Jump to content

Tailwater - Arkansas River - Ozark L&d


Recommended Posts

I love tailwaters. Really, really, really.

My favorite so far is on the Arkansas River at Ozark. It's the nearest Arkansas River dam to visit the Ozarks, and has been a "location of interest" for me for 25+ years.

L&D 12 can be a busy place. When the barges are running, there can be multiple lock operations per hour. The constant adjustment of generators, gates, and flows keep you either on your toes, or off the water. It takes a level head in these spots, a mistake at best makes you a googin' ahole to all the real river people, and at worst activates your life insurance. My advice is to heed the small craft advisories and stay home when they're in effect.

Access is well marked just east of Ozark. There's a last minute bait shop (Lakeside?) in Ozark near the Gar Creek bridge. For anyone that doesn't fish big tailraces or has hever boated at 20+ fish, a stop there is appropriate.

You can bring bait, but there's seldom a need. Bring your thrownet and a real bait tank. Shad are handy anywhere there's current, and gills, carp, etc can be caught on worms in the slack areas. There are times you can throw lures, but... why?

When the gates are open, I don't fish there. The downstream current breaks are safer, but still a real risk if you have any kind of problem.

The rest of the time is punctuated by generation releases, and that's when it's hot. The layout of the tailwater creates a giant eddy below the dam, with the eddy current running backward up the lock wall and across the downstream face of the dam. The eddy current is always less than, but proportional to, the main flow, creating off-current sacntuary and feeding grounds for everything that swims here.

And there's a lot that swim here. I've caught LMB, crappie, blue, channel, and flathead cats, carp, buffalo, mooneye, gizzard shad, bluegill/sunfish, white & striped bass, yellow bass, long & shortnose gar, sauger (yum), and eels. Plus a few I couldn't name.

There's a sign on the west bank and one on the lock wall that mark the 100 yards you must stay away from the dam. There's also a 100 yard radius off limits around the lock drain, which blows water straight up from a ~20' conduit. When you hear any horn blow down there, be very aware.

You can access most of the shoreline, but most of it's big riprap, and hard to walk. Been some bigguns caught that way though. Also snagging opportunities if you're in to that.


Just when the barges pause, the riverbottom rail express rips thru at 70mph. Never a dull minute if you count the gar. You can hear the riverboat radio traffic on the Mississippi sometimes on the dam PA.

Now get this... no jet skis, no ski boats, no wake boats (but you really gotta watch that 6-footer from the barge). Not even on Labor Day, which is why I mention it now. The faint smell of dead gar lingers, and it's dam dangerous muddy water. Home sweet home.

Worth mention again is the lock drain, where the 70lb blue in my avatar came from. There's about a 100x100 ft submerged concrete structure that juts out of the lock wall, and tops out about 15ft deep. In the middle is about a 20ft hole, which drains the lock, rather violently if you're too close. When the eddy current is rocking, there's a super current break behind the drain structure.

There's a cool interactive on lock operation at;


Other than the big blues, I've caught lots of 15-25lb flatheads, mainly on the dike rocks. Sauger in January when I was ambitious.

It's the only place I've never ever been skunked at.

Did I mention I really love tailwaters?

I can't dance like I used to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info, I've read about, but never fished, the winter sauger fishing, supposedly you can catch them from the bank, but I don't know if I'd be enthused about hopping around on the rip-rap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The near-side shore by the ramp isn't that bad, just 10-15' of riprap between parking and the water, but only the far downstream end beyond the dike ever sees the current that sauger like. The far side sucks, a good walk from the truck, then down 40-50' of rocks. Naturally that's the better spot. Best in a boat there.

For bankfishing, L&D 13 at Van Buren is pretty sweet. Easy access to the entire dike between the generators and the gates.You can also fish straight down over a gaurdrail in the generator discharge, which is OK for anything you can lift 20' in the air to grab it. Not so good for fish you can't lift with your line.

Naturally there's more pressure there, but it's very tolerable, often enjoyable. There's no giant eddy like at Ozark. It's all downhill.

Oh, the 100 yard restrictions for boats don't apply to bankfishers. If you can walk to it or cast to it, you can fish it. Rod-n-reel territory only, no setlines. If you have a 10ft+ surf rod in the closet, break it out.

The far side at 13 is a sleeper. Accesses the slack backwater behind the lock wall. When the gates are open, everything piles up at the current break at the end of the lockwall dike. You can anchor safely in the slack and cast to the break. I've had a couple episodes there so good you had to throw down all but one rod, and keep a good hold on it. I reeled up a couple rods to clear for a catch and just let the bait dangle at the side of the boat. Caught cats on them too.


I love tailwaters...

I can't dance like I used to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

I fished down there a bunch during college.

We only fished below the dam.

The bank fishing next to the lock is good.

I've never fished the upstream side, but I need to try

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll find you some.

There's something jinky with the text formatting in post 3, and I can't seem to fix it. Feel free.

I can't dance like I used to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's what it looks like at Ozark most of the time when the gates are closed. When they're just generating, the surface remains slick, but the current and eddy I described above is very obvious once you're on the water. You can drift in big endless circles inside the eddy with just the occasional trolling motor bump to keep you out of restricted water. Anchoring in the unrestricted water along the lock wall has been very good to me too.

Danger level is mild, just don't anchor in any current unless you're prepared to cut the line in an instant. If you slip out into the main current and for any reason can't get the big motor started, you'll be a mile downstream in a blink, staring down the maw of an oncoming 4 barge tow.

Stripers will be in the fast water, cats adjacent and in the eddy.


The next view is a catfishing dream, but these conditions are fairly rare. The gates are just cracked open, and the discharge rolls and scours the downstream holes below them. Note the "boils" just downstream. Anchor as close to the 100 yard line as you can get (between the red signs on the far shore and the lockwall) and use surf gear to throw bait into the boils. Also the best time to fish the current breaks at the end of the lockwall and dikes.


When it looks like this, you either settle for some bank fishing or turn tail and go elsewhere.


A note on anchoring. Don't waste a store bought anchor here, you'll likely lose it. Grab a soccer ball size rock from the shore and tie it with trotline cord. As mentioned above, have a good knife open and at hand, ready to cut the line at a hint of trouble. I can't overemphasize how easy it is to get in trouble here with an anchor.

The immediate area below the dam runs from 20 to 40 feet deep, with the deepest hole at the generator outlet, and a ~4 acre 20 ft hump right in the middle.

It's snag city too. Even with 2-6oz of lead, if you're fishing current the only time your bait will stay in place is when the sinker catches something. Use a 3 way rig with a 10lb dropper for the sinker so you can break it off. Bring lots of sinkers (available at Lakeside in town). 40lb or better main line and hook dropper. I use 5/0 to 8/0 hooks depending on the bait.

Don't be afraid to use huge bait. "Regular" catfish sets like a 5/0 hook jammed with cut shad won't sit long between the fiddlers, the eaters, and the gar, but there are plenty of fish there that can inhale a 10-12" live shad with ease.

I can't dance like I used to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's a professional's shot of how I like to see it. (courtesy David J Photography).


I can't dance like I used to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.