The Arkansas Bass Slam

Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle
To really enjoy fishing in the Natural State, shoot for the big five species of bass.

Presented by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Anglers from across the country tow their boats to Arkansas to sample the Natural State’s storied fishing for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. If you have an Arkansas bass vacation in mind, consider adding the state’s excellent striped bass and white bass fishing to your list to complete the Arkansas bass slam.

Which of Arkansas’ excellent fishing lakes provide your best shot at the five bass species in the slam? Bassmaster Elite Series pros who call Arkansas home are happy to advise you on where to go and how to catch them. These anglers include Stephen Browning, Mark Davis, Billy McCaghren, Mike McClelland and Scott Rook.


A 90-mile drive northwest of Little Rock on I-40 takes you to Lake Dardanelle, one of Arkansas’ premier largemouth bass destinations. On the way there, you’ll pass Mayflower, hometown of McCaghren, who has been plying Dardanelle’s waters for nearly 20 years.

Dardanelle, an Arkansas River reservoir, covers 40,000 acres and stretches for 50 miles.

“There are a lot of creeks off the main river that are like small lakes,” McCaghren said. “Just north of Spadra, the lake narrows and becomes more like a river.”

The creeks yield good fishing throughout the year. Water willow, an emergent aquatic grass that grows in shallow water, is high on McCaghren’s hit list.

Elite Series pro Billy McCaghren aims for Lake Dardanelle when targeting largemouth bass.James OverstreetElite Series pro Billy McCaghren aims for Lake Dardanelle when targeting largemouth bass.
McCaghren fishes the grass with a shallow-running WEC E1 square billed balsa crankbait and a Talon Billy Mac jig .

“I designed that jig for Dardanelle,” McCaghren said. “It’s good for flippin’ and swimmin’.”

A 3/8-ounce black-and-blue jig dressed with a Zoom Super Chunk does the job when the water is less than 60 degrees. In warmer water, McCaghren switches to a 1/2-ounce jig and a Zoom Speed Craw.

The water willows hold bass throughout the summer and fall, provided the water is high enough. When the water drops too low for bass to stay in the water willows, McCaghren fishes creek channel bends in the backwaters.

A typical creek bend here is 5 to 8 feet deep and drops into 15 feet of water, McCaghren points out. He cranks the drops with a Norman DD22 or a Norman NXS.

“The NXS runs 8 to 9 feet deep on 15- to 20-pound line,” McCaghren said. “You need heavy line because you’ll snag a lot of brushpiles.”

When the bite is slow in the backwaters, McCaghren runs far upriver and fishes wing dams that provide bass with a current break and an ambush point. Key lures are shallow-running plastic square billed crankbaits.

“I paint them black with a Sharpie pen,” McCaghren said. “Keep it simple. Crank the tips of the wing dams and the cuts in front of them.”