Crooked Creek’s Ozark Bronzeback Blitz


On The Fly Freshwater

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

March 2020

The Buffalo National River has earned a two-fold reputation, first as a great paddling destination, but also as a fine place to catch a smallmouth bass. But many locals in northern Arkansas place their money on another nearby stream as the best place to hook one of those bronzebacks.

Crooked Creek is a smaller version of its famed neighbor, but there is nothing diminutive about its angling. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission rates it as a “Blue Ribbon Smallmouth Stream,” Just make sure before heading out that you know where you are going. Arkansas boasts 10 Crooked Creeks!

This one rises near the village of Dog Patch in Newton County, starting its journey flowing north in the north-central part of the Natural State. From there it turns east, cutting through the Ozark Region of Boone and Murray Counties to empty into the White River. In its lower section the flow is big enough it would be rated a river in most locations, and along that course it is loaded with smallies.

Crooked Creek flows through the scenic Ozark Region of northern Arkansas.

Most of the fishing on the flow takes place on its lower 22 miles that are contained in the AGFC designated Crooked Creek Water Trail. The trail is composed of six access points, and there are three primitive camping areas along it. The campsite at Brooksher has no road access and the one at the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center requires obtaining permission. Camping is limited to one night at each site.

During a recent trip, On The Fly South’s Polly Dean and I waded into Crooked Creek’s cool waters on an overcast spring day, hoping to tangle with some of those bass. Though the creek has some shoal sections, we were fishing a stretch composed of shallow flats broken by deeper pools and runs. Most of the streambed on Crooked Creek is composed of limestone gravel, bedrock and sand, which is ideal for the bronzebacks.

As always when fishing for river bass, I started the search with a white Boogle Bug popper. There are few more satisfying moments than having a bass bust one of these flies on the surface. But it was not happening this day. Rather, Polly was catching the fish on a gaudy silver streamer concoction.

Eventually I too switched over to subsurface and quickly discovered that bright and flashy was the secret this day. When the smallies took the flies, they rocketed out of the water to tail-dance across the surface.

All of our fish this day were in the 12- to 14-inch range, but they were strong stream fish. Ten-to 15-inch smallmouths make up most of the population, but there are 18-plus-inch fish here too. Two-to 3-pound smallies don’t raise an eyebrow, 4- to 6-pounders are not unusual and some 7-pound monsters have been reported.

About the only drawback to fishing Crooked Creek is the fact that virtually all of the shoreline of its 80-mile course is through private property. That leaves six main access points, along with a few road crossings in its lower region, as options for public access.  Thus, float trips offer the best way to fish the creek.

However, this day we were at the site known as Kelly’s Slab, which offers the most accessible wading. It also is on the 421-acre grounds of the Fred Berry Center at the Marion County Road 4002 crossing of the creek. The tract offers 2.75 miles of water on a big bend in the stream. The center is open to the public from sun up to sun down daily.

Kelley’s Slab at the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center.

With regard to deciding whether to wade or float on Crooked Creek, there are a few rules of thumb. For floating, check the USGS gauge at Harrison, Arkansas.  If the cubic feet per second is under 50, it is too low to float. At 50 to 75 CFS you will be scraping bottom a lot. Between 75 and 150 CFS is best.

If you chose to wade, anything under 75 CFS is ideal.  Up to 150 CFS can be waded, but watch out for deeper holes. Above that, you should be floating.

The upper most launch site for floating is at a primitive landing at the Upper Pyatt Access, followed a mile downstream by Lower Pyatt Access on the north side of U.S. Highway 62.  The Snow Access is next, located 6.7 miles downstream on County Road 4006. Another 5.2-mile float arrives at the Mark Oliver Access on Old U.S. Highway 62.

Another full-day float of 6.6 miles covers the stretch from Mark Oliver down to the Kelley’s Slab site. From there it is a 3.5-mile trip on the most popular float section down to the Yellville Access in that town’s city park. For a complete description and map of the water trail, visit the AGFC website.