was slightly caught off guard.
Well, I had a depth that had hungry fish and a jig/ trailer combination that seemed to work so it was game on! Before I made another drop, I measured out 48 feet of line by extending my arms and figuring each time I did that was about 6 feet and pulled up my jig and counted how long it took to drop to that depth. Then, I would cast the jig in the direction I thought the school was moving, count the jig down to a 10-13 count to keep the jig just above the depth I thought the fish were working and jigged/swam it to me. They hit it best when I would take it away from them believe it or not. There were a couple of other boats around me that were simply trolling and dragging baits and they caught 2 fish in the time I was there. Jigging and pulling it up away from the stripers seemed to be working a little better. I managed to get 6 fish. They were not big as far as stripers go, but for a first day on the lake in years, first stripers on artificials, I had a blast. All fish were caught and released after a photo op.
On my way back home that day I blew out the bearings on my boat trailer. I need to put an honorable mention in here for the bait, tackle and service shop, Trader Bills, located in Hot Springs Arkansas. I had my boat towed there because my tire was basically falling off the trailer and Trader Bills saved my tail. I was from out of town and needed to leave for Kansas City the next morning and they fixed me up.
Sometimes you just need to throw the gear in and get a line wet and see what happens. Even on new water, you never know what you can put together and sometimes lady luck will shine on you and help a plan come together. I can’t wait to get back and chase stripers on Lake Ouachita again.