58 years of Arkansas fishing records

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Catching a new state-record fish is no easy accomplishment. In fact, the chance of that happening is about as likely as finding the new rod and reel you left sitting by the boat ramp yesterday. Slim. Very slim.

We all can dream, though, and almost every year, some Arkansas angler who has set his mind to it manages to land that fantasy fish he’s been after for so long. If it’s bigger than the current record and the angler follows all the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission guidelines properly, the record books will be amended to reflect a new titleholder. If you’re lucky — extremely lucky — it could happen to you.

In the meantime, perhaps you’ll enjoy reading this collection of record-book trivia. I served as the AGFC’s state fishing-records coordinator for almost 20 years, and while delving into the agency’s files, I came across many interesting facts about state-record catches.

58 years old

This year, Arkansas’ state-record fish program celebrates its 58th birthday. The commission began keeping records in 1959, and since then, more than 300 fish have qualified for entry in the record books.

Best lakes

If you want to go to a specific body of water known for producing state records, where should you travel?

If it’s lakes you’re thinking about, head straight to 13,800-acre DeGray Lake near Arkadelphia. It ranks higher as a record producer than all the rest, with at least 27 state-record fish caught in the lake’s waters. If you didn’t count hybrid stripers, however, DeGray wouldn’t rate nearly as high. Twenty of DeGray’s record fish were these hard-hitting members of the temperate bass family.

Bull Shoals Lake on the Arkansas-Missouri border ranks No. 2 with at least 20 records. On this lake, though, the catch isn’t weighted so heavily to one species. Bull Shoals has produced records for several species, including white, spotted and smallmouth bass, lake trout, drum and longnose gar.

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The remaining top 10 lakes are Norfork, Hamilton, Greers Ferry, Ouachita, Ashbaugh, Beaver and Hogue. Nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes — Bull Shoals, Norfork, Ouachita, Greers Ferry, Beaver, DeGray, Millwood, Table Rock and Greeson — accounted for close to 100 record fish, approximately 40 percent of the total. At least 18 record fish were caught in farm ponds.

Rivers have accounted for about one-third of Arkansas records. The Arkansas and White rivers are tied for top place with no less than 30 records each. The Little Red River is No. 3 with eight records, followed by the North Fork River with seven.

Enticements

While you’re fishing for that state record, what bait or lure might work best for enticing the fish?

Not surprisingly, live minnows have produced more records than any bait, about 30 in all. Jigs were next with at least 23 catches, followed by worms, which enticed 14 record fish. Plastic worms and live crickets, both extremely popular baits, produced only four and six records, respectively.

Live baits and artificials each accounted for about half the total records. Altogether, around 80 different lures and baits were used to catch record fish, including such things as bacon skin (used to catch a record bluegill) and bread, which attracted two record grass carp.

Biggest of them all

If weight is the criterion by which we judge the greatness of record fish, then the alligator gar caught by St. Charles’ John Stortz is the undisputed record-book king. This 240-pound monster came from the Arkansas River in 2004, but it wasn’t caught on a rod and reel. At the time it was caught, the AGFC listed it in the unrestricted tackle category for fish caught by legal means other than rod and reel.

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The biggest rod-and-reel catch, however, is also an alligator gar — a 215-pounder caught by Alvin Bonds in the Arkansas River in 1964. It’s the longest-standing record in the books. It’s also the only original record never to be broken.

Smallest

There’s nothing surprising about a 240-pound fish making the record books. But a 4-ounce fish? That’s what happened when Charlie Thompson of North Little Rock caught the first state-record longear sunfish in 1965. At 1/4 pound, his record fish weighed the same as a stick of butter. The smallest current record is a 14-ounce flier (a small sunfish) caught in the Saline River in 1985 by Warren’s Harvey Jones.

Husband and wife record-setters

Lots of folks go fishing with their spouses, but only one husband and wife team has managed to make the record books. J.O. Brooks of Hot Springs held two previous Israeli carp records, the largest of which weighed 30 pounds. Mrs. J.O. Brooks caught a 20-pound, 8-ounce state-record longnose gar on Lake Maumelle in 1983.

Siblings

Hard as it is to believe, two sets of brothers have caught state-record fish. Even more astounding is the fact that one of these pairs caught both their records on the same day in the same lake.

On April 6, 1981, brothers Coleman and George Reid of Weiner both caught state-record bullheads while fishing together on Lake Hogue. Coleman’s catch weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces. George’s weighed an even 3 pounds.

Melvin and John Holmes weren’t fishing together, but these brothers also caught state records. John Holmes of Little Rock landed his — a 7-pound, 14-ounce record hybrid striper — on Lake Hamilton in March 1980. Almost six years later, in January 1986, Melvin, a Hot Springs resident, caught another record hybrid on Lake Hamilton, this one weighing 16 pounds, 4 ounces.

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Beating the odds

Catching two record fish on the same day borders on the impossible, but it has been done twice, and on the same lake, Lake Ashbaugh.

On Sept. 22, 1984, Terry Thompson of Paragould caught two Ashbaugh tiger muskies that topped the old mark of 6 pounds, 9 ounces. Then on July 6, 1985, Jim Garrett of Pocahontas boated two tiger muskies larger than Thompson’s 7-pound, 14-ounce state record. Garrett’s largest catch that day weighed 13 pounds, 13 ounces.

No individual has ever caught three Arkansas state-record fish, but at least six anglers, in addition to Garrett and Thompson, have made the record book twice.

Two records from one boat

On April 23, 1984, two unrelated anglers from Indiana, William Wilson and William Garvey, caught two state-record white bass while fishing from the same boat. Garvey’s fish weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces. Wilson’s fish weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces.

Improve the odds

Still want to catch the next state record? Well, if you fish with minnows, jigs or worms on the Arkansas or White rivers or a Corps of Engineers lake, then your chances are probably better than average — maybe one in 999,999 instead of one in a million. If you’re real lucky, maybe you’ll catch two records in one day. Maybe your wife or brother will catch one, too. Despite the odds, it has been known to happen.

For information on current state records, including rules for certifying a record catch, check a copy of the current fishing regulations guide or visit www.agfc.com/fishing/pages/arkansasstatefishingrecords.aspx.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>