By JIM HARRIS | Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
DE QUEEN: De Queen Lake WMA is a great example of partners working together to provide public access and hunting opportunities in Southwest Arkansas. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission joined in 2009 to form the WMA association. Together they manage hunting and fishing opportunities around the lake in this region of the state where accessible public hunting lands are scarce.
The Corps of Engineers owns the property and lake that make up the WMA, all 8,792 acres; the AGFC has a cooperative agreement to manage hunting opportunities at the WMA. The AGFC has managed the fishery in De Queen Lake for 46 years.
As with most Corps of Engineers lakes in the state, the Corps owns narrow sections of land around De Queen Lake. “This is where we can adapt hunting regulations to maximize opportunities while providing a safe environment around the lake,” AGFC’s Griffin Park, AGFC’s wildlife supervisor, says of the nearly 7,000 acres of Corps property around the lake.
“The WMA provides a good deer and turkey population and you may even see a bear at times,” Park said. “It’s a great WMA that provides great hunting and fishing opportunities along with great camping all in one place.”
Quail, pigeon, squirrel and rabbit are also found in the WMA.
The Corps began planning De Queen Lake in 1958 through the Federal Flood Control Act, and construction began in 1966. In 1977 it was the last of the De Queen, Dierks, and Gillham Tri-Lakes in southwestern Arkansas in open. Over the years, more people have bought lots and small acres from large landowners around the lake and built homes on the ridges around the lake.
Once the WMA was formed, hunting regulations could be customized to provide unique hunting opportunities while also providing a safe environment for anglers on the lake and adjacent residences, Park said. The area south of Bella Mine Road is designated archery hunting only, no hunting is allowed in the park or campgrounds, and the Dike C Firearms Unit, Jordan Firearms Unit Tract and property north of Bella Mine Road are open to hunting with firearms. . (See AGFC Hunting Guide and WMA Map.)
Of the Tri-Lakes complex, De Queen Lake is fed by the Rolling Fork River. The Cossatot River is dammed to create Gillham Lake. Dierks Lake receives its water from the Saline River. And this entire basin eventually empties into the huge Millwood Lake, along with the Little River, which runs out of southeastern Oklahoma.
Locals around De Queen and residents of nearby Texarkana and surrounding areas in Oklahoma are the main users of the lake, according to Dylan Hann, AGFC Fisheries Supervisor in the Southwest region.
“We do a lot with De Queen,” he said. “It is a very good fishing lake for bass and crappie.” The lake is also well populated with all three species (channel, blue, and flathead) of catfish, with annual populations of “catchable” or yearling channel cats. The lake has a fair amount of largemouth and crappie, based on the 2022 sampling results, Hann said.
Queen Lake and the other Tri-Lakes differ in layout from lakes like Millwood to the south.
“It’s an Ouachita Highlands reservoir above the foothills,” Hann said. “Their main objective is flood control. The Tri-Lakes are all identical in size and how they were built. They see large fluctuations in water and have deep areas, steep banks, some flooded wood at the back of channels, but most are deep portions intended to retain water for flood control.
The Corps of Engineers maintains three swimming beaches and several boat ramps, plus 110 campsites, fish cleaning stations, picnic sites, and more. Some of the popular camping areas include Bellah Mine Park on the north end of the lake, with 24 campsites with power and water, showers, toilets, trailer dump station, picnic and shelter areas, and boat ramp; 36 campsites and pavilions plus boat ramps at Oak Grove Park; and 17 campsites with water and electricity, showers, toilets, trailer dump station, picnic shelter, and boat ramp at Pine Ridge.
De Queen Lake WMA would seem to fall under the “hidden gems” when it comes to what it offers to the hunter, fisherman or recreational boater alike. There are no walking or water trails for non-hunters in the MMA.
Says Park: “It’s just one of those little areas, a little niche for public hunting where there’s not a lot of public land. It even offers a bit of waterfowl hunting. I was fishing the lake in September and there will be hunters there for the early teal season. There are a few Canada geese on the lake, and they also provide an early season shooting opportunity.
“However, mainly bowhunting and fishing are the two main attractions of the lake and WMA. There are a couple of nice campgrounds (maintained by the Corps). Don’t be surprised to see bass stringers over 20 pounds in local tournaments on the lake.”