Lake Ouachita Fishing: Complete Angler’s Guide

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Lake Ouachita is one of Arkansas’ hottest fishing destinations.

And for good reason.

This 40,000-acre reservoir offers some of the nation’s best for striper and bass fishing, not to mention several other fish species, plus incredible views of the surrounding Ouachita National Forest.

So if you’re looking to take your fishing to the next level at Lake Ouachita, keep reading as we embark on an all-encompassing fishing tips adventure for the most popular fish in the lake.

Let’s go to the lake’s beautiful clear waters and wet a line!

Lake Ouachita Striper Fishing

Striped bass are initially from the East and Gulf coasts. They’re an anadromous fish, which is the fancy way of saying they migrate from the ocean up freshwater rivers, the same as salmon.

But stripers also can spend their lives in freshwater, so agencies have introduced them to larger lakes to give anglers more opportunities. Lake Ouachita has been ranked one of the best locations to catch stripers for many years.

There are many different approaches to catching stripers; I strongly recommend hiring a guide if this is your first time trying to catch them. A seasoned expert will know precisely where to go and what to throw. 

However, if you’re a little more adventurous, it’s best to understand the spawning cycle of striped bass to understand better where to go on your next visit.

Stripers at Lake Ouachita head up the rivers and creeks during the spring to go through the motions of spawning, although according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, those attempts aren’t successful. The AGFC stocks the lake with smaller striped bass.

At any rate, this rite of spring is one of the best times to catch them because they’re packed into small areas and are very aggressive.

After the spawning run, striped bass head back to the main lake to spend the summer, fall, and winter.

During the summer, stripers patrol the open water around the lake’s many humps, main-lake points, and islands. They’re typically found in the creek and river channels and push their prey onto flats to feed.

In the fall, they’ll focus most of their attention on the shallows where their primary food source, shad, is located. Then during the winter, they return to deeper water. 

Since shad are their main food source, I recommend using them as live bait to catch stripers.

If live bait isn’t an option, the next best thing is lures resembling shad, such as silver and white swimbaits, crankbaits, spinners, and spoons.

If the stripers are willing, using topwater lures to catch striper is some of the most fun you can have; I like to throw spooks or Whopper Ploppers. 

When using live bait, drifting along a channel or across a flat tends to yield the most bites.

When you’re using lures, you can troll or cast to catch them. The best way to catch them depends on many factors that day, so that’s why I recommend that new striper anglers hire an experienced Lake Ouachita fishing guide.

Catch More Stripers

We’ve narrowed down the top striper fishing lakes in Arkansas.

We’ve also narrowed down the top fishing tactics and tips for catching stripers in freshwater lakes and rivers.

Lake Ouachita Bass Fishing

While many people come to the crystalline waters of Lake Ouachita for striper fishing, black bass fishing is also some of the best in Arkansas.

The lake is home to largemouth, spotted bass, and smallmouth. Each has a similar spawning pattern but generally differs in habitat preferences. We will discuss the bass spawn using general terms, then dive deeper into how to catch each species.

The spawn begins in the spring, as bass create beds along shallow hard-bottom flats. Since the water is so clear, shallow might mean 10-15 feet deep at times and 2 feet deep in other locations.

The spawning areas are generally near a depth change, so bass can easily escape to deeper water if they feel threatened. 

Once they finish their business, most bass will head offshore to humps, ledges, rock piles, and brush piles. A smaller population of bass sticks to the shallow stumps and rock piles, so you still can catch some from shore during the summer.

As fall and winter set in, bass will follow their food source back to the shallows to feed heavily before spending most of the winter suspended in somewhat deeper water along ledges, creek, and river channels.

Largemouth Bass

Largies are the typical bass you’ll catch closest to the shore. They grow larger than the other two species but can’t compete in open water. 

I use bigger lures like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, Texas rigs, and wacky rigs to target largemouth.

Natural colors are my favorite colors for clear water, like at Lake Ouachita. I want to match bluegill patterns as closely as possible, so I primarily use green pumpkin with a little bit of chartreuse mixed in.

Spotted Bass

Spots are generally farther offshore, around humps, main-lake points, and ledges. While they don’t grow as big as largemouth, they look similar, so be sure you’re identifying them correctly when you’re keeping fish.

Shad are spotted bass’s primary food source, meaning using lures resembling these silvery baitfish will work best. Spinnerbaits, spoons, hair jigs, swim jigs, swimbaits, and drop shot rigs are the usual baits to get a bit from a spotted bass.

You’ll likely have to test out different sizes of lures to see what the fish are keying in on that day, but I usually start with a size smaller than I would for largemouth bass.

Smallmouth Bass

More often than not, smallies are found around rocky habitat a little further offshore. This means you’ll primarily find them around the humps, islands, and main lake points.

Small baitfish and crawdads are the primary food sources for smallies, so I stick with swimbaits, spinners, jigs, wacky rigs, and drop shots for my lure selection.

Crawdad colors like firecraw in the early spring work very well for most bass, especially smallmouth, but the trusty green pumpkin and white are two other colors that work very well.

I strongly recommend downsizing your hooks and lures so smallies can fit them into their mouths but don’t overdo it, as smallmouth are very aggressive and will hit large baits.

Walleye Fishing

If you’re looking for your next meal, target walleye, as they are the tastiest fish in Lake Ouachita. However, they’re also some of the most challenging fish to catch. 

If you understand where they spend most of their time throughout the year, you’ll be much more likely to land some of these prized fish. 

Walleye are some of the earliest spawners in the spring. They prefer rip-rap or rocky stretches of the bank to spawn along, which means this is the easiest time of year for bank anglers to catch them. 

Once they’ve finished spawning, they head for deeper water. Walleye patrol the depths around ledges, main lake points, and humps during the day while making their way up along the flats to hunt in low-light hours.

As fall sets in, you are more likely to find them in shallower water, feeding heavily before they head back to the creek and river channels to spend the winter slowly searching for their next meal. 

Walleye are caught using a variety of baits and lures; the most effective are live minnows and earthworms, followed by deep-diving crankbaits, jigs, and bottom bouncers.

They rely heavily on their eyesight, so I recommend using natural and bright colors like chartreuse, pink, or pearl to help your lures stand out.

Crappie Fishing

In my opinion, crappie make an excellent case for the tastiest fish in the lake, barely being edged out by walleye, but they’re much easier to catch in my experience. 

Black and white crappie call Lake Ouachita home, and both are found all over the lake. Besides their appearance, the main difference between the two species is their water preferences. However, these preferences only matter a little since Lake Ouachita is a clear waterway. 

White crappie tolerate murky water better than black crappie, but I usually catch both species from the same spot.

Spring is the best time of year to catch crappie because they are spawning very shallow around rocky and woody structures and are easily caught from the bank.

Once they’ve spawned, crappies migrate to deep brush piles and ledges (20-30 feet deep is common) to spend the summer feeding on the small bait fish that swim past. 

Fall brings the crappie back shallow as they follow their food, aggressively feeding before winter sets in. After spring, fall is the next best time to catch crappie but too many anglers overlook this season.

With the onset of winter, crappie will suspend around ledges and become more lethargic but are still willing to strike a slow-moving meal. During warm stretches, they’ll perk up more and move onto the flats to feed. 

Minnows are by far the best bait I’ve found to use for crappie. However, I love using crappie jigs, and my mom enjoys trolling with small crankbaits to catch crappie. Spinners and small hair jigs also catch a lot of crappie. 

I stick with natural colors in crystal clear crappie waters, but every now and then, I’ll mix in some bright colors to see if I can catch the eye of a crappie or two.


While catfish might not be the tastiest fish in the lake, they’re still delicious and the best way to get enough fish for a fish fry with your friends and family. 

Three catfish species call Lake Ouachita home: the channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish.

While the channel and blue cat look similar and have identical diets when they’re smaller, you can do a few things to target one species over the other. Flatheads, on the other hand, have their preferences, which makes them a little easier to target, but not necessarily to catch.

But before we get into the specifics, we need to know the spawning cycle; otherwise, we’ll fish in the wrong areas.

Unlike most other fish species, catfish spawn in the late spring or early summer, and this is the worst time to try to catch them. They’re not as aggressively searching for food this time of year. Catfish also don’t move as much while focused on protecting their nests.

However, once the spawn ends, catfish feed heavily on flats near ledges and along depth changes. As summer heats up, they search for cooler water in the creek and river channels, moving up to the shallows to feed at night.

During the fall, they begin to gorge themselves on baitfish in preparation for winter, and they’ll often move into shallower water to find their meals. And once winter rolls around, they head back to deeper water. 

Channel Catfish

Channel cats are the smallest of the three popular species and can be misidentified as small blue cats if you’re unfamiliar with the differences.

When targeting channel catfish, I use smaller hooks and baits, but even small catfish can easily get an 8/0 hook in their mouth, so I’ll usually only step down to a 6/0 hook.

Earthworms, shrimp, chicken liver, small chunks of cut bait, and prepared stink baits are all proven baits for channel cats.

You can often find channel catfish in the shallows and creek channels, where you might catch them side-by-side with blue cats of similar size. 

Blue Catfish

Blue cats can grow well over 100 pounds in perfect conditions; however, most of the larger blues you catch at Lake Ouachita will be 10-25 pounds.

I use at least an 8/0 hook when targeting larger blue catfish. I also prefer larger baits, which work best on big hooks.

Speaking of baits, cut bait is king, in my opinion. However, that doesn’t mean shrimp and live bait don’t have their days.

While anglers often find blue catfish in similar areas as channel cats, if you want to increase your odds of catching a blue cat, focus on main lake ledges, points, humps, and creek mouths instead of way up the creek arms. 

Flathead Catfish

Flatheads are don’t get quite as big as blues, but they still get to monstrous sizes. They often prefer woody cover in shallow areas but are also found in deep holes alongside blue cats.

I still use an 8/0 hook when catching flatheads, as they’re much rarer than blues, so I usually catch one or two when targeting blue cats.

Flatheads tend to be hunters more than scavengers, so the main way I target these catfish is to use live bait. I prefer using live bluegill, but other sunfish and bait fish will work.

As I mentioned, flatheads are found in various areas; the most common areas are log jams up the creeks and rivers, the channels of the creeks, and rivers, and deep holes in the main lake.

White Bass Fishing

White bass are a relative of striped bass, but unlike stripers, white bass are a native species to Arkansas waters like Lake Ouachita.

They’re a ton of fun to catch and often swim in schools along with stripers of a similar size. They also have a nearly identical spawning pattern as stripers. 

During the spring, white bass (a.k.a. sand bass) migrate up the river and creeks to spawn along shallow stretches. Once they’ve finished spawning, they head back to the main channels and lake to spend the summer patrolling in search of their next meal.

In the fall, they’ll follow their food to the shallows to feed before winter takes over. In cold weather, they primarily stick to deeper waters along the ledges. 

I like to keep it very simple when white bass fishing. If I’m trolling, I like to use a crankbait or spoon. If I’m casting, I’ll use a spoon, spinner, crankbait, swimbait, or crappie jig, all of which will be in shad patterns.

Catch More White Bass

There is good white bass fishing in Arkansas, and then there is GREAT white bass fishing in Arkansas.

Here are my top tips and favorite lures for catching white bass.

Trout Fishing in the Tailwaters

Catchable-sized rainbow trout are stocked from November through April in the Ouachita River right below the Blakely Dam to allow anglers to catch trout in the southern portion of Arkansas. 

The AGFC used to stock trout in Lake Ouachita, but they realized they were primarily feeding the stripers and not the anglers as they had intended, so trout are no longer stocked in the lake.

Planning Your Trip

Now that you know how to catch the prized fish of the lake, it’s time to start planning your trip.

To help make you’re life easier, we’ve found a few boat ramps, public areas, and places to stay that will have you within casting distance of the top Lake Ouachita fishing spots.

Boat Ramps & Public Access Areas

Brady Mountain boat ramp is located mid-lake, on the south side. It is a concrete three-lane ramp. Rental boats, slips and other services are available at the marina here.

Echo Canyon boat ramp is located in the southeast section of the lake. It is a concrete four-lane ramp at the Echo Canyon Resort & Marina, which also rents boats and cabins among its services.

Lake Ouachita State Park boat ramp is located mid-lake, on the east side. It is a concrete two-lane ramp. 

Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa’s boat ramp is located in the southwest section of the lake. It is a concrete four-lane ramp. The full-service resort has a variety of amenities.

Rabbit Trail Road boat ramp is located mid-lake, on the north side in the Buckville area. It is a concrete two-lane ramp without other amenities.

As you can see, there are also several marinas around the lake and public access or recreational areas at most of the boat ramps.

Since a National Forest surrounds the lake, the land is primarily public, but not all of it is easily accessible. 

Places to Stay

Look for campgrounds and lakeside resorts if you want to stay near the water, including Lake Ouachita State Park. Another option is finding a hotel or motel in Hot Springs, which is within a half hour from the eastern end of the lake.