By Lance Riley & Photography by Mike O’Bryant
With a little effort, you can still find good fishing during the hot Arkansas summer. Since early spring my friend Mike O’Bryant has been bragging about a fishing hole he discovered while exploring the back roads of Central Arkansas, where he regularly catches 30 to 40 smallmouth bass in a single trip. As I am known to be an expert procrastinator, I put off checking it out for over three months. I finally took him up on his offer when the midday temperatures were hovering near the century mark. Little did I know I was about to experience a place so awesome and yet so close to my home. We decided the earlier the better and set out on a Wednesday morning to a place he referred to as his “honey hole.” He swore me to secrecy on the location. I can only say that it is on the Saline River in the Ouachita National Forest.
As our journey started, we turned down a remote country road. The first thing that caught my eye was a big black turkey with eight chicks just hanging out by the side of the road. After seeing the birds, I found I also had to be careful to avoid hitting the deer that were darting back and forth across the road. As we advanced, the woods opened into a clearing. A panoramic view of the land was exposed by a recent clear cut. As far as the eye could see was a bevy of rolling hills blanketed with three- to four-foot saplings. Moving on down the road we approached a wooden bridge that crossed our destination.
Finally we reached the river. While winding through the woods to find the entry point, I was extra cautious of the terrain. I don’t mind snakes, but I wouldn’t call myself a big fan. As we entered the water, Mike suggested we first fish upriver. He led the way, fishing with a purple lizard, something with which I’ve never had any luck. I heard the water splashing and before I knew it, the score was O’Bryant three, Riley zip. In clear water, I have always been told that earth-toned colors tend to be more productive than neon colors. I am known to be a hard-headed individual, so I stuck with my yellowish speckled grub. It soon paid off as three of my next five casts yielded smallies.
After fishing that hole out, we decided to head downstream to his special hole. While backtracking our path, I noticed the beauty of the mossy rocks. They reminded me of Irish Spring soap bars, not only due to their color but also due to their slippery texture. At that point the rocks and gravity got the best of me. With my backside and ego bruised, we pressed on. While moving downstream we traded turns casting and catching. We were casting downstream in the middle of a clearwater creek, the depth of which could not have been more than a foot. That was a first for me. At this point we hit a divide in the river that created dual streams with a number of depressions that served up more smallmouths.
Because of the canopy overhead protecting us from the sun, it was hard to judge the time, but knowing it was running short, we moved on. After slipping and sliding down the river for another hour, we reached an enormous pool. The body of water was about the size of a football field with overhanging trees on the banks that provided cover for the fish. As I grew excited, my first cast sailed high into an overhanging limb. Try as I might, rescuing the lure was not feasible. While I reset my bait, Mike pulled in one after another. Catching limb after limb proved to be my downfall as the water temperature began to rise. While I caught a few more smallmouth, it was not long before the fish were not putting up the fight that was desired. Just like that, we were bream fishing.
Even in the heat of summer, regardless of where you are in Arkansas, you are not that far from finding good fishing in a cool stream.