STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Best Bass Fishing Lakes Near Hot Springs The three lakes surrounding Hot Springs, Arkansas - Catherine, Hamilton and Ouachita - all serve up outstanding bass fishing; many folks say it's the real reason to visit the 'Spa City' Lunker bass like this Lake Ouachita hawg draw anglers from far and wide to the Arkansas resort community of Hot Springs. (Keith Sutton photo) Hot Springs is the number-one tourist town in Arkansas. This bustling community in Garland County encompasses Hot Springs National Park, the nation’s only “inner-city” national park, where visitors can tour Bathhouse Row and sample the area’s hot therapeutic spring waters. Visitors enjoy such tourist attractions as the Hot Springs Tower, an alligator farm, the National Park Aquarium and much more. The Ouachita Mountains cradle the town, providing a setting of beauty in which memories are made. Lakes give Hot Springs its sparkle. Three of them surround the town—Catherine, Hamilton and Ouachita—all of which serve up outstanding bass fishing. For many folks, this is the real reason to visit the “Spa City.” The fishing is just too good to miss. If you’re an angler considering a visit, here’s a guide to what awaits you. Lake Catherine The Arkansas Power & Light Company constructed Lake Catherine in 1924 by laying Remmel Dam across the Ouachita River just a few miles east of Hot Springs. The 1,940-acre, 11-mile-long lake was named after the daughter of Harvey Couch, the founder of AP&L and the man who originated the concept of building hydro-electric dams on the Ouachita River. Catherine provides an amazingly diverse fishery for such a small body of water. The lake contains crappie, bluegills, redear sunfish, flathead catfish, channel catfish, blue catfish, striped bass, hybrid stripers, white bass, and even walleyes and rainbow trout. Not surprisingly, however, black bass are the main drawing card for many visiting anglers. Some folks complain that Catherine is a hard lake to fish, but it has a good largemouth bass population, with fish up to 10 pounds. Spotted bass, or Kentuckies, are also present, but they’re not as numerous as largemouths. Most, however, are good-sized fish. Good bass fishing areas include the state park bay, a small backwater area adjacent Lake Catherine State Park near the lake’s east end off Highway 171; Spencer’s Bay, or Spencer’s Pocket, a broad finger of water on the lake’s north side running parallel to U.S. Highway 270 at Hot Springs’ eastern edge; and Couch’s Bay, a long north-shore arm just a short distance up and across the lake from the state park. Most anglers find bass holding near woody cover in these and other areas. Specific areas to fish include the numerous stump fields in Spencer’s Bay, and fallen trees along the bank of Couch’s Bay. Lake Catherine has lots of current, and much of the cover where you find bass is material deposited by current in various areas. Outside bends in the river channel also harbor big bass, especially areas where timber occurs along the drop-off. Many anglers fish ledges on the edges of creek banks along the main channel, too. One of the best summertime lures used on Catherine is the jig-and-pig, a 1/8- to 1/2-ounce leadhead bass jig dressed with a No. 11 pork frog. Look for timber that’s been naturally deposited and work the lure around it for a chance at big bass. When fishing shallow flats, bassers fall back on a Carolina-rigged worm or a spinnerbait. Crawfish crankbaits worked parallel to the drop-offs are good, too. Lake Catherine State Park offers a free boat-launching ramp, boat rentals, camping facilities and cabins. For further information, click here. Lake Hamilton Lake Hamilton borders the southern edge of Hot Springs. Carpenter Dam, which impounds the lake, was constructed in 1932 to create a 7,200-acre, 18.5-mile-long body of water. When searching for summer largemouths, Hamilton anglers often fish with spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigged plastic worms and lizards. Good areas to target include four major creek basins—White Oak, Williams, Little Mazarn and Fourche Loop. Look for shallow flats going into embayments off the main creek channels, then look for brushpiles. That’s where largemouths are likely to be. Because Hamilton is an old lake and has little natural cover, local anglers have put a lot of brushpiles into the lake in different areas. Use sonar to look for the brushpiles, and when you’ve found one, just bump the brush with your lure. If a bass is there, chances are you’ll get a quick strike. Docks are another place to investigate when seeking Hamilton’s hot-weather largemouths. Several thousand homes line the lake’s shore, and there’s a fishing dock with nearby brushpiles behind almost all of them. When fishing the docks, look for signs of crappie anglers—things such as chairs, rod holders and crappie lights. Docks with these features are most likely to have brushpiles in adjacent water, and knowing this can save time when you’re trying to pinpoint fish. Spotted bass comprise a significant portion of the black bass catch on Lake Hamilton, but catching these scrappy fighters requires different fishing tactics. Most fans fish live crawfish off the points. Unfortunately, it can be difficult finding crawfish for sale in the area. A few local bait shops sell them on occasion, but you may have to catch and bring your own if you want to be certain of their availability. Fish crawfish with just a hook and a split shot, letting them sink and tightlining them on or near the bottom. Lake Hamilton anglers will find a variety of overnight accommodations and fishing supply dealers in Hot Springs. Several boat ramps are available, including one at the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery on the lake’s south side off State Highway 290. For additional information, click here. Lake Ouachita Lake Ouachita, a 40,000-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment, is the largest lake lying entirely within Arkansas’ boundaries. This deep, crystal-clear reservoir was impounded by construction of Blakely Mountain Dam on the Ouachita River in 1953. It is one of the most popular Hot Springs area tourist attractions and provides excellent fishing, not only for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, but for a variety of other sport fish as well. If big bass are your quarry, Ouachita should be first on your list of Hot Springs area lakes. Numerous trophy-class largemouths are taken each year, and there’s a distinct possibility of catching a 7- or 8-pounder. Ten-pound largemouths aren’t common here, but they do surface occasionally. Timbered areas attract bass anglers, but on Ouachita, anglers find most bass “in the moss”—in beds of hydrilla, water milfoil and elodea. A fish-finder can help you pinpoint these mats of vegetation, which are usually found in 15 or 20 feet of water. Rapala’s Shad Rap crankbait and similar lures are favored by many local anglers for fishing submerged green vegetation. Locate a weed bed, move away from it a few yards, then cast the lure, crank it down deep, and bring it in with a stop-and-go retrieve. Work the lure right along the top of the vegetation; the fish will come up out of the moss to nail it. Short plastic worms are also favorites of local bass anglers. Rig each with a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce leadhead jig, then swim the worm around the weed beds and get ready for action. If you fail to pick up bass in one weed bed, move on and try another. Largemouths may be in weeds around the open-water humps one day and in weeds closer to shore the next. Keep moving from one bed of moss to the other until you find them. Ouachita’s smallmouth and spotted bass usually are found in fairly deep water in summer. Many are taken on small plastic worms, crawdad crankbaits and jig-and-pigs, but these fish typically inhabit deeper waters than largemouths, being found in timbered pockets, moss or on the deeper rocky ledges. Some may hold as deep as 40 feet in summer, and according to local guides, the best lure for enticing them is the jig-and-pig. For information on Lake Ouachita, click here. Information to help you plan your next visit to Hot Springs and the Diamond Lakes region is available free from the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.