The fishing at Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs is some of the best in Arkansas, thanks in part to the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery’s stocking efforts on its shores!
Bass, stripers, walleye, crappie, and other species call this Ouachita River impoundment home.
If you want to catch more fish during your next visit to Lake Hamilton, keep reading.
Lake Hamilton Bass Fishing
Largemouth bass are the biggest draw to Lake Hamilton for most anglers; however, spotted bass also call this reservoir home.
The approaches and techniques used to catch these closely related species differ slightly, but they have similar spawning patterns, which is where we will begin.
In the spring, black bass species move shallow to spawn along hard-bottom flats. I look for pea gravel areas near a depth change protected from wind for the ideal spot.
Most bass head for deeper water along channel ledges, main lake points, and islands as the water warms.
Spotted bass dominate the open water, easily outcompeting largemouth for prized locations and food. However, largies thrive under the docks, backs of coves and creeks, and near the shoreline.
During the hottest parts of the summer, you’ll likely need to go deep to get a bite. However, once the water cools off for fall, the bass will follow their food source (especially shad) back to the shallows.
Autumn is one of the best times of the year to fish Lake Hamilton because the boat traffic has died down, and the fish are biting.
For most of the winter, bass head back to suspend in the deeper portions of the lake. Most anglers struggle this time of year because the bite is tough, but if you find the bass, the bigguns will bite.
Now, let’s discuss the differences between catching Hamilton’s two most common bass species.
As their name suggests, largemouth bass have big mouths, so I like to use big lures when targeting them. This approach helps weed out the smaller fish, but if you’re looking to catch a bunch of fish, don’t hesitate to use smaller lures.
My favorite largemouth lures are crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, and bladed jigs. I also love using soft-plastic lures like a Senko. The Texas rig and wacky rig are my go-to techniques when using soft-plastic worms.
In clear water, which you’ll often find in Lake Hamilton, I prefer to use natural colors with a touch of a bright color to help my lure grab a fish’s attention. Bluegill patterns with chartreuse or shad patterns with pink or red tend to get me the most bites.
Spotted bass have slightly smaller mouths than largemouth bass, but you can still use most of the same lures for spots as you do for largies.
Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and swim jigs are some of the best moving lures for spotted bass.
A drop shot rig is my favorite for spotted bass near the bottom. I’ll rig it with a fluke-style soft plastic or a Senko. Since shad is the primary food source for spotted bass in Lake Hamilton, I prefer white, pearl, or chrome-colored lures.
Another favorite of many Lake Hamilton anglers is striped bass. Stripers are hard-fighting, aggressive fish that grow much bigger than black bass species or than their close relative, the white bass.
They’ll swim up the Ouachita River and feeder creeks in the spring to go through the motion of spawning. However, officials have not recorded stripers to reproduce in the Ouachita River successfully.
Nevertheless, the spawning run is one of the best times of the year to catch stripers because they congregate in small areas and are eager to bite anything that looks like food.
During the spring, head toward the Blakely Mountain Dam, below Lake Ouachita, where the Ouachita River comes into Lake Hamilton. This narrow area becomes one of the best fishing spots on Lake Hamilton because it’s a barrier that does not allow stripers to head any further upriver, so massive striper schools collect here.
I like to use a spoon, crankbait, or spinnerbait this time of year, but if the bite is a little more challenging, I’ll switch to a fluke or swimbait.
Once they’ve finished the spawning ritual, stripers head back to the river channel and main lake to cruise along depth changes near flats for most of the summer.
Trolling crankbaits is an excellent way to catch stripers during the hottest months.
Topwater lures also work well when you find a school of stripers feeding on baitfish at the surface, so keep an eye out and be ready.
When the bite is tough, using live bait will help locate a hungry school of stripers.
As fall approaches, striped bass follow the schools of shad onto the shallow flats and into the backs of creeks and coves. The cooling waters bring another of the best times of year to fish, but many anglers overlook it.
During the winter, live bait is king. Striped bass will suspend over channel ledges and deep holes, occasionally feeding throughout the coldest months.
Lake Hamilton is also home to the Midwest favorite, walleye. These elusive fish are prized table fare by all anglers.
So how do we catch them?
Walleye are some of the earliest spawners. They spawn up the creeks and rivers but also can lay their eggs along rock banks in the lake itself.
One of the bridges that cuts across the lake is an excellent place to start.
Swimbaits, crankbaits, and live minnows are the best baits for walleye in the spring.
Once they’ve spawned, walleye head for deeper water, patrolling channel ledges, and depth changes around the islands and main lake points.
The late spring and summer are the perfect times to troll using deep-diving crankbaits or bottom-bouncers.
Walleye have sensitive eyes, so if you’re not having any luck, try fishing for them during low-light hours. When walleye are most active before the sun rises or after it sets. Otherwise, you’ll have to fish deep to catch them.
As fall takes hold, walleye will return to the shallows, following their food source before returning to the depths for the winter.
Live bait, such as minnows or nightcrawlers, works very well in the colder months because they’re easy meals for walleye.
Another tasty fish found in Lake Hamilton is the crappie. There are two crappie species in this reservoir: the black crappie and the white crappie.
Besides visual differences, the primary difference is their water clarity preference. White crappie are more tolerant of dirty water, while black crappie prefer clear water.
However, I often catch both species in the same area using the same lure, especially during the spawn because they’re near the shore in rocky areas or shallow structures.
After crappie have spawned, they head for deeper water, searching for a brush pile or under the shade of a dock. If you can locate a dock over 15-25 feet of water with brush piles under it, you’re in business during the early summer.
Minnows, crappie jigs, and spinners are the essential baits and lures.
As the water temps continue to rise, you’ll likely have to find brush piles in the 30-foot-plus range since the thermocline will continue to drop deeper and deeper in the clear water.
Like most other game fish, crappie will make their way back towards the shallows during the fall; though they won’t make it as shallow as they do in the spring, they are still much easier to locate and catch than during the summer heat.
In the winter, you’ll find crappie patrolling shallow flats during warm stretches, but mostly, they’ll be suspended around their favorite channel ledge or brush pile.
There’s bound to be some fish always biting at Lake Hamilton, and more than likely, catfish will be at the top of the list.
Channel catfish and blue catfish call these waters home. Both species have similar spawning and eating habits, except blue cats get much larger than channel cats.
Catfish spawn in the late spring or early summer, and unlike other fish species, this is the worst time to fish for them. They are primarily concerned with reproducing and don’t eat much.
However, once catfish have spawned, the bite is on. They begin to gorge themselves to replenish the weight they lost during the spawn.
As the water temperature rises, the catfish head for cooler, deeper waters, so fishing ledges, holes, underwater humps, and around bridges near spawning flats are what work best this time of year.
While catfish are primarily scavengers, they have predatory tendencies and follow schools of shad around.
Catfish will feed along shallow flats on summer nights, so if you’re night fishing, don’t hesitate to try fishing shallow and see what happens.
In the fall and winter, catfish will follow their food onto shallow flats to feed heavily before the water gets too cold, and they head back to the deep holes.
I prefer to use small chunks of cut bait, earthworms, chicken liver, or prepared stink baits on 6/0-8/0 circle hooks when targeting channel cats.
For blue cats, I increase the size of the chunks of cut bait; hopefully, this deters smaller fish from messing with it. I also like live bluegill or shad on 8/0 or larger hooks.
While I’ve caught blue cats with other baits, I tend to have a lot of small channel cats pecking at my hook when I use them.
White Bass & Hybrid Stripers
White bass and hybrid stripers have similar spawning patterns as true stripers. They’re all closely related and look very similar to the untrained eye, especially when they’re small.
However, there are easy ways to tell the difference. For instance, stripers tend to be longer and leaner, reaching up to 50 pounds in ideal conditions.
White bass are shorter and rarely reach 5 pounds. Hybrid striped bass are a mix of the two in both looks and size.
Hybrid stripers and white bass (a.k.a. sand bass) make their spawning run up the creeks and rivers early in the spring. (Hybrid stripers cannot reproduce but naturally go through the ritual.)
Following the spring run, both species head back to the river channel and main lake to hunt for schools of shad.
Since shad are their primary food source, I use shiny or white lures. Swimbaits, crankbaits, spoons, spinners, and crappie jigs work very well during the spring, summer, and fall.
As fall sets in, white bass and hybrids will follow the baitfish to the shallow flats and backs of coves to feed heavily before returning to the open water, where they spend most of the winter.
During the winter, live bait is best, but swimbaits and crappie jigs also work when you catch them in the right mood.
Catch More White Bass
Looking for the best white bass fishing in Arkansas? Look no further; we have you linked in right here.
Tailwater Trout Fishing
Rainbow trout are seasonally stocked below Carpenter Dam from November through April.
This annual rite allows anglers to get out and catch fish during the colder months.
Check the local trout fishing regulations before heading to the water to stay up-to-date on legal baits, limits, and latest stockings.
Since these are hatchery-raised fish, PowerBait, corn, and other prepared baits will work well.
Flies and other artificial lures, like small spoons, crankbaits, and spinners, also will entice a rainbow trout to bite.
Planning Your Trip
Now that you know which fish are present and how to catch them, it’s time to begin planning your trip to Lake Hamilton. Let’s start with learning where some boat ramps, public access areas, and places to stay are located.
Boat Ramps & Public Access
Lake Hamilton has largely been developed, but you can use a few public boat ramps to access the water.
Lake Hamilton Public Boat Ramp is a two-lane concrete ramp on the southern portion of the lake, near the fish hatchery.
Hill Wheatley Park has a boat ramp, swim area, and access to fishable waters on the west side of the lake, up in the Ouachita River arm, with access to some of the best fishing spots on Lake Hamilton during the spring spawning runs.
Entergy Park is a public area with picnic tables and access to the water near the dam on the east side of the lake.
Places to Stay
Lake Hamilton is a trendy tourist destination because it’s so close to Hot Springs.
Whether you’re looking to rent a cabin on the water for the weekend or stay at a hotel in town, there are dozens of places to stay.
Several RV parks are scattered around the lake if you want to haul your camper to the lake.