Norfork Lake Fishing Report: Complete Angler’s Guide

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Norfork Lake, located primarily in Arkansas with its northern arm stretching up into Missouri, is one of the premier fishing destinations in both states.

This U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir’s clean, clear waters are home to giant stripers, walleye, bass, slab crappie, and other types of game fish.

As you continue reading, you’ll learn the best tips and techniques for landing fish during your next visit to Norfork Lake, also known as Lake Norfork.

Grab some coffee, and let’s get to it!

Norfork Lake Striper Fishing

If you want to catch one of the biggest fish in the lake, then it’s time you target some stripers. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) has stocked striped bass annually for several decades, and Norfork has a thriving striper fishery.

If you’ve never fished for stripers, I strongly recommend hiring a guide to show you the ropes. They aren’t the simplest fish to catch.

However, if you’re a seasoned angler, there are a few different ways to target them. 

The best way to guarantee your success is to understand fish behavior based on the time of year. 

Norfork stripers go through the motions of spawning in rivers, so they make their way upriver (into Missouri) in the spring in search of the best spawning area. Often around April is an excellent time of year to catch them because they congregate in a smaller space.

Once the spawn ends, they head back to the main lake, primarily the southern portion in Arkansas. Throughout the summer and early fall, they’ll patrol the open waters following schools of shad, their primary food source.

During this warmer time of year, it’s best to look for flats and main lake points near creek and river channels. Striped bass use the points and flats as a natural boundary to feed and the channels to move to other parts of the lake.

One of the best ways to catch stripers is by using live shad since this is what they’re feeding on.

However, using lures is another fun way to catch striped bass. Any lure that mimics a shad will work, so swimbaits, crankbaits, spoons, and topwater lures like spooks tend to work best.

Anglers often overlook hair jigs, but they also work very well.

As fall and winter set in, stripers follow their food source to the shallows to feed heavily before returning to the open water during the coldest months of the year.

The main reason I suggest hiring a guide is that they have their finger on the pulse of the lake. They’ll know exactly what the fish are doing and keep you from spending hours searching without finding.

Even seasoned anglers will benefit from hiring a guide; it’s allowed me to catch my biggest striper to date!

Cousins of the striped bass, white bass and hybrid striped bass, are also found in Norfork Lake. They often school with similar-sized stripers and are caught using the same methods. 

The three species go through spawning patterns at relatively the same time, although the AGFD notes that stripers don’t spawn successfully on their own at Norfork, and the hybrid stripers are a sterile cross of white and striped bass most often produced in hatcheries.

The number of white bass has been down in recent years because of a significant fish kill in 2019; however, it’s rebounding nicely, and there are still plenty to catch.

Walleye Fishing

Walleye are the tastiest fish to inhabit Norfork Lake and a prized catch across much of the U.S. They’re found across the lake, but specific times of the year are best for catching these elusive fish.

Walleye are one of the earliest spawners in Norfork Lake.

From late February through the first half of March, they make their way up the lake’s two main tributaries, Bryant Creek and the North Fork of the White River, searching for rocky or riprap banks.

Don’t overlook the southern tributaries, like the Big Creek arm and South Brushy Creek arm, as walleye will search for the closest best spawning opportunities. The main thing you should be searching for is shallow hard bottom areas near a ledge.

Jerkbaits, jigs, swimbaits, and live minnows catch most walleye during this time of year. 

Once the spawn ends, walleye head back to deeper water and spend the majority of their time suspended or patrolling ledges and deep holes. However, they’ll move shallow during low-light hours to feed.

Lures that work best this time of year are deep-diving crankbaits, minnows, and nightcrawlers rigged on bottom-bouncers, slowly trolled along flats and points.

Once you’ve located fish, jigging with spoons is another way to entice a walleye to bite your hook.

As fall turns into winter, live minnows work best in the creek and river channels in a similar pattern to summer.

Bass Fishing

Bass anglers are drawn to the clear waters of Norfork Lake because black bass species are abundant.

Largemouth, spotted bass, and smallmouth are all found in the lake, with largemouth and spots making up most of the population. 

While it’s essential to tailor your approach to a specific species when bass fishing, they generally have similar spawning patterns, which are critical to locating bass throughout the year.

In the spring, black bass move to shallow flats with a hard bottom near ledges to make their nests.

The males are incredibly protective of their nest, and soft plastic worms and creature baits work very well to get their attention and trigger an aggressive strike.

However, the best time of year to go fishing for bass is the post-spawn. 

Once they’ve finished their business, bass will feed heavily to regain their lost weight from spawning. When you time this right, there isn’t a wrong lure. I’ve caught bass with bluegill still in their mouth during this time of year.

As the water heats up, most bass will head offshore to deeper water and suspend along ledges, main lake points, and channel swings. You will still find a few patrolling the shallows, especially in shaded areas and other heavy cover.

Once fall and winter set in, bass follow their food back to the shallows to feed before returning to deeper water during the colder months. 

Now that you understand the basic spawning cycle of black bass, let’s talk about some specifics for catching each species.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth are the dominant species you’ll find patrolling the shallows. They grow much larger than spotted bass but are less competitive in the open water. 

Anglers often look for largemouths in the creeks and backs of coves, but don’t be surprised to catch a few off ledges and deeper brush piles.

Your lure selection will depend on several factors, from time of year to weather conditions and a million other little things. However, some constants always remain. The jig, soft plastic worm, and spinnerbait are some of the top lures to use at Norfork Lake.

I recommend using natural or translucent colors since the water is so clear. 

Bluegill patterns are usually really good for largemouth as this is one of their primary food sources close to shore. Using shad colors like chrome and white will work well if you’re fishing offshore.

Spotted Bass

Spots, a.k.a. Kentucky bass, are much better suited for the open water, so begin your search farther away from the bank, along steep banks and channel ledges. 

I always consider fishing bridges no matter what lake I’m at since they act as a funnel, and Norfork has two bridges. I would begin at the Highway 101 bridge, but since they’re both relatively close, the Highway 412 bridge should offer similar fishing patterns.

If you want to catch spots, I recommend sticking to the main lake, as largemouth tend to outcompete spotted bass in the shallow coves and the back of creeks. The main lake points, especially with rock piles, are good places to begin searching. 

I also recommend slightly downsizing your hooks and lures when targeting spotted bass because they don’t grow as big as largemouth bass.

Shad colors are the best for spotted bass, especially offshore. Silver, white, and translucent should be your go-to lure colors.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallies are probably my favorite bass to catch, though I don’t complain about catching most fish! They’re aggressive and found primarily in a bit deeper water than largemouths. They’re also less abundant than spots and largemouth in Norfork.

I target smallmouth by searching for rockpiles at varying depths. Smallmouth don’t mind a slight current, so the creek arms and main lake are where you’ll find most of them.

While you’ll often find spotted bass out in open water, smallmouth are at similar depths but definitely like structures, especially rocky cover.

Smallies get their name from having smaller mouths than largemouth and spotted bass, so downsizing your lures is a must. While they’re very aggressive and will attack a larger lure, getting the hook in their mouth is more difficult.

I use the same colors for smallmouth as I do for largemouth, including some bluegill patterns, but since they’re often found farther offshore, I like translucent, white, and chrome to mimic the shad they’re eating.

Crappie Fishing

Another tasty fish that calls Norfork Lake home is the crappie. Black and white crappie are found in Norfork and are caught out of the same areas, as there is very little difference between the two species.

The main difference, besides appearance, is white crappie are more tolerant of murky water. However, this makes very little difference in the crystal clear waters of Norfork.

As with every other species of fish, understanding the yearly spawning cycle of crappie is the key to catching them.

Crappie spawn in the spring along shallow flats with wood and rocks. The spawn is the best time of year to catch them from the bank because they’re often just a few feet off of the shore.

Natural-colored crappie jigs and live minnows are the primary baits in spring. 

As summer takes hold, crappie move to deeper brush piles, often 25 feet or deeper. Wherever the thermocline (where warm and cold water meet) is that day, crappie shouldn’t be far away. 

Trolling small crankbaits in the summer is a great way to locate a school of hungry crappie.

Once you locate a school, live minnows and crappie jigs still work this time of year. Sometimes a splash of bright colors like chartreuse or pink help get a few more bites.

As fall and winter approach, crappie return to the shallows to feed before they suspend near ledges during the coldest months.

However, during warm stretches in the winter, you will find schools of crappie patrolling the shallows, searching for their next meal.

Catfish Fishing

While catfish aren’t the main reason to come to Norfork Lake, they’re definitely worth targeting when other species aren’t cooperating. Blue and channel catfish are the two species in the lake in healthy numbers. 

They look similar when small, but blue cats grow much larger, reaching 60+ pounds at Norfork, while channel catfish rarely reach 25 pounds. 

Their spawning patterns are identical; they head for the shallows in late spring or early summer to find or make a nest. Unlike other species, the spawn is the worst time to go fishing for catfish, as they’re so focused on nesting they don’t eat much. 

However, once the spawn is over, they feed with a vengeance as they head for deeper pools and channels. During the heat of the summer, you’ll find them in holes, creeks, and river channels near flats, but they will feed in shallower water at night.

As fall turns to winter, they’ll feed heavily on the flats before heading back to the protection of deeper water. 

I don’t change my approach much when targeting blues vs. channel cats since they’re often found in the same area and have a similar diet. 

I will downsize my hook to a 6/0 and use live earthworms, hot dogs, stink bait, chicken liver, or small chunks of cut bait when targeting channel cats. I stick with an 8/0 hook and cut bait or live bait for blues.

Trout Fishing Below Norfork Lake

Trout are a massive draw to the Norfork Lake area. They are often caught in the tailwaters since this is one of Arkansas’s best trout fishing locations. 

Sections of this river are catch-and-release only, so you’ll need to pay attention to where you’re at on this short river.

Sowbugs and scuds are the trout’s primary food source, so matching your flies and lures accordingly will get you the most bites.

Planning Your Trip

Visiting Norfork Lake is a must, as this is a dream come true for many anglers. So let us help you plan your visit by informing you of some boat ramps, public access areas, and places to stay.

Boat Ramps & Public Access

Many boat ramps are scattered around the lake, so no matter where you’re at, you should find a boat ramp nearby.

Some of the most popular boat ramps in Arkansas are:

Buzzard Roost Boat Dock, located on the west side, mid-lake. It’s a three-lane concrete boat ramp with lots of moorage and boat rentals.

Gamaliel Landing and Fout Boat Dock has a concrete boat ramp with a dock, as well as boat rentals and stalls. It’s in the lake’s northeast section, taking Fout Road south of Gamaliel.

Henderson Park, Lake Norfork Marina and Lake Norfork Resort offer a multi-lane concrete boat ramp and dock, boat rentals, slips and other services, supplies and overnight accommodations. It is on the east side of the Highway 412 bridge at mid-lake.

Woods Point provides a more modest boat single-lane concrete ramp without all the services in Hand Cove on the lake’s southeast section.

If you want to launch in the upper lake in Missouri, especially when the fish are heading up to spawn, there’s a ramp and parking on the west side of the Highway 160 bridge.

Shore fishing areas also abound around the lake, many of which can be found at the boat launches and public use areas. Seward, Panther Bay, Bidwell Point, and Norfork Dam Park are just some of the numerous public access areas.

Places to Stay

Whether you want to camp at the lake or enjoy the comforts of a hotel, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for near Norfork Lake. 

There are several lakeside resorts, campgrounds, and other accommodations, as well as hotels/motels in nearby communities, including Mountain Home, AR.