BENTON – It almost seems like one of those great upsets that occasionally occurs in sports: Small Sunset Lake recently produced a whopping 10-pound black bass. Fact is, however, it’s a testament to what can happen when the right fish genetics and nature come together, even in a 28-acre lake.
Colton Smith, whose wife, Bailey, works in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Wildlife Management Division, took their son, Cash, to Sunset Lake Dec. 9 “to hopefully catch a couple of fish because (Cash) is obsessed with fishing,” Bailey Smith related. “Within 30 minutes they caught two small bass and ended up catching a 10-pound bass. They were caught on an Alabama rig.”
The big fish was caught by the pair fishing in a flat-bottom boat and released after they had a photo taken.
The 10-pounder is most certainly a Florida largemouth bass, according to Clint Coleman, the assistant coordinator for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program. Arkansas’s predominant strain of largemouth bass, the northern largemouth, isn’t typically found in such large size. Florida largemouths will grow larger and faster than northern largemouths, according to biologists’ studies.
Coleman recalls some eight years ago obtaining several Florida largemouth bass from the Andrew H. Hulsey Fish Hatchery in Hot Springs and distributing them to a variety of Lakes in central and south Arkansas. Florida bass survive in warmer Arkansas lakes and, with the exception of warm waters of SWEPCO Lake in northwest Arkansas (heated because the water is cycled through an electric power plant), are stocked only as far north as Lake Atkins in Pope County.
The Florida bass Coleman obtained, all around 1 to 1½ pounds, were culled from the brood stock the hatchery uses because they fell short of the “pure” genetics needed among the brooders. Coleman says he personally placed about 30 of those bass in Sunset Lake.
“At that time, they were a foot long or maybe less than that,” he said. “To think, now, just eight years or so later, one of those has turned into a monster bass.”
If the Sunset Lake catch piques the in by terest of anglers looking for a monster bass, Coleman also stocked Mattocks Park Pond in El Dorado, the Mike and Janet Huckabee Youth and Senior Pond in Hope, Lake Dieffenbacher in Texarkana, the John Benjamin Community Pond in Glenwood, Little Rock’s MacArthur Park Pond and Boyle Park Pond, and the Cabot Community Pond. “If bass were targeted more at, say, MacArthur Park Pond, I think they’d catch some big bass there,” Coleman said. “When our biologists have shocked the pond for their fish counts, I’ve seen bass that were 3½-4 pounders.”
Family and Community Fishing Program ponds usually are destinations for anglers looking for catfish and bream, as well as rainbow trout that are stocked in the winter months. Catfish are stocked when it warms. But those same ponds have, like Sunset, revealed surprisingly bigger bass, too.
“Last year, Fisheries district staff started evaluating some of our FCFP locations and discovered slab bass in some unlikely locations,” Maurice Jackson, the FCFP coordinator, said. “We try to tell folks not to sleep on other fish species simply because trout and catfish are stocked seasonally. There are plenty of opportunities to catch bass and bream at a city park pond close to them.”
For example, a 2021 sampling at West Memphis’ Tilden Rogers Park Pond revealed several 16-inch bass and many bream up to 6 inches. And at Western Hills Pond in Little Rock, sampling revealed several 12- to 14-inch largemouth bass and plenty of large bream.
Coleman says Sunset Lake was an ideal spot to release the Florida fish eight years ago because it provided a good forage base, mainly small bream. “These Florida bass were introduced with the anticipation of good growth. I would have been happy with the bass growing to 4 or 5 pounds,” he said.