When February approaches, a portion of Arkansas fishermen – a minority to be accurate – think of walleye.
Two basic reasons are the knowledge that walleye are great on the table and that walleye move to shallow water for spawning when the weather begins to warm.
Outside of these lines of thought, walleye are generally little known in the Arkansas fishing circles, with some exceptions, including the numbers of people who have moved to Arkansas from points to the north where walleye are a fishing staple.
There is no secret about Greers Ferry Lake and its walleye fishing. In the late 1970s, Fairfield Bay heavily promoted walleye with a contest, and two new state records resulted. This also established a pattern for walleye pursuits.
The Greers Ferry strategy applies to other Arkansas lakes and rivers with walleye.
The fish move upstream to spawn, with the males traveling first, followed by the females which tend to be larger. Walleye stop at shoals, and some anglers call this "staging." All sorts of lures are used, with minnow imitations the most popular. The general category includes stick baits and jointed minnows. But jigs and spoons are also flung in the walleye areas, along with some crank baits. Jigs combined with live minnows are used.
Walleye are picky. You don’t find them everywhere on Greers Ferry Lake or the other waters. A handy rule for walleye was voiced by Mike Armstrong of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
"Walleye are found in clear water with gravel bottoms," he said.
The spawning activity, or "walleye run" as some anglers label it, is from mid-February through March. This can vary according to weather conditions.
On Greers Ferry the walleye like the major tributaries of the lake for spawning – South Fork, Middle Fork, Devil’s Fork. Shift attention to Lake Ouachita, another lake with good walleye numbers, and the pattern is there as well. The forks with clear water and gravel bottoms on the upper end of the Ouachita are good walleye areas.
Lake Norfolk and Bull Shoals Lake in northern Arkansas have walleye, including some big ones. "Big" means fish upwards of 8 pounds. Beaver Lake is not as abundant with walleye, but its numbers are on the upswing. The Arkansas record, set in 1982 on Greers Ferry, is 22 pounds, 11 ounces.
Experienced walleye fishermen pass along a couple of other basics for catching these fish.
One is light. Walleye have big eyes that are sensitive to light. This means when they moved from the deep water where they spend most of the year to shallow areas, light is intensified. As a result, quite a bit of walleye action takes place at night and on overcast days.
Another basic is to work lures slowly. Water is cold, fish metabolisms are slow, and a lure retrieved rapidly will zip right on by a fish.
Walleye are found in the mountain and foothill areas of Arkansas. This includes those five large lakes – Greers Ferry, Ouachita, Beaver, Bull Shoals and Norfork. Boat docks and marinas on these lakes can help point anglers toward walleye possibilities.
Lesser know walleye waters are the rivers of northeastern Arkansas. Yes, this is foothill country.
Eleven Point, Current and Spring are all streams coming out of southeastern Missouri and with clear water and gravel bottoms. But the Black River is not as clear and has quite a bit of mud bottoms, so walleye are uncommon in the Black.
In Central Arkansas, the upper Saline River has walleye, as do the upper and middle sections of the Ouachita River.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.