Have the winter blues got you down?  Is your fishing gear collecting dust because the cold water has lulled the bass into a winter sleep?  Then perhaps it’s time to check out SWEPCO Lake.  The 1.1 million acres of the Illinois River Watershed hold 10 public lakes – each of them man-made.  But SWEPCO Lake boasts something that none of the others have.

Located near the town of Gentry in Northwestern Arkansas, the 500-acre, lake serves as a source of cooling water for the Flint Creek Power Plant.  As many as 400 million gallons of water a day cycle through the plant and back into the lake at a temperature of approximately 75 – 85 o Fahrenheit.  As a result, the lake is sometimes called “The Jacuzzi” by local fisherman because of its warm waters that are perfect for fishing largemouth bass and catfish in late September through early June.  Bass are often concentrated around the hot water discharge area in the winter months though the lake also sports a number of coves, flats, brush piles, drop-offs, and ledges that can hold bass.

Vapor rising off of the warm waters of SWEPCO Lake on a cold winter day

Vapor rising off of the warm waters of SWEPCO Lake on a cold winter day

If fishing isn’t your thing, you may want to come visit some of SWEPCO Lake’s other well-known residents.  Each year the lake is host to bald eagles that arrive around October and stay through the winter.  The half-mile Eagle Watch Nature trail makes it easy to wander through the woods to nearby marshes and a pavilion on the lake.  Click here for a trail map.

While there, you might see if you can spot some of the other 144 species of birds that can be found in the area and check them off of your bird list for the lake.  You may even spot deer, foxes, beavers, and different species of reptiles and amphibians in the 700 acres of the plant’s property that has been designated as a wildlife habitat.

Water entering the lake at approximately 77oF on January 7, 2014

Water entering the lake at approximately 77o F on January 7, 2014

Be sure to take note of nesting boxes, bat boxes, a butterfly garden, and the native vegetation that have been created or restored during habitat enhancement projects.  These projects and others have earned Flint Creek and the Eagle Watch Nature Trail recognition and awards from organizations such as Audubon Arkansas, the Wildlife Habitat Council, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the Arkansas Environmental Federation.  This recognition is the result of the hard work and commitment of the plant’s dedicated employees and community partners like the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and local schools, universities, and businesses.


The warm water feeding the lake makes it perfect for fishing September through June

Waters from SWEPCO Lake flow from its southern edge into Little Flint Creek.  From there, the water migrates southwest into Flint Creek where it then continues its journey west until it takes southerly bend into the Illinois River.  The lake has one access point that includes a boat ramp, fishing dock, and handicap-accessible walkway.

To get there, follow State Highway 12 west of Gentry for about 3 miles to Cripps Road and follow it until the road ends at the parking lot.  You can also take Cripps Road west from Highway 43.  Click here for a directions.

There’s so much to do in the Illinois River Watershed — even in the winter!  Hope you enjoy this special lake…

 

Resources:

Directions to Lake SWEPCO

SWEPCO Lake Trail Map

 

Related Posts:

Paddler’s Post: 10 Adventure Destinations in the Illinois River Watershed

Paddler’s Post: An Illinois River Float