Floating Crooked Creek is the ultimate smallmouth fishing trip. I know the word ultimate is overused today; however in this situation, I am not exaggerating. The smallmouths seem to thrive in the crystal clear flowing water. For any angler who has fished Crooked Creek, the description as “blue-ribbon smallmouth bass stream” comes as no surprise.
From source to the mouth, Crooked Creek flows a distance of around 80 miles while passing through high bluffs, pasture land, past gravel bars, and chunk rock banks. Similar to other Ozark streams, the banks of Crooked Creek is blessed with an abundance of wildlife; however it’s the smallmouth that compel anglers to this stream.
Generally, the float trips on Crooked Creek are broken down into half-days, full-days, or overnight trips. The upper section is floatable only during high water, but can be fished successfully by wading if an angler chooses. It’s the lower sections that receive attention by smallmouth anglers. Float trips can range according to the distance anglers want to paddle or how much fishing they do in pools or ripples. The 6-mile section from Pyatt to Turkey is a long, full day float where the creek runs small and shallow. The 10-mile section from Turkey Creek to Kelly Slab is a two day float trip with the creek getting deeper and wider. From Kelly Slab to the city of Yellville where you take out at the public park is 3½-miles long. This is the shortest of all the floats, but still a full day’s float if anglers stop to fish frequently. Anglers can take float trips past Yellville, but just directly below Yellville the creek disappears sinking into the ground for a number of miles before emerging at Cotter Spring on the White River. This makes it the last floatable section and flows into the White River. Upper stretches of this float can be extremely challenging with willow thickets and low water flow. The majority of anglers will only float this section during the spring rains.
One angler who knows the bounty of Crooked Creek is fishing guide Forrest Smith (http://www.troutandtimber.com/ or call (479)684-9189). His intimate knowledge of Crooked Creek and ability to read the stream fares well for his clients. Smith is well versed in both fly fishing and casting conventional spin or bait casting tackle for trophy smallmouth. Smith typically uses a 7-weight, 9-foot Z-Axis Sage rod combined with a Ross Rhythm or Evolution reel with 20 or 30-pound Dacron backing and Scientific Angler Mastery System 7-weight forward line or Stream express Intermediate Tip line with 6 or 8-pound Fluorocarbon tippet. “As for fishing flies, I like using crawdad patterns, finesse worm patterns, clouser minnow, and bullet head shaped poppers,” Smith continued, “I fish according to where the smallmouths are in the stream and where the strike zone is that my fly needs to be to catch them.”
When casting and fishing with conventional spinning or bait casting tackle for trophy smallmouth, Smith prefers a spinning rod with little to medium action. “I like to use either clear or green monofilament line with a spinning reel that holds 6 to 10-pound test line to reduce line memory you get with a spinning reel,” explained Smith. As for lures, Smith likes to keep it simple. “I like small Rebel Pop-R with brown backs, Tiny Torpedoes, Heddon Zara Pups in shad or perch patterns, Crème Pond Classic poppers, and casting 1/8-ounce chartreuse buzzbaits with a gold blade early and late in the day. I will also work below the surface or close to the bottom with little grubs, finesse worms, lizards, and other soft plastics; as for colors, you cannot go wrong with earth tones and purples. The best results come for baits measuring from 2 to 5-inches. Key location Smith likes to fish is seams. “I define a seam as an area where two different speeds of water form a line; the faster water brings the food to a smallmouth that is usually holding in the slower water. It’s a conveyer belt bringing their food to them,” explained Smith. In the summer months, Smith keys in on shoals and ripples because the higher oxygen content located there. In the spring, Smith focuses on lazy water in pools and flats in areas with direct sunlight.
Even in low flow and shallow water, Crooked Creek smallmouth’s are pound for pound one of the hardest pulling fish to ever swim. The majority of anglers will float using kayaks or canoes. Smith employs a 13-foot NRS Otter inflatable raft with a row seat that can hold him and two anglers comfortably. The advantages are abundant beginning with stability, storage room, safety, and comfort. It’s the blue-ribbon way of floating for anglers who can either fly fish or cast lures towards big smallmouth.
Anglers interested in floating and fishing Crooked Creek should pay attention to the water flow and special regulations pertaining to the stream. Water flow levels can be found at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ar/nwis/current/?type=flow. Crooked Creek is a designated Ozark Zone Blue Ribbon Stream. Except where noted below, smallmouth bass daily limit is two and each must be at least 14 inches long to keep. Along the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation property near Kelley’s Slab smallmouth bass must be released immediately. Between the Highway 62/412 Bridge and the Highway 62 Spur Bridge smallmouth bass daily limit is one and it must be at least 18 inches long to keep. From Highway 101 Bridge downstream to the White River smallmouth bass daily limit is one and it must be at least 18 inches long to keep.
Crooked Creek is one of the most exciting smallmouth fishing steams in Arkansas, but don’t just believe me. Ask Smith or anyone who has floated down it with him and they will tell you, “I could not believe how many and the size we caught.” The scenic vistas and soaring smallmouth make it the ultimate blue-ribbon smallmouth float trip.
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