Lake Columbia surges following drawdown
Lake Columbia near Magnolia has enjoyed a recent boom in trophy-class bass catches, which will bring attention to a lake that many anglers have always thought of as a sleeper for getting the big bass bite.
Jason Olive, assistant chief of fisheries for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said, “I know one angler in Magnolia who had a huge stringer one day this winter on Columbia. It may not be pushing out a lot of double-digit bass right now, but it is full of really nice fish about to hit that trophy size class.”That angler, Terry Neal, says Lake Columbia can be tough to figure out, but when it’s on, it is one of the best bass lakes in the South.
The aforementioned angler, Terry Neal, says Lake Columbia can be tough to figure out. But when it’s on, he added, it is one of the best bass lakes in the South.
“I caught 25 to 30 fish over 4 pounds, with some up to 7.7 pounds that day,” Neal said. “All on a Duel Hardcore Ninja Glider swimbait and a Quantum Smoke rod and reel. The bass were in 5 to 6 feet of water feeding on bream.”
At 3,000 acres, Lake Columbia has enjoyed a quiet reputation among the state’s bass anglers. While anglers ran from Millwood to Monticello in search of big fish, Lake Columbia steadily produced plenty of large bass approaching the double-digit range. Columbia’s recent surge of sizable bass actually is the result of unfortunate drought during a scheduled drawdown.
“The lake was drawn down 5 feet in November 2010 to try and control aquatic vegetation,” Olive said. “But a drought hit right in the middle of the drawdown, dropping the lake another 3 feet until spring 2012.”
Although a temporary inconvenience, the extended drawdown and subsequent flooding of shallow-water habitat is very similar to the situation east Texas anglers are enjoying on Toledo Bend, just on a smaller body of water. “Before the drawdown, the shoreline was pretty much barren except for the upper end, which was choked with vegetation,” Olive said. “But that extended drought allowed all sorts of shoreline terrestrial vegetation to grow, which became ideal spawning and nursery habitat for crappie, bass and bream.”
Andy Yung, AGFC regional fishery supervisor, says anglers and predatory fish, namely bass and flathead catfish, took advantage of the low-water year, and then the excellent spawns in 2012 and 2013 created huge year-classes of fish that are now hitting the sizes anglers are after. “Columbia has very consistent spawns of sport fish,” he said. “But missing year classes from 2010 and 2011 allowed the fish spawned in 2012 and 2013 to grow extremely fast. There wasn’t much competition for forage from older fish.”
Biologists hoped to prolong this surge in big fish, and in 2014 they changed the previous 16- to 1- inch protected slot limit to a standard 10-fish limit with anglers only being able to keep one fish over 20 inches per day. “The previous slot limit had a lot of fish stacked up in the 16- to 18-inch range, and those are the fish that are showing up now in the 23- and 24-inch range,” Yung said. “Those are some tremendous fish!
Yung notes that all of this success is in spite of the inability to fertilize or add organic cover like brush piles to the lake. “Columbia is a water supply, so we can’t do some of the things that are possible on other AGFC-owned lakes. It is stocked annually with Florida-strain largemouth bass, and we do massive habitat projects on it using PVC and other approved materials.”