Bass fishing successes show Coal Pile is coming back

PENDLETON, Ar (AGFC) - One of Arkansas's most renowned fishing areas appears headed back to its former lofty status after the 2009 Big Bass Bonanza.

Coal Pile is the place. Ask nearly any Arkansas bass fisherman, amateur, professional or somewhere in between, and that person will know about Coal Pile, the backwater on the lower Arkansas River that ranks close to legendary for its production of large largemouths. Earlier this year, a 31 pound, five bass limit was caught on the lake and in that limit was an 11-pounder.

Coal Pile is a 538-acre body of water in Desha County a dozen or so miles from Dumas and near an unincorporated place called Pendleton. A highway bridge carries U.S. Highway 165 and Arkansas Highway 1 across the river near the entrance to Coal Pile. The name isn't Coal Pile Lake, Coal Pile Pond, Coal Pile Slough, Coal Pile Creek. It's just Coal Pile. And you won't find it on maps. The name originated n steamboat days when a fueling station was in operation a short distance off the main river. There is nothing left to trace to that era.

But the bass are there.

For several decades in the last century, Coal Pile yielded numerous trophy bass to eager anglers from the area, from all around the state and from many other states. In 1984 and 1985 when the Bassmasters Classics were held at Pine Bluff, some contestants made the lengthy run downriver to Coal Pile just for a couple of hours fishing the fabled spot.

But bass fishing declined all along the Arkansas River, Coal Pile included, then extensive work was done by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and private organizations and individuals. Structures on the river were altered. Extensive stockings of bass fingerlings were made.

In the recent Big Bass Bonanza, anglers who caught Coal Pile bass finished high in the standings although the winning fish came from far upstream on the final day of the three-day event. A Coal Pile bass weighing 7.16 pounds led the first two days. It was caught by Danny Sheeks of Stuttgart on a chartreuse Rat-L-Trap lure.

On the first morning of the Bonanza, contestant Mitch Miller of Dumas made nine quick casts, and seven minutes after the fishing started, he brought in 6.86-pound fish on Coal Pile. He used a Zara Spook, a topwater lure.

Near the end of the tournament, Brandon Rhoden of Grapevine landed a 6.98-pound bass, not on Coal Pile but on the Annex, an adjacent area. Rhoden caught his fish on a chrome Rat-L-Trap.

A number of smaller bass, many in the 4-pound and 5-pound range, came out of Coal Pile in the Big Bass Bonanza.

Coal Pile now is owned by the Game and Fish Commission after a 2008 transaction with a hunting club that owns surrounding land. The Commission specified that Coal Pile would be used for public fishing and for a waterfowl rest area. It is not be open to hunting of any kind.

There is a problem with easy access to Coal Pile from the main river, as a sand bar at the entrance forces boaters who proceed with extreme caution or risk hanging up. Future plans include dredging at this entrance. There is a newly paved public boat access at the Pendleton bridge, and a motel and restaurant are nearby. A short distance to the east is a Corps of Engineers campground.