Arkansas monster bass lakes

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission set aside a handful of lakes for regular stockings of Florida back in 2006. These waters tend to be in the southern and lowland parts of the state, because they lie amid a climate slightly warmer than that typical of the highlands of the Ozarks and Ouachitas. With the exception of Lake Millwood, all of the lakes receiving regular stockings of Florida bass also tend to be relatively small, so each gets more of a boost from the injection of Florida genes.

According to Hopkins, the following lakes have been stocked with Florida bass over the past couple of years: Atkins, Bois d'Arc, Chicot, Columbia, Monticello, Greenlee, Millwood, SWEPCO and Lower White Oak. Lakes stocked with Florida bass follow different management plans, and are managed on the basis of different harvest restrictions.

"Many of the lakes that are regularly stocked with Florida largemouth bass have some type of special harvest restriction in place in order to offer these fish more protection and ultimately reach a larger size," Hopkins said. "Lakes Austell, Pickthorne, and Mallard have received Florida largemouth bass in the past, but are not being stocked any longer due to reduced growth rates, which most likely had occurred from the lack of harvest of smaller fish on these lakes.

"Lake Monticello, Millwood and Columbia are probably the most productive big-bass producing lakes in the state, and reports of fish exceeding 10 pounds are not uncommon."

As mentioned earlier, Florida bass fisheries in Arkansas can be difficult to maintain because of the interaction with northern-strain bass. So how many Florida bass are typically stocked in Arkansas waters?

According to Stein, over the last couple of years, Lake Millwood has received an average of 175,000 Florida largemouth bass fingerlings, Monticello has received an average of 60,000, Columbia has received an average of about 100,000, and Lower White Oak has received an average of 90,000 Florida largemouth bass fingerlings.

At 25,000 acres, Lake Millwood needs more Florida bass stocked to transform the genetic makeup of the lake's bigmouth complement. Even with 175,000 Florida bass fingerlings stocked into Millwood each year, only 15 percent of the bass caught are either pure Florida bass or fish designated "F1" -- first-generation hybrids. (See below for a more detailed review of the science relevant to the Floridas and their genes.) On the other hand, the percentage of pure northern-strain largemouths in Millwood is less than 5 percent, so most bass in the lake at least minimally exhibit the presence of Florida bass genes. Continued stocking will almost certainly continue to advance trophy potential at Lake Millwood.

Lake Monticello's percentage of largemouths that are either pure Floridas or F1s -- 40 -- is the state's highest. This relatively new lake was built with a future as a trophy bass fishery in mind, so no northern-strain bass were stocked in the lake -- only Floridas. Such as they are, the lake's northern-strain bass are "stocked" courtesy of the feeder streams.

Said Hopkins, "The AGFC Largemouth Bass Management Plan states that approximately 500,000 Florida largemouth bass fingerlings will be produced annually, and that state lakes" -- i.e., AGFC-owned -- "will have top priority, along with lakes that have shown to have adequate habitat and conditions, including a sufficient amount of forage, that are favorable for growing larger bass."

Lake Millwood serves as a prime example of what Hopkins means by a lake with "adequate habitat and conditions": large amounts of forage, extensive vegetation and other cover, large spawning flats, deep channels and just about the warmest climate to be found in the Natural State. Given all this, it's hardly a surprise that many Arkansas anglers pick Millwood to surrender the next state-record largemouth. (The current state record, incidentally, was caught at Mallard Lake in 1976; it weighed 16 pounds, 4 ounces.) And Columbia, Lower White Oak and Monticello all exhibit many of these same characteristics acknowledged as ideal for growing monsters.

With Millwood, Monticello, Columbia and Lower White Oak receiving most of the available Florida bass fingerlings each year, it's easy to see why it would be difficult to develop other trophy largemouth lakes in the state. Those four lakes, however, provide bass anglers outstanding opportunities to catch largemouths topping 10 pounds, with larger fish possible. Millwood and Monticello regularly produce bass of 12 pounds and even larger.

SWEPCO Lake, a unique component of Arkansas' Florida bass program, is notable for its better-than-average bass fishing. Though the tiny lake near Siloam Springs is well north of the Florida bass' preferred range, it's artificially heated by a power plant, which, like the nuclear plant on Lake Dardanelle, uses the lake's water for cooling. Unlike Dardanelle, however, SWEPCO is small enough for the hot-water discharge to affect the entire lake's water temps, which in January can reach 70 degrees.

As a result of this singular situation, Florida bass are stocked in SWEPCO. Because of the lake's size, comparatively few Florida bass were needed for the original stocking and are now needed to maintain the lake. A dozen bass per day exceeding 4 pounds is certainly possible, and trophy fish are very possible. The only downside with SWEPCO is its dependency on the power plant: If the plant shuts down in the winter for an extended period, the Florida bass die, and kills have been reported in the past.