Conversations and reflections on the early days of Lake Conway are enjoyable to some of us, but there is often a problem. New arrivals to this area have trouble believing us.
One example is stories of "those big black bull bream."
Not everyone will agree, but bream fishing probably started Lake Conway toward its legendary status. Remarkable strings of bream came in from 1951 through the 1960s and later. Oldtimers say today’s bream fishing can’t hold a candle to those days of old, and they may be right.
Various baits, live red worms and crickets, of course, but others like wasp larvae, were used. Many bream fishermen were highly successful with popping bugs. These were usually worked on fly rods but not in the traditional whip back and forth action we often associate with fly fishing. The fly rod with a popping bug was used more like a cane pole, but the limber rod gave the lure more action and the fisherman more range.
Popping bugs are still around, if you look for them. Very light, often with thin legs poking out from the body, the idea was to toss the lure out, let it set still for a few seconds then bring it back in short jerks in which it made a slight popping sound. This got the attention of those big bream, which were bluegills. Red-ear bream came to the forefront later.
Largemouth bass were popular with many anglers on the early Lake Conway, and this hasn’t changed through the 59 years of the lake’s existence.
Lures used for bass have changed, however.
Crank baits and buzz baits weren’t around, and plastic worms were just edging into the picture. What was highly popular, though, and also highly productive was the topwater lure. It’s pure conjecture, of course, but the Lucky 13 may have been the top lure for catching bass in the 1950s on Conway.
More than a few anglers had memorable experiences fishing on a quiet, still morning just after sunrise and casting a Lucky 13 toward a clump of brush, some lily pads or a stump. A bass would explode the water’s surface to suck in the lure, and a fight started.
The lake record for largemouth bass edged upward from 5-plus pounds, 6 pounds, 7 pounds, 8 pounds. Today it’s something over 13 pounds, and you have to accept that the introduction of Florida-strain largemouth bass has some effect.
In late fall and winter, Lake Conway was special in another way. It was a duck hunting hotspot.
Migrating ducks and geese didn’t have as many waters to choose from in Arkansas in the 1950 as they do now. Along with several dozen lakes constructed since then, the Arkansas River is vastly different today. It and its backwaters probably attract many more ducks of several species than a half-century ago.
Hunters built duck blinds on Lake Conway, and they rigged floating blinds on flatbottom boats. The lake was built in what was known as the Palarm Creek Bottoms, and ducks used the area for many years before there was a lake. Some of the better duck hunting was on the lower end of the lake.
At one time there were 21 boat docks in operation on Lake Conway.
How many are there today? A handful. But the fishing industry has changed immensely, and so have habits of anglers. There was no Walmart sporting goods section. A fisherman often bought his or her supplies at the lake.
And wouldn’t a fishermen of 1953, say, be amazed to see a modern bass boat with a 150-horseower motor on Lake Conway? True, that big motor doesn’t run at full capacity, but the oldtimers used small motors if they didn’t stick to paddling.
Moors of 3 horsepower, 5, HP, 7 HP were common. A fisherman with a 10-horse outboard was really moving around in a hurry.