14 Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Arkansas

Sharing is caring!

There’s something special about catching and preparing dinner.

I can almost smell the fried catfish filets, but first, we must catch a few catfish before we can have a fish fry.

That’s why I’ve rounded up the best catfishing locations across Arkansas. 

Whether you’re a local looking for a new spot to challenge yourself or a visitor to the Natural State, there are plenty of locations across Arkansas to wet a line and set the hook on some ole whisker fish. 

Best Catfishing Lakes in Arkansas

Let’s begin with the best Arkansas lakes to catch catfish. Some lakes are known for producing giants, while others are the best place to fill a stringer for dinner.

Lake Austell

Located in Villiage Creek State Park near Wynne, Lake Austell is a small lake regularly stocked with catfish.

Due to its size, only trolling motors are allowed on the lake, which makes it the perfect place to do a little kayak fishing.

You’ll primarily catch 1-2 pound channel cats and blues, but be aware you might hook into a 30-pound-plus blue in the deeper holes.

The lake arm running north of the swim area and the hole where the dirt for the dam was taken are where most of the bigger fish come from, so if you want to catch big blues, start in one of those places.

Cut shad, live sunfish, and small bullheads are the best baits in the lake.  

Lake Bentonville

Though it’s the size of a large farm pond, Lake Bentonville is a catfish angler’s dream. This small lake offers shore anglers the chance to bring home a stringer full of channel cats. 

Lake Bentonville is primarily a catfishing lake. The water is often muddy, and little vegetation grows besides buckbrush and willows along the bank. 

Because the Centerton State Fish Hatchery is nearby, the brood catfish that are too large to fit into the 25-gallon spawning barrels are often stocked here, so the lake has produced catfish around the 35-pound mark.

Nightcrawlers, hotdogs, and small sunfish are the baits to test at Lake Bentonville, located at the north end of the municipal airport in this northeastern Arkansas city.

Lake Chicot

Lake Chicot is a large oxbow of the Mississippi River in the southeast corner of Arkansas. It’s loaded with flatheads and channel cats, with a few blues sprinkled in. 

Trotlines and limb lines are the best way to fill your freezer with the channel and flathead catfish or cast with rod and reel for more sport.

Either way, you’ll have a great shot fishing around the woody vegetation surrounding the lake.

Various baits work well in Lake Chicot, including crawdads, Catulpa worms, nightcrawlers, cut shad, and live sunfish. 

If you get tired of catfishing, there’s also incredible bass and crappie fishing in the lake.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake is spring fed, which means it’s clear. At only 60 acres, some anglers might overlook this little lake near Decatur in the northwestern corner of Arkansas.

However, channel catfishing here can be incredible at times. I wouldn’t visit expecting to catch a giant, but it’s a great place to fill a stringer. 

The lake averages 10 feet in depth with a maximum depth of 35.

Nightcrawlers, stink baits, and chicken liver will keep most channel catfish biting. 

Lake Dardanelle

Known for excellent bass fishing, Lake Dardanelle also is a top-tier catfishing location with all three prized species swimming there. 

The dam is a popular catfishing spot, but bring extra tackle because you’ll likely get snagged. It’s one of the best spots for catching a trophy-sized catfish too.

Trotlines baited with cut bait and small live sunfish are the best way to catch a bunch of catfish, but there are also several areas around the lake to catch them casting from the shore.

Lake Dunn

Also located in Villiage Creek State Park, Lake Dunn is another excellent place to fill a stringer full of catfish like Lake Austell mentioned earlier.

You can catch channel, blue and bullhead catfish in this small 68-acre lake. 

The arm running north from the boat dock and the timber-rich fingers of the eastern shore are some of the best places to begin your search for catfish.

This is a peaceful trolling motor-only lake, so if you’re in a small boat, you won’t have to worry about getting run over by bigger boats.

Like Austell, Lake Dunn also earned a spot on our list of best largemouth bass fishing lakes in Arkansas.

Millwood Lake

All three primary catfish species call the waters of Millwood Lake home. The many acres of flooded timber make excellent habitats for flatheads and channel cats throughout the year at this reservoir north of Texarkana.

Be sure to stick to the boat lanes when traveling through the flooded timber so you don’t lose a lower unit or put a hole in the bottom of your boat.

If fishing among the flooded timber doesn’t pan out, head to the dam in search of deeper water and current.

Cut bait works best for the blue and channel catfish, while live sunfish work better for flatheads. 

Nimrod Lake

Known for some of the best crappie fishing in the Natural State, Nimrod Lake also offers anglers good blue and channel catfishing.

However, I would hesitate to eat many fish from this lake because some fish have high mercury levels.

The best catfish baits on Nimrod Lake are chicken liver, stink bait, large minnows, and nightcrawlers.

Nimrod Lake is in the mountains of Western Arkansas, about an hour and a half west of Little Rock.

Lake Ouachita

If you’re willing to be patient for a chance to land a true lake monster, then head to Lake Ouachita. 

Several blue catfish close to 100 pounds have emerged out of the waters of this giant lake in western Arkansas. However, it’s tough fishing because of its size and water clarity. 

The clear water means the cats spend most of their time in deep holes. This best fishing is often along ledges, deep structures, and creek and river channels.

Lake Ouachita’s clear water also means switching up when you go catfishing is a good idea. While catfish can be caught throughout the day, night fishing during the summer often means you can fish a little shallower. 

As far as baits go, cut shad works best for blues and channel, while live bluegill are a favorite bait for the flatheads. All catfish species will eat live crawdads.

Lake Ouachita also is one of the state’s better places to catch walleye.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing at Lake Ouachita

Ozark Lake

As a dammed portion of the Arkansas River on the western edge of the state, Ozark Lake (not to be confused with Lake of the Ozarks, a top catfish lake in Missouri) is a great year-round fishery for catfish.

You’ll find the three main species in the lake, with channel cats and blues being the most abundant.

The lake itself tends to be dirty, so stink baits, chicken liver, and live baits often work best. 

Fishing the river below the Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam is good for bank anglers; however, be prepared to get hung up. 

Catfish will spend most of their time along the river channel, but also try brush piles and creeks where flatheads tend to hang out. 

Best Catfishing Rivers in Arkansas

The three main catfish species also live throughout many of the state’s slower rivers. When catfishing rivers, it’s best to find current breaks and brush piles because this is where most catfish will congregate.

Arkansas River

The Arkansas River offers anglers great catfishing opportunities for flatheads, blues, and channel cats. 

You can locate quality blues when fishing in one of the lakes along the river or the main river channel.

For flatheads, I recommend beginning at the mouth of a creek and venturing further up the creek targeting brush piles. Again, live baits work best for flatheads. 

You’ll find blues and channel cats at the mouths of creeks and below the dams of the lakes along the Arkansas River. Most bigger fish will be below dams because food is abundant and easy to get.

Skipjack and shad are the two most popular cut baits on the river. 

Mississippi River

The mighty Mississippi River is daunting to fish, so I recommend breaking it down into smaller sections.

This river is home to all three species, and this is where the giants live. Anglers have muscled in blues over 100 pounds from the Mississippi (including a nearly 117-pound state record), and 30-50-pound flatheads are very common. 

Trotlines are the most popular way of catching all catfish species on the river. Channels, humps, holes, and log jams are all widespread catfish habitats found throughout the river.

Starting at the mouth of a tributary can often lead to excellent results.

Access to the Mississippi River is limited, but once you’re on the river, you must know the dangers from floating debris to barges. So always take precautions when fishing here. 

Little River

The Little River is another waterway that’s home to incredible catfishing. The portion above Millwood Lake is where many big blues and flatheads are caught each year.

While they’re not as big as Mississippi blues and flatheads, they’re still plenty big. 

A former state record flathead was caught in the river below Millwood Lake dam, and anglers also catch trophy blue cats. 

Drift fishing and anchoring work well with cut shad, nightcrawlers, and live sunfish for bait.

Wilton Landing and Patterson Shoals are a couple of locations to access the Little River.

White River

The Lower White River is a catfisherman’s paradise. There are lots of big catfish swimming in these waters. 

The outside river bends, especially where trees have fallen into the river, are great places to begin fishing with a rod and reel.

Placing trotlines at the mouths of creeks will boost your odds of landing a trophy catfish.

Don’t overlook the upstream side of humps and deeper holes when anchoring or drifting.

Small carp, big goldfish, and live sunfish make excellent river baits.

How to Identify Catfish Species

Arkansas has several catfish species, with most anglers targeting channel, blue and flathead catfish. Smaller bullheads are common in some waterways as well.

Channel cats and blues can be misidentified until you learn the differences to look for; luckily, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying these species over the years, and I’m happy to pass along a few quick identification tips.

Channel Catfish

Channel cats are the smallest of the three main species, rarely growing over 30 pounds. They’re olive-brown with dark spots; the smaller fish often have more dark spots than the larger channel catfish.

They have a forked tail and curved anal fin with 24-29 rays. 

Blue Catfish

Blue cats can grow to over 100 pounds and vary in color depending on the water’s clarity. They’re either slate blue, white, or dark blue; unlike channel cats, blues do not have spots. 

They have a deeply forked tail and a straight anal fin with 30-36 rays. 

Flathead Catfish

Flatheads can exceed 90 pounds and are mottled brown and pale yellow with that namesake flattened head helping them stand out more easily.

Their anal fin is shorter and rounded, with less than 30 rays, and their tail is not forked.

Catch More Catfish

Check out our favorite catfish fishing techniques and tips, including bait and tackle suggestions.