In the past half century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deposited millions (or billions?) of rocks in the Arkansas River. The purpose was to steer the river's current and maintain its channel for waterborne commerce. The Arkansas River Navigation Project includes hundreds of miles of jetties and riprap banks. Today, besides providing for barge traffic, this structure fosters a thriving aquatic ecosystem— much to Bruce Stanton's delight.
"Man, I love to fish this river in late summer and early fall," Stanton says. "When the current's running and the fish are feeding around the jetties, it's common to boat a limit of keepers (15 inches-plus) from one spot. And I'm talking about river fish. They're strong and a lot of fun to catch."
Stanton is general manager of PRADCO-Fishing of Fort Smith, Ark. When he's not figuring how to make or sell more lures under PRADCO's popular brands (Rebel, Bomber, Booyah, Yum and others), chances are he's afloat on the nearby Arkansas River putting his products to use. Stanton has fished this waterway for almost 20 years.
"I was taught to fish the Arkansas by lure designer Jim Gowing," he reminisces. "He's the best I've ever seen at catching bass off jetties and riprap. He has a great knowledge of how baitfish and bass relate to rocks and current. Learning from Jim was like learning to throw a football from Peyton Manning."
Thus stems Stanton's expertise at fishing this man-made structure. He adds that jetties and riprap banks exist on many other rivers around the country. Anglers who borrow from his playbook can score big catches on their home waters.
Stanton begins, "My favorite spots to fish on the Arkansas are jetties that open to another body of water, like a feeder creek or slough. For example, a jetty may have the main channel on one side and the mouth of a backwater on the other side. Such places are man-made points that separate the channel from tributary creeks, and they are preferred collection and feeding places for bass moving in and out of the river."
Stanton explains that current pushes minnows over or around the ends of these jetties, and bass typically hold in slack water behind them where they can dart out and feed when the opportunity arises.
He continues, "I remember a day several years back when I was fishing on the Arkansas with an outdoor writer, and first thing off we pulled up on a jetty that opened back into a feeder creek. We were casting Fat Free Shads, and on the first six casts we caught six fish that weighed 3 to 3 1/2 pounds each. They looked like clones. In the first 10 minutes we had 18 to 20 pounds in the boat. That's an example of how good this pattern can be."
So how, specifically, does Stanton work a jetty? "I'll start by positioning my boat downstream from the point of the jetty, and I'll cast upstream with a crankbait. If I can't see the point, if the jetty extends down into the water, then I'll idle around it and watch my graph to find the point before I begin casting.
"I'll work both sides of the point, then I'll begin paralleling the jetty as I ease upstream," Stanton continues. "I'll cast along both sides of the jetty (upcurrent and downcurrent). It's important to try all your different options to discover where the bass are holding and how they want the bait presented. When casting, I'll hold my boat fairly close to the rocks to keep my bait in the strike zone most of the way back in."
"The bait" — Stanton's favorite for fishing jetties — is a Cotton Cordell Big O in pearl white color.
"This is the ticket on rivers," he attests. "River bass are active feeders, and this bait has the size, action and color that draw a lot of attention. It's important to reel it fast and bump it into the rocks as you bring it in."
He also fishes other lures as conditions dictate. "Sometimes on deep points or blow-out holes (washed-out holes behind and just downstream from a jetty point) I'll fish deeper crankbaits. Again, it's important to work your bait fast and make it swim down and hit the rocks. A lot of strikes come when the lure ricochets off the structure. Bass get excited by that darting presentation."
Besides jetties opening to backwaters, Stanton works a range of other spots along jetties and riprap walls. "Sometimes current will break and run both ways along a jetty, and I'll fish this jetty in both directions. I'll work holes or cuts in jetties where water's pouring through. I'll look for any eddy where fish can hold without having to fight the current. I'll hit weeds or logs or other objects that provide ambush cover for the fish."
Another option is to fish along riprap banks that line the channel and run parallel to the current. Stanton coaches, "When I'm casting to these, I'll hold my boat 20 to 30 feet away from the rocks, and I'll work upcurrent. I'll cast my crankbait in next to the rocks, then I'll retrieve it downcurrent and at an angle out toward deeper water. I'll just work up the bank in this manner, looking for scattered fish and trying to determine the depth where they're holding."
One special place is the opening into a "square pond" (outlined by riprap banks on all four sides). "If the water's flowing into a square pond, I'll fish the inside points of the opening. If it's flowing out of the pond, I'll work the outside points. Also, I'll downsize my baits on these spots to a smaller Big O &#$0;1/4-ounce model), and I might try a 6-inch black neon ribbontail worm or even a 4-inch Yum Dinger if fishing pressure is heavy."
Stanton says current is a major factor in success on rivers, and a medium, steady current is much better than a slow current. "Current puts everything in order," he explains. "It lines everything up. You know where the baitfish are going to be. You know the bass are going to be schooled up in predictable locations. Current is an organizer for everything that lives in the river. The bite is almost always better when current is running than when it's slack."
But again, Stanton's best advice for fishing river jetties and riprap is to try all options. "Start on the jetty points at openings to other tributaries. Then try regular jetties. Work both the upstream and downstream sides. Hit the parallel riprap banks. Try the jetty breaks and single objects — and always be aware of where the baitfish are."
Gear To Grab
Following is a list of bait, tackle and accessory items that Bruce Stanton uses when fishing his jetty/riprap pattern in late summer and early fall.
7-foot All Star medium-light action crankbait rod (model TAS844CB)
Pflueger President WLP baitcast reel
Silver Thread Excalibur copolymer fishing line (10- and 12-pound test)
MotorGuide 24-volt (87-pound thrust) trolling motor
When fishing river jetties, Bruce Stanton recommends having three different crankbaits rigged and ready to fish different depths.
"I'll always have a Big O (C77 or C7) ready to fish shallow cuts and jetty points and edges up to 3 feet deep. On the second rod I'll tie a Fat Free Fingerling to fish deeper sides or sloping jetty points down to 8 feet. And on the third rod I'll rig a Fat Free Junior (runs to 12 feet) to work deep points and sides."
Stanton concludes, "Having these three baits ready to go makes me a lot more efficient in terms of being able to present the right bait on the right spot at the right time. There's no wasted time. I've always got the right bait rigged for the situation at hand."
If Bruce Stanton's jetty pattern fails to produce strikes, he goes "junk fishing" — casting to any object where bass may be hiding.
"I'll look for wood objects, like stumps, root wads, log jams and wash-ins. I'll go prospecting in backwater areas. I'll search along islands, especially the points. I'll look for logs that have floated down the river and hung up on jetties.
"I'll work these objects two ways: casting with a crankbait and flipping with a black neon tube.
"A lot of times this backup pattern really produces, especially when the current is slack and the fish aren't actively feeding."
Before You Go
Bruce Stanton recommends completing the following details prior to a river fishing trip.
Charge trolling motor batteries fully to provide power for fishing all day in strong current.
Call the dam or check its Web site for the water release schedule for the day. Bass are more active when current is running. Also, certain current volumes raise water levels enough to allow access to backwaters.
Make sure the trolling motor prop is locked on the hub, and carry a spare prop in case a blade is broken on the rocks.
Take plenty of cold water. Standing on a trolling motor all day in late summer is a tough workout.
Make sure you have plenty of crankbaits in a variety of depths. Have exact backups for most probable baits.