Crown Jewels

Fishing, fun and so much more on the Diamond Lakes

by Zoie Clift, Kat Robinson and Michael Roberts

 

 
Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita

The state of Arkansas is home to more than 600,000 acres of lakes. Perhaps the most famous of these is the group of five bodies of water in southwest Arkansas collectively known as the Diamond Lakes: Lakes Ouachita and Hamilton near Hot Springs, Lake Catherine near Malvern, DeGray Lake near Arkadelphia and Lake Greeson between Glenwood and Murfreesboro. Individually, each lake draws thousands of fishermen, campers, swimmers, hikers, cyclists and lovers of watersports every year. Pro angler Billy Murray gives us insight into this vital cornerstone of tourism in the Natural State.


LAKE OUACHITA

The clear waters of Lake Ouachita are surrounded by another of Arkansas’ outdoor treasures, the Ouachita National Forest. The 40,100 acre lake is well-known across the United States for its top-quality largemouth bass fishing. Ouachita is especially attractive to visitors looking to experience the Natural State at its most rustic and wild, and is home to Lake Ouachita State Park.
“Lake Ouachita is the largest lake in the state,” says Billy. “It is a wilderness lake—it has no homes on it. There are multiple fish species available in the lake, with the main ones being bass, stripers, walleye and crappie. It is probably the premier striper lake in the state, and it’s one of the few lakes in Arkansas where anglers can target and catch walleye.”

WHERE TO STAY
For many, the Lake Ouachita experience just isn’t complete without spending some time at Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa near Mt. Ida. Family owned and operated since it opened in 1955, the resort provides an incredible array of lodging options, a fleet of rental boats (including houseboats), quality dining at the Lodge Restaurant, luxury spa services and space for weddings or other events. Spa packages to suit every taste are available, taking much of the work out of vacation planning.
mountainharborresort.com

GOOD EATS
Over in the Mt. Ida area? Don’t miss the Mt. Ida Café, which has been serving customers since 1934. Order up a plate of catfish—it’s well-seasoned and served with fries or baked potato, hush puppies, salad and a choice of tartar or “red” sauce.
132 Highway 270 East, Mt. Ida

WHEN YOU’VE CAUGHT YOUR LIMIT
Want to check out some of the best gear Arkansas has to offer? Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters in Hot Springs has you covered with a wide variety of products for fishing, floating, paddlesports, camping, hiking and more. 
ouachitaoutdoors.com


LAKE HAMILTON

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Lake Hamilton is located just downstream from Lake Ouachita, but provides visitors with a vastly different set of opportunities for fun. Looking for a lake experience that won’t take you far from the modern comforts of civilization? This is the place for you.
“This is a residential lake,” says Billy. “It has homes, motels, restaurants and other all businesses right on the shoreline. The [fish] habitat is more limited than on Ouachita, but there are largemouth bass, stripers, walleyes and crappie. The main fishing time here is usually early spring and winter, because there are thousands and thousands of boaters and skiers on it during the summer.”

WHERE TO STAY
When you’re on Lake Hamilton, there’s no way to miss the numerous condominiums that line the shore. Many are privately owned or leased, but there are plenty of rentals listed by companies like South Shore Lake Resort in Hot Springs. Renters get full access to the resort’s pools, hot tubs, saunas, athletic facilities—and of course the great views of the lake.
southshorelakeresort.com

GOOD EATS
For one of the more unique Diamond Lakes dining experiences, pull your boat right up to the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf in Hot Springs, just off Scenic Highway 7. Grouper, salmon and mahi-mahi are all stars on the menu, and local favorites like American-raised catfish and frog legs are sure to be a hit. 5101 Central Avenue, Hot Springs

WHEN YOU’VE CAUGHT YOUR LIMIT
No trip to the Spa City is complete without experiencing the area’s geothermal delights. Book a spa package at the historic Buckstaff Bathhouse, located in the heart of downtown on Bathhouse Row, and discover what made Hot Springs great to begin with. 
buckstaffbaths.com


LAKE CATHERINE

Below Lake Hamilton lies one of Arkansas’ unsung gems, Lake Catherine. Home to Lake Catherine State Park, this lake stretches about 11 miles in length, but its narrow footprint through the valleys of the Ouachita Mountains only covers around 1,940 acres.
“This is a much shallower lake than either Ouachita or Hamilton,” says Billy. “It has huge flats with lots of stumps, no standing timber and very little grass. There are, however, more fish per acre of water here than in those deeper lakes, including bass, stripers, walleyes and crappie.”

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WHERE TO STAY
Pull your RV into Catherine’s Landing, or book a stay in one of the resort’s numerous yurts and cottages. Boat rentals include everything from paddleboards to pontoon boats, and there’s nothing quite like relaxing in the resort’s salt water pool at the end of the day. 
rvcoutdoors.com/catherines-landing

GOOD EATS
Too cold for catfish to bite and the crappie are ignoring your line? Time to make for shore and drive over to Mr. Whiskers between Hot Springs and Malvern. The interior is bright, the Whisker Sauce is spicy and the black beans are even spicier. The catfish is always fresh and golden-fried. 
4195 Malvern Road, Hot Springs

WHEN YOU’VE CAUGHT YOUR LIMIT
Visiting Lake Catherine during the heat of an Arkansas summer? Cool off at Magic Springs & Crystal Falls near Hot Springs. From thrilling rollercoasters like the SkyShark and Arkansas Twister to the splash-centric fun of the Crystal Falls water park, it’s a one-of-a-kind Arkansas experience. magicsprings.com


DEGRAY LAKE

Covering over 13,400 acres, DeGray is perhaps best known for DeGray Lake Resort State Park, the state’s only resort located in a state park. The lake’s primary source of water, the Caddo River, is a well-known destination for paddlesport enthusiasts—and the bass fishing is legendary.
“[DeGray] is wilderness lake, which means the water level fluctuates a lot,” Billy says. “This contributes to its being a really good fishery—it floods in the spring, giving young fish a place to hide and grow big enough to where they can live in a very competitive habitat. Since [the fish] don’t have to fend for themselves among larger fish, they are semi-adults by the time they have to pull out of that flooded cover. The lake has a good hybrid striped bass population, largemouth, Kentucky bass and crappie.”

 

WHERE TO STAY
Take advantage of the comfortable rooms, tasty restaurant and spa facilities at the DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge, stay in one of the parks yurts or go play a round of golf at the park’s 18-hole championship golf course. And don’t underestimate the soul-soothing qualities of an afternoon spent relaxing on one of the lake’s sandy beaches.
degray.com

GOOD EATS
Ask the locals where to eat, and more than a few will mention area mainstay O’Keefe’s Fish Net Family Restaurant in Caddo Valley. This restaurant doesn’t just stick to fresh-water seafood—it also serves crab, oysters and shrimp as well as steaks, chicken, burgers and Cajun-influenced fare like Boom Boom Shrimp and farm-raised gator bites.
5000 Valley Street, Arkadelphia

WHEN YOU’VE CAUGHT YOUR LIMIT
If your group includes cyclists alongside fishermen, then pay a visit or book a stay at Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina so they can take advantage of the area’s excellent mountain biking trails. It’s a system that’s come into its own in just the past few years to take its place among Arkansas’ elite trails.
iron-mountain.com


LAKE GREESON

This 12-mile-long, 7,000-acre lake features clear waters and steep, rocky ridges that form islands and long peninsulas extending into the lake. The huge bluffs surrounding Greeson are some of the most scenic in the area, something visitors to the lake’s Daisy State Park are sure to love.
“Lake Greeson is on the Little Missouri River,” says Billy. “It’s the hidden diamond of them all. Of all of the [Diamond Lakes], it probably provides the best fishing. It has a tremendous bass and crappie population. As far as habitat goes, it has no grass and no standing timber—but the water level does go up and down during the year, which contributes to a larger fish population.”

WHERE TO STAY
The comfortable cottages and a full-service marina at Self Creek Lodge and Marina will keep you cozy while offering some of the best scenery the lake has to offer. And for a change of pace, check out the ski boat and party barge rentals.
selfcreek.com

GOOD EATS
When hunger hits, head east to the town of Kirby for a bite at Sweetpea’s. Stop in for breakfast, or come later in the day for some of the area’s best burgers and barbecue. 
2897 Highway 70 West, Kirby

WHEN YOU’VE CAUGHT YOUR LIMIT
This area of the Ouachitas is known for having some of the state’s best streams for paddling. Check out Arrowhead Cabin & Canoe to see about getting into a canoe, kayak or tube and exploring one of Arkansas’ best places to float. 
caddocanoe.com