Arkansas guide and bass pro Brad Wiegmann has the cure for winter's bass fishin' blues.
"December right through winter you want to fish the Jacuzzi," says Wiegmann.
The "Jacuzzi" is SWEPCO Lake, a 530-acre reservoir owned by the Southwestern Electric Power Company. It cools the Flint Creek Power Plant located west of Gentry in northwest Arkansas. When the bass of better known area lakes like Beaver and Table Rock settle into a winter sleep, SWEPCO bass are warm and hungry.
Wiegmann guides anglers on the aforementioned waters, but this lake's opportunities for big bass and consistent topwater action give it a special distinction. We loaded up on postspawn bass last spring, landing scores of largemouth, including more than a dozen fish over 20 inches in half a day.
Electrophoresis studies indicate that 75 percent of SWEPCO bass sport Florida genes.
"It's rare that Florida bass do real well this far north," says Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologist Ron Moore. "But they do well in SWEPCO because it stays artificially warm all year."
"In the winter months, the fish school like they do in summer on other lakes," says bass pro Janice Arnold, 1994 Bass'n Gal and 2001 WBSA champion, whose home is a short hop from Gentry.
A 13-pound bass is top dog to date, and Moore verifies an 11-pounder in one of his department's electroshocking surveys. Four- and 5-pound fish are abundant.
"Catching 50 to 60 bass or more in a day is common in winter, and you can count on good numbers of big fish," says Wiegmann. "It's an excellent lake most of the season, even though most of the locals back off after the spring bite."
The rocky substrate of Flint Creek and two feeder creeks account for SWEPCO's rugged rim and clear water. The coves of the two creek arms contain most of the reservoir's standing timber, which covers about 30 percent of the acreage.
The area is rich in wildlife. Bird watchers come to view sojourning bald eagles each winter.
A rocky cascade of effluent flowing from the plant comprises SWEPCO's most salient and oddly scenic feature. "Bass and baitfish congregate here," says Moore. "It's the hot spot."
The Florida bass tolerate the hot-tub temps much of the season. But when the water gets too hot, they seek relief in seeps and springs.
"Arkansas has a coarse topography," says Moore. "And cool water percolates through the gravel in the backs of creek arms. Bass will congregate in the backs of creek channels on a hot, dry summer day."
Both Moore and Wiegmann credit the Southwest Electric Power Company (American Electric Power) for access to the lake and cooperation with fishermen. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission recently approved $150,000 to build a new boat ramp and courtesy dock, and to expand and improve parking facilities at the site — making it even easier for you to test a little Jacuzzi fishing of your own this winter.
260 — Number of bass per hour recorded in 2006 Arkansas Game & Fish census
10 — Bass-per-day creel limit and harvest recommendation for 2007, implemented to restore optimum bass/forage ratio
110 — Summer lake temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) recorded near discharge
13-0 — The unofficial lake record bass
Trip check report
SWEPCO is located in northwest Arkansas' Benton County, south of Highway 12 near Gentry. Take Cripps Road 3 miles west of Gentry off of Highway 12 and follow to the end. Or take Cripps Road west off Highway 43. Boat ramp and parking are available.
Most hotels and motels are "fisherman friendly" with large parking lots capable of handling motor coaches and trailered boats. Contact Bentonville Advertising and Promotion Commission for lodging leads at 479-271-9153 or www.bentonvilleusa.org.
The Flint Creek Power Plant acreage features a diverse ecosystem of wetlands, forest, grassland and several streams and spring-fed ponds. Bald eagles winter in the area. Neighboring Bentonville features fine restaurants and local flavor. Pinnacle Promenade opened in October 2006. Fly into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville.
Best time to go
Warm power plant discharge waters make November through April prime time, but the lake remains productive in late spring and fall as well.
Lures to pack
Topwater baits including Cordell's Redfin and Pencil Popper, Lucky Craft Sammy, the Xcalibur Jimmy, and an assortment of chugging and popping baits can be very productive. Pack crankbaits, too, and an assortment of soft plastics, particularly worms and 3-inch curled-tail grubs.
Techniques and tactics
Generally good lake clarity makes for exceptional topwater action both shallow and deep. Fat and minnow-style wake baits will bring suspended bass up from depths of 18 feet or more near treetops or over the creek channels.
"Don't crank the lure down," advises Wiegmann. "Hold your rod tip high so the bait rides or bulges the surface and creates a wake. If a bass misses the bait, just keep reeling at the same pace. He'll often come back and hit it again."
Bass often suspend over the creek channel along the steep bank opposite the discharge. "The bank has natural caves underwater," says Janice Arnold. "A lot of bank fishermen have identified these areas. You can see where they set up."
Walk-the-Dog tactics will also find bass barkin' at your bait.
For winter schoolies, Arnold suggests 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits, Shad Raps and other crankbaits. When fish are deeper, a 3-inch curled-tail grub on a 1/8-ounce ballhead jig usually does the trick.
Drop shot plastics and shaky heads will shake up deep water action. Guide Brad Wiegmann's top choice is the Yum Houdini Worm.
A good general strategy is to begin with topwater baits before moving down the water column with spinnerbaits or crankbaits. Fish deep plastic baits on a jighead or drop shot rig when the action slows.
The artificial heat of the "Jacuzzi" can trigger shifts in the balance of the bass fishery. In the mid-'90s, the threadfin shad forage base collapsed when winter water temperatures plummeted during power plant repairs. A catch-and-release-only regulation replaced a mid-range slot limit at the time, and the bass population bounced back in spectacular fashion.
In fact, it has bounced back a little too well. Today big numbers of bass are putting pressure on the threadfin. A liberal 10-bass limit (but only one fish over 18 inches) goes into effect this January.