by Keith Sutton
Weary of traveling Interstate 40? In Arkansas, many exits lead to great crappie fishing lakes where you can take a break and enjoy some fishing from the shore or a pier.
On its 2,555-mile journey from California to North Carolina, Interstate 40 spans the breadth of Arkansas. Some have described this transcontinental superhighway as “the most boring roadway in America,” and anyone who’s ever driven from Ft. Smith to West Memphis would find it difficult to dispute that contention.
Fortunately, the I-40 traveler need not venture far from the interstate to enjoy some of Arkansas’ most beautiful scenery and finest outdoor recreation areas. For example, in its 300-mile journey across the Natural State’s midsection, I-40 passes some of Arkansas’ finest crappie lakes. Five of these—lakes Dardanelle, Overcup, Conway, Dunn and Austell—are 15 minutes or less off the interstate. All offer fishing piers and bank-fishing areas where the road-weary traveler can stop and enjoy some fishing, no boat required.
This 50-mile-long honeyhole on the Arkansas River spreads westward from Dardanelle Lock and Dam at Russellville to cover 35,000 acres. Numerous access points with boat docks, campgrounds and parks are on the north side just a short drive off I-40.
Lake Dardanelle State Park near Russellville is one great place to visit. Near the park’s fishing tournament weigh-in pavilion is a covered, barrier-free fishing pier, a popular facility for bank-fishing enthusiasts, sightseers and photographers because of its sweeping view of the lake and 1,350-foot Mount Nebo to the south. Casting a jig or spinner near brush fish attractors around the pier will almost always produce a few crappie, regardless of the time of year.
If you bring a boat, you could fish every day for a year and not run out of topnotch crappie spots to try. Some of the my favorites in June include the Spadra Creek and Little Spadra Creek arms just south of I-40 at Clarksville, the Shoal Bay area near New Blaine on Highway 22 and waters around Shiloh Park on U.S. 64 just west of Russellville.
For more information, visit the park website at www.arkansasstateparks.com/lakedardanelle/.
Continuing east on I-40 from Lake Dardanelle, one soon arrives at Morrilton. Just north of this Conway County community, only a five-minute drive off the interstate, is another exceptional honeyhole for Natural State crappies—Lake Overcup.
This 1,025-acre Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) lake has forged a place in the hearts of crappie enthusiasts throughout central Arkansas. Catching 30-fish limits is a cinch when conditions are good, and stringers are likely to be anchored with crappie in the 2-pound class.
You can bankfish from the lake’s mile-long dam or from a jetty at the lake’s south end. Lake Overcup also has two wheelchair-accessible fishing piers: one adjacent Overcup Landing on the lake’s northeast corner and another beside Lakeview Landing, an angler concession just off Highway 95. At times, fishing around sunken brushpiles in deep water near the ends of the piers can produce dozens of 1- to 2-pound crappie.Much of the best fishing is in brushy, stump-laden waters accessible only by boat. In June, I usually start fishing jigs or minnows in shoreline cover near one of the boat ramps, then move to stump fields where the biggest fish often hide.
Two exits on Interstate 40 at Morrilton provide access to the lake. Turn north at Exit 107 to follow Highway 95 to Lakeview Landing. To reach Overcup Landing, turn north at Exit 108 and follow Highway 9 to its junction with Highway 915. Turn west on Highway 915 to the lake.
For additional information, including a map, visit the AGFC website, www.agfc.com.
This 6,700-acre Game and Fish Commission lake adjacent I-40 just east of Conway serves up great action for slab crappie. Fishing can be superb in June, with some crappie staying shallow following the spawn to feed on shad and other baitfish. Crappie weighing 1-1/2 to 2-1/2-pounds are fairly common, and during recent years, I’ve seen several Conway crappie exceeding 3 pounds.
Perhaps the best thing for the traveler making a stop is the variety of fishing areas accessible without a boat, all of which are marked on the lake map you can download at www.agfc.com. Good bank-fishing areas are available at Lawrence Landing on the lake’s west side, at the Palarm Creek and Adams Lake access areas on the east side, and at the Highway 89 bridge on the south. The latter site is especially popular with local crappie fans, as heavyweight slabs haunt flooded timber adjacent deeper boat lanes there. Anglers can fish from the bank on both sides of the highway bridge. This is a great place to pull off I-40 for a few minutes of fishing and a respite from interstate travel.
Also available are two handicapped-accessible fishing piers. One is on the Pierce Creek arm, just a few miles east of the interstate on Highway 89. There’s another, the Gerald Ward fishing pier, just south of the Lawrence Landing access off West Street, and a third adjacent the Adams Lake access. Small jig/spinner combos worked around brush or timber flats in these areas often prove deadly on big crappie.
Exit 135 (Mayflower) on I-40 offers access by way of Highway 365 (on the west side of I-40) to docks on the west side of the lake, or by State Highway 89 and Clinton Road (east of I-40) to docks on the east side.
Lakes Dunn And Austell
The 90 miles of I-40 from Little Rock east to Forrest City cross flat-as-a-pancake delta farmland. At Forrest City, however, travelers notice a narrow band of low hills called Crowley’s Ridge. North on the Ridge, about a 15-minute drive from I-40, are two more fine crappie lakes: lakes Dunn and Austell in 7,000-acre Village Creek State Park.
Most folks who fish Dunn and Austell are after one thing: big bass. That’s good for crappie fans, because crappie are practically untouched here. Two-pounders are rare, but at times, you can catch 1- to 1-1/2-pound eaters as fast as you can cast a jig or minnow.
Dunn and Austell are small—65 and 85 acres, respectively—so crappie generally are easier to find than on large impoundments. June anglers should concentrate efforts around standing trees, stumps, logs and other cover along the shoreline. I fish most often from the dams where there are plenty of open areas allowing you to cast tangle-free to nearby brush and other crappie cover. I also like fishing from the boat docks on both lakes. Big crappie often hide in the shade below these structures.
To reach Dunn and Austell, take Exit 242 off I-40 just east of Forrest City and travel 12 miles north on Highway 284 to the park. For more info, visit www.arkansasstateparks.com/villagecreek/.
The waters I’ve described are just a few of the great fishing spots you can find just off I-40. When the interstate is driving you crazy, just pull out your Rand McNally and look for some blue waters to fish. There’s no better way to make travel on the four-lane more enjoyable.
Editor’s Note: Keith Sutton is the author of The Crappie Fishing Handbook, a 198-page, full-color book full of crappie-fishing tips for beginners and experts alike. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $29.45 to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit www.catfishsutton.com.