By Rick Stratton
Publisher, Dive News Network
It’s a place where your troubles just melt away in the warm air. The nearby roaring Mississippi River; the multitude of freshwater lakes filled to the brim with jumbo-sized fish; the stillness in the cool air as the sun rises in the horizon – going back to nature in this state is hard to escape. And the music, food and southern hospitality are not to be missed. Arkansas provides dive and travel enthusiasts with a tranquil experience, which is almost outside of time.
I recently enjoyed the opportunity to experience lake diving in Arkansas and the inland dive areas more than met my expectations. I was able to jump into Beaver Lake and the vis was better than I could have imagined. The diving was incredible and the people down south know how to have an amazing time. I can say, without a doubt, I will go back again and again. With its enormous cache of inland lakes ready and open to explore and its plentiful fishing locales, Arkansas has some of the best lake experiences you’ll ever encounter. The following are the top ten dive sites in the area as described by our local diver and retailer friends.
Completed in 1966, Beaver Lake is a popular man-made lake, which offers a lot of dive and travel experiences. Settled within the Ozark Mountains, the 28,370-acre lake is located in northwest Arkansas near the city of Rogers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a variety of recreational facilities and modern conveniences along the lake shore, which cater to divers as well as boat enthusiasts, anglers and nature lovers of all types. Trekking within the park is easy thanks to paved access roads; 2,008 acres of campgrounds ensure a diver will have a place to rest after a day of exhilarating underwater adventures. Scenic limestone bluffs surround the lake’s massive 487 miles of shoreline. Beneath the surface, the lake provides a huge amount of freshwater fish: Divers will be able to swim among small and largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, bream, white bass, channel and spoonbill catfish. In November, the lake’s clear waters swarm with striped bass; tributaries located on the southern edge of the park make for bountiful fishing expeditions. Jack Dick, owner of SportsCo in Springdale, has been a diver for over 45 years and he can’t say enough good things about Beaver Lake. “I fell in love with this lake and moved here,” Dick says. “Beaver Lake is clear and sometimes we can have vis as far as 60 ft. There are incredible rock bluffs and cedar trees to dive through. Diving in Beaver Lake is an amazing experience.”
Often called “Arkansas’ best kept secret”, Lake Norrell is a marvelous spot for divers and travelers who seek a relaxing, secluded experience. Located about 40 minutes away from Little Rock, within the city of Benton, the 280 acre lake offers diving with a vis at about six feet. During warmer months, anglers can expect to reel in catches of delicious bass of many varieties: large and smallmouth, striped and white to name a few. Catfish, trout, walleye and crappie also frequent the area. Be sure to come prepared with extra tanks, as the lake does not offer air tank support. Due to the fact that many shorelines on the remote lake are privately owned, divers should be wary of their surroundings: The area nearby the boat ramp is open to the public. Travelers interested in Lake Norrell should also plan their sleeping accommodations well in advance because overnight camping onsite is not allowed.
Greer’s Ferry Lake is a favorite of local divers and its picturesque majesty lays at the foot of the Ozarks in north central Arkansas. Greer’s Ferry is a 40,000-acre lake surrounded by an unusual topography: an abundance of rock outcroppings, which start at the surface and then dive into the water making for some great lake wall dives. Greer’s Ferry was formed by Greer’s Ferry Dam in July 1964 and contains a pristine shoreline and deep crystal clear waters. Divers have reported vis higher than 30. The marine life includes walleye and striped bass, some of which can grow as large as 15 to 18 lbs. Mike McCrory of The Dive Shop in Little Rock explains Greer’s Ferry offers incredible diving. “The nice thing about Greer’s Ferry is it offers a variety of diving,” McCrory says. “If you are a novice and need a slow, sloping shoreline until you brush up on your skills, Greer’s has it. Then, as you gain better diving skills, you can transition to a ledge and then a wall; there are sites in Greer’s, which can accommodate those transitions, making this a great lake for the growing diver.”
Lake DeGray is a 13,400-acre lake, which offers divers a prime spot for a weekend dive break in west central Arkansas. The only resort state park, it lies across the ridges of the Ouachita Mountains and was formed by a dam across the Caddo River. The lodge, located on its own island, offers a litany of activities such as lake tours, snorkeling adventures, hikes and outdoor workshops, camping in colorful yurts and boat rentals. The lake is located near Arkadelphia and sports largemouth bass and hybrid stripers and a variety of native birds inhabit the area. There are a number of islands between DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge and Iron Mountain where divers will discover all sorts of nooks to explore. “It’s a small, small lake that’s outside Caddo Valley,” says Michael Taylor, owner of Ocean Extreme. “It’s very popular for folks coming up from Dallas on Interstate 30 who want a day trip.”
Table Rock Lake
The clear, blue water of Table Rock Lake offers divers a chance to dive through the valleys and hollows, which were once trails to settlers in this incredible example of what Arkansas has to offer in lake diving. This lake was designed, built and operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for boaters, scuba divers, campers and fishermen. This lake offers several full-service marinas where divers can fill their tanks, rent equipment or obtain maps to the local dive sites within the lake. There are also boat rentals and local dive shops within a short diving distance. Marine life within the lake and at nearby Eureka Springs includes trout, crappie, catfish, and bass. “Table Rock Lake is a huge lake, which actually is partially in Missouri and partially in Arkansas,” explains Taylor. “It’s a long drive for folks in Arkansas, but is very popular with divers from Missouri and Oklahoma.”
Norfork Lake has a reputation for being a diver’s Mecca in terms of Arkansas lake diving and is a fantastic fishing spot for anglers seeking a big catch. Norfork Lake has more than 550 miles of shoreline and covers some 22,000 acres. Diving is extremely popular on this lake. There are commercial docks on the lake, which have boats, equipment and air tank fill stations. The lake is fed by the North Fork River and massive bass, walleye, crappie, bream and catfish all make their home in its waters. The oldest of Arkansas’s large man-made impoundments, Lake Norfork contains one of the best striped bass fisheries in Arkansas. The lake is reported to have stripers over 40 lbs. Jameeo Traver, an instructor at ScubaDoo Dive Shop in Mountain Home, says that spear fishing is huge at Norfork. “Spear fishing season opens June 15 and divers come to spear fish for the Walleye and the catfish,” says Traver. “Last year a spear fisherman pulled out an 85 lb. catfish.”
Divers will find the Christmas tree fish attractors on Lake Norfork interesting. Positioned in clusters below the water’s surface, the trees create large brush piles serving as shelter for young fish, minnows and shad and attracting black bass and crappie. Terry Sharp, owner of J and T Dive Shop in Jonesboro says Norfork is something every diver needs to consider diving. “This is a great lake to dive,” says Sharp. “The vis can be as much as 30-50 ft. and if you choose to dive out of the Jordan Marina, you’ll have a place to fill your tanks as well as some of the best direction in terms of where to dive on the lake.”
Bull Shoals Lake is located in north central Arkansas on the Missouri-Arkansas state line. This lake has a reputation for great diving. Bull Shoals Dam built in 1951, is the fifth largest concrete dam in the United States and makes for some great lake sq. footage for divers to explore. This lake offers 45,500 surface acres and almost 1,000 miles of rugged shoreline. Although there is no shore access to speak of, there are several marinas where divers can launch a boat and get the best out of what Bull Shoals Lake has to offer. Divers will find hundreds of miles of lake arms and coves to explore. Scuba divers come to Bull Shoals from many states to enjoy their sport in the blue water and divers are allowed to spear scaled rough fish during daylight hours.
Terri Bernard, an instructor at The Dive Shop in Little Rock, says Bull Shoals offers more than a diver can ask for. “[Compared to other lakes] Bull Shoals is not as populated by residents or business so you kind of have it all to yourself,” says Bernard. “The rocky bottom and the 1,000 miles of shoreline make this lake a great dive. Personally, the marine life is the most prevalent I have seen in any lake anywhere.” The marine life is abundant at Bull Shoals with largemouth bass, spotted bass and white bass along with crappie, channel, catfish, bream and walleye. Due to its shallow waters near the shore, Bull Shoals is often used for training by the local dive shops and instructors.
Lake Ouachita’s reputation is renowned when it comes to diving. Sporting over 40,100 acres, Ouachita is by far the largest lake within Arkansas. The lake’s clear waters call out to divers from all over the United States. Steve Spivey, owner of Scuba and Archery in Hot Springs says the clarity pulls in a lot of divers. “The relative clarity is as good as you will see in most areas of the country,” Spivey says. “The cool thing about diving in the lakes in Arkansas is that the game fish are legal for spear fishing. The only other place you can do that is Alaska.” Created by the building of the Blakely Mountain Dam, Ouachita is surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest. This lake offers up over 970 miles of shoreline. Scuba divers can explore the more than 100 uninhabited islands within the lake.
Sandy Carroll, head dive instructor at Rick’s Dive and Travel Shop in North Little Rock, says that Lake Ouachita is where their dive shop prefers to go.
“About 90 percent of our diving is done in Ouachita,” Carroll explains. “We have a 40 ft. dive boat moored there but the reason we use Ouachita is because it’s great for dive training as well as pleasure dives. There are sites like Zebra Rock and Whirlpool Rock, which offer divers a great dive experience. This is truly a unique lake to dive.”
“This lake is deemed the second cleanest lake in the nation,” says Taylor. “There are 54 islands and over 93 dive spots to explore. This is one of those lakes a diver just has to dive.”
The Narrows Dam on the Little Missouri River is what formed the 7,000-acre Lake Greeson. This lake is considered a prime recreational resource in southwest Arkansas. Lake Greeson is a 12 mile long lake featuring clear waters and steep, rocky ridges, which form numerous islands and long peninsulas extending into the lake. The lake has a rich variety of marine life including largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and white bass, flathead and channel catfish, black and white crappie, and bluegill.
As you can tell, Arkansas takes its lake diving and fishing very seriously and with good reason: the state offers some of the best lake diving in the entire United States. Going to the area any time soon? Take a plunge in the warm lakes, trawl the biggest catch and go on a fun boating trip. You won’t be disappointed.
Looking for an exciting challenge this summer? Read about the ongoing Dive Arkansas Challenge here.
Special thanks to the following for contributing to this article:
Rick’s Dive and Travel Shop
The Dive Shop
J and T Dive Shop
Scuba and Archery Center Inc.
ScubaDoo Dive Shop