A couple months ago, me and my bro Parker were talking and decided to go on a camping and fishing trip. We planned for October so the weather would be nice. We invited Dad and decided to make it a birthday trip since we would be leaving the day after his birthday. My buddy Justin told me about a clear, rocky stream in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas that held some big smallmouth bass. This stream is called Crooked Creek. He went many years ago and had been wanting to go back for a long time, and I have been wanting to go ever since he told me about it. I told Justin we were going on the trip and invited him to come too. We had the trip on the calendar and were anxiously awaiting but then before we knew it, the trip was here. We discussed logistics and we decided to bring me and my Dad’s kayaks and we would take turns floating the short stretch of the river. We loaded up the Excursion fully and even filled up the trailer on top of the 2 kayaks. We had everything we needed to camp comfortably for many days, all the gear to cook some good meals and sleep well. We left Thursday after work and picked up Justin at 3 pm in Rockwall. Now, Google Maps says it takes around 7 hours to get to Bull Shoals White River State Park, where we were staying, but it actually takes around 9 hours after you slowly drive through the winding roads in the hills of the Ozarks. We made it at around midnight, very tired, and set up camp in the dark, which is definitely tricky when you don’t set up your tent very often. Dad and Parker slept in a 3-person, Justin had his 1-person, and I had a spacious 3-person tent all to myself. I slept well on my air pad and comfy sleeping bag and was ready to fish in the morning.
When we woke up, we could actually see the surroundings that we were blind to as we drove into at night. We were staying right next to the White River, and amongst the morning mist, we could see many fishermen in boats trying to catch the big trout that the river is famous for. The trout fishing of the White River is something we all wanted to plan a future trip for. We all had our minds on the smallmouth bass of Crooked Creek this trip. We cooked up some sausage, bell peppers, & eggs on the Coleman grills and made breakfast tacos. This is my camping tradition, which is always good fuel for a day of adventure! We loaded up in the Excursion and headed down to Yellville to scope out our take-out spot at the bridge. Once we were familiar with the surroundings, we headed up to Kelly Slab where me and Justin put in the kayaks. The plan was for us to kayak fish the 4 mile stretch for 3 hours and then switch off with Dad and Parker, who would start off wade fishing. Read more to see how this plan turned out…
Here’s a view of where we started fishing and Kelly Slab upstream.
We quickly found out that in order to get to the fish we needed to skip the shallow portions and float to the deep pool with large submerged rocks or to the fast moving current in more channelized areas. We each caught a couple fish at the first hole but weren’t having much luck. I caught a smallie on a brown mini chatterbait and one on a 4″ silver gray yamasenko regular weighted rig. However, we could see some big bass swimming underneath us as we floated by. Looking underwater with our polarized glasses allowed us to really sight fish for the fish and the biggest ones lurked deep underneath in the darker green water. A couple hours later, at another large pool, Justin started using a green pumpkin creature/crawdad plastic tube on a shaky head hook with a wacky rig. This method worked because the bait looked realistic in the clear water and the shaky head provided a lot of frantic movement and noise when bounced against the rocks. Justin caught several fish as it started to rain lightly and the temperature dropped and got rather chilly. We were just hoping it wouldn’t rain because we were unprepared. I started to try this set-up and started to get lots of bites and hook-ups but it was hard to keep the fish hooked since with the wacky rig, the plastic tube was lower on the hook. Further downstream, we parked the kayaks and wade fished. I kept fishing with this method and, sure enough, next to a large rock and finally hooked a good sized fish. It fought hard and the line on my reel retrieve was caught which made it even tougher to bring in the fish. Once I landed the fish, I admired what was probably a 13-14″ smallie with beautiful distinct markings on the side. After getting some photos and an underwater video with the GoPro, I let it swim off.
Here’s the fish and the catch location in the photos below. The first-person view photo of the fishing hole is now my desktop background at work (helps me envision this great fishing spot). In the video, you can see the beauty of this fish very clearly as it swims off underwater. I also filmed the lure set-up I was using and described above, which the bass moved the tube up the hook.
We looked at the time and realized that it was already 3 o’ clock or so and we were only about half way according to GPS. When fishing, time flies by, and we realized that not only was the original plan not going to work, we needed to paddle hard to make it to the bridge before sundown. We paddled with fury but stopped to fish the best holes for short periods of time. We floated across a true honey hole that had deep submerged boulders that held a bountiful amount of fish. It was like looking into an aquarium with our polarized glasses. I got a good underwater video with the GoPro.
I managed to catch a good largemouth on a green pumpkin mini chatterbait. In the deeper, dark green water, I found that I could get away with less-realistic, bulkier lures that provide more noise to attract. The mini and micro chatterbaits are an all time favorite lure and have caught me some big bass, and this deeper and darker water is a good place to use them.
We wanted to keep fishing this honey hole but had to keep moving downstream because there was over a mile to paddle and about an hour until sundown. As we paddled, the creek became more and more shallow as Crooked Creek disappears underground in the substrate. Then, we had to drag the kayaks and navigate over slippery rocks, which were very tricky and required the nimble use of our feet. Luckily, our knees and ankles were not hurt and I saw Parker right after we heard the nearby traffic, which signaled us that we were close. Dad and Parker did not have much luck so when we loaded up and headed back, we came up with a plan to rent (2) kayaks from Crooked Creek Canoes and float together further upstream. I called the owner, Becky, and through some investigating on Google Maps, I found the meet-up location called Snow Point, where her helper would be waiting for us with the kayaks. On the way back to camp, we went to Wal-mart to pick up some shaky head hooks and some crawdad tubes to use, since this was the best set-up of the day. Parker and I also bought some 4 lb line since we were using 8/10 lb line, which can be seen by the fish in this clear water. We were all set-up for the next day. That night, we ate like kings! We grilled out some steaks, portabella mushrooms, and green beans. It was a great meal to enjoy with some craft beer/cider and then we hit the sleeping bags for some shut-eye.
The next morning, we made the same breakfast tacos and headed out to Snow Point for our 9 am meet-up. I navigated with GPS on Google Maps because there were several back-roads to get there. We got the kayaks for Jack and paid Becky (luckily Dad had cash). Te plan was that Jack would be waiting for us at George’s Creek before sundown, and then drive us back to get the Excursion and trailer. This was a 5 mile float so we knew we had a full day ahead of us, especially after Justin and I’s experience from the day before. We were hoping that since we were further upstream and further away from where the creek disappears underground, there would be less portage and that we could just keep paddling. Parker and I both re-spooled our reels with the 4 lb line and we were ready to go. We put in the kayaks and started paddling downstream. It was nice that we were all together fishing. It wasn’t long and I caught a largemouth bass on the shaky head and crawdad tube set-up. This time I used a regular rig with the tube sitting up by the head of the hook to provide better hook-ups. This strategy slowed down and I changed to the 4″ weighted yamasenko I used before and caught a couple bass. Parker and Dad weren’t catching anything yet so I gave them each one of these senko worms. Pretty soon after, Parker hooked into a largemouth with the senko set-up that proved effective. He was happy to land a fish.
Here’s Dad enjoying the scenery and showing me what he was fishing with on his other rod, the Lake Fork Live Magic Shad. (We all had 2 rod set ups going)
When there was fast current, we would bank the kayaks and fish in the pools below current. This was Justin’s favorite strategy. Here’s Justin with a nice largemouth.
Everybody was catching fish and on different types of lures but it was getting late in the afternoon and we were only about halfway according to the GPS on my phone. In order to make some headway, we had to start really paddling to make it to the take-out spot before it got dark. We concentrated our efforts on the best holes. We made it to a deep hole with very large boulders again and I hooked into probably my biggest smallie of the trip, which pulled the rod underwater and pulled the kayak around. Eventually, I was able to bring the fish in close and it swam off a couple times as I tried to grab it. I was stoked that it didn’t throw the hook and on the third try I got a hold of the fish and held it firmly until I was able to take the hook out. This one was also caught on a shaky head with the crawdad tube, a combo that was very effective this trip. This type of finesse fishing is really fun and I want to try it out below the dam at PK Lake, which is also a clear water stream situation. I also noticed that all of the smallmouth had a white mark on the gill plates. This is a characteristic I didn’t know about until this trip. Here’s the bass below.
This is a really pretty creek and especially during the fall when the leaves are changing color. I even spotted a couple kingfishers perching on trees overlooking the creek. We enjoyed being on the water and didn’t want the day of fishing to end, but we were losing daylight. Here’s Dad admiring a largemouth he caught at dusk.
Soon after this, we paddled around the last bend and knew we were close since I was checking on the GPS. We made it to maybe the best hole of the trip but only fished it for a few minutes. Parker quickly caught another largemouth and then we paddled the last stretch.
Jack was true to his word and he was there waiting for us. Now, this guy liked to talk. He told us a story of how many years ago he was working as a tire repair man and the tire blew up and tore up his face and the doctors had to rebuild it and he almost died. He told many more stories in the short 10 minutes that Dad and I rode with him back to the Excursion. I was really impressed by his attitude for life though! We went back downstream to pick up Parker, Justin, and the kayaks. We were super hungry since we didn’t eat the entire time on the water, and quickly devoured an entire bag of BBQ potato chips, but that didn’t spoil dinner! We ate a good meal that night of sausage, squash, and black beans. We then put up all of our stuff because we heard a big storm was rolling in (our neighbors at the campsite made sure to tell us all about it!) The report was correct and for about 2 hours (we were pounded with torrential rain and howling winds), but the tents held up! My Alps Mountaineering tent didn’t let any water inside the tent. Justin wasn’t as fortunate since he had some holes at the bottom of his tent from previous trips…so some water got into his but he said that he managed to sleep. The next morning, we shook as much water off the tents as we could and packed them up and hit the long road back to Dallas. Crooked Creek was a blast and I’ll be looking forward to going back to the clear streams of Arkansas to go bass fishing.