Florida-strain Bass Bending Rods at Lake Atkins

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ATKINS – Lake Atkins in Pope County has been one of the top lakes to watch for the possibility of a new state record largemouth bass for the last decade. That search for massive bass intensified last week, when two largemouth in excess of 11 pounds were caught from the same fishing pier only a week apart.

Lake Atkins Bass

Lake Atkins Bass

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake is responsible for a few double-digit fish each year, but the last few weeks have seen more trophy-class bass pulled from the water than usual. Sharon Vinson, owner of Lucky Landing Bait Shop, said the last month or so has been a bit of a phenomenon.
“The fishing reports haven’t been that great, but all of the sudden the bass went crazy,” Vinson said. “You don’t even need a boat. Almost all of the action has been right here by the pier.”
Vinson says most of the successful anglers have been using shad netted from the lake to catch their fish. Those that can’t catch their own shad still do pretty well with bass minnows purchased at the bait shop, right next to the pier.
“The crappie usually come to the cove next to the pier when the shad come in,” said Vinson. “But this year they didn’t. Instead these bass have shown up.”
The action really cranked up Monday, Jan. 23, when one angler wrestled an 11.7 lb. fish to the public fishing pier next to the boat ramp. Over the next week, the action was slow, but the size of the fish caught more than made up for it. Then things opened up again on Friday.
“Last Friday was really, really good. Several fish over 5 pounds were caught and that second 11-pounder. I’ve already weighed in a 10 pounder and a few smaller ones that were over 5 pounds Monday, too.”
At 752 acres, Atkins doesn’t appeal to many anglers used to chasing bass on the giant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in The Natural State. It isn’t large enough to host large-scale fishing tournaments, and the flooded timber that’s still standing just under the lake’s surface can be a hazard to boats running fast outside of the boating lanes. The lake is ideal for anyone looking for a good fishing experience complete with a chance at trophy bass and a guaranteed good meal and hospitality at Lucky Landing Bait Shop. Pulling into the launch, you’re just as likely to see a kayak or johnboat launching into the water as you are a 20-foot fiberglass bass boat. With fishing piers, accesses and jetties placed around the lake, bank angling is an excellent option as well.
Lake Atkins was originally impounded in 1956, but owes its recent revival to a drawdown and renovation project in the early 2000’s. The lake had become overrun with bigmouth buffalo and other rough fish. A partial drawdown and planned fish kill in 2002 became a near total drawdown when a dam gate malfunctioned, leaving only 25 acres of water left at one point.
“That drawdown enabled us to remove the rough fish and remove northern strain largemouths from the system before we stocked it with Florida-strain bass,” said Frank Leone, AGFC regional fisheries biologist in Russellville. “Through our genetics testing, we’ve seen the lake begin to shift slowly back to northern-strain bass, possibly from fish entering the system from the feeder creek or people moving fish, but we still see many good 5-pound-plus fish every time we electrofish at Atkins.”
Leone says the recent catches may be part of the original stockings of Florida-strain bass that were placed in the lake in 2003. “That would make these fish about 14 years old, which is nearing the end of a Florida-strain bass’s lifespan in Arkansas,” Leone said. “We’re keeping an eye on the population and hoping that we don’t begin to see a decline in those fish that reach what we like to call the ‘memorable’ class.”
The AGFC continues to stock Florida-strain largemouth in Atkins on an annual basis, and is researching the effectiveness of these stockings.
“When you have a lot of predators out there, a 2-inch fingerling can get eaten pretty quick,” Leone said. “So we’re trying to determine if those fingerlings are surviving.”
In addition to streamlining Florida-strain bass stockings, AGFC biologists are looking at better ways to fertilize the lake and increase productivity.
“Historically, fertilization consisted of adding phosphorous to the system,” Leone said. “But now we’re taking a lot more water samples and studying the ratios of nitrogen and phosphorous to balance the system while adding nutrients. Using nitrogen-rich urea as well as phosphorous should maximize food for young-of-the-year fish while minimizing the blue-green algae blooms associated with fertilization of a lake.”
Leone says a protected slot limit on Lake Atkins also has helped fish move into anglers’ preferred size classes with some reaching that “memorable” range. “Slot limits and minimum length limits aren’t the cure-all and are not beneficial in all circumstances, but with the attributes of Lake Atkins, the slot limit has helped produce some excellent quality fish.
Vinson says most anglers fishing from the pier will keep other fish, but not bass.
“I think one of the 11 pounders was kept, but all the rest of the fish caught recently that I know of have been released right back into the lake,” Vinson said. “Who knows how long it’s going to last, but it’s nice to know some of those fish are still waiting to be caught again.”
Photo credit: Lucky Landing