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Thursday's fishing trip to the Ouachita River had great potential but for one thing.

I really needed a partner.

The morning started cold with a light snow. Heavy rainfall had swollen the Ouachita River above Lake Ouachita to a level that was ripe for a walleye and striped bass expedition. Going through my notes over the years, the first week of February is early. Walleyes and stripers are staging at the mouths of the major Lake Ouachita tributaries, but they probably haven't started upstream yet.

"Probably" is a theme in this story because I am uncertain about the spawning patterns of these fish on Lake Ouachita. Despite multiple attempts, I didn't figure them out at all in 2019. I usually catch them about this time at the fall line where the Ouachita River dumps into the lake, but I only caught two walleyes there last year and only in March.

On Thursday, I tried to round up the usual suspects, but none could get free for an afternoon of fishing. Undeterred, I prepared for a solo trip. I loaded up my 12-foot Michi-Craft canoe and my 2-horsepower Honda outboard. I took a medium-light action spinning rig for trolling stickbaits for walleyes and a medium-action saltwater rig with 65-pound test braided line for stripers. I packed a box of stickbaits and, for stripers, a selection of soft plastic swimbaits and swimbait heads. I also took a selection of jigs and soft plastic bottom contact baits to entice smallmouth bass at a particular shoal where bass gather this time of year.

The snow intensified at Hot Springs and even more so at Mount Ida. With the snowfall and plummeting air pressure, the conditions promised a slugfest if fish were present.

My first stop was the old River Bluff Float Camp, where the river was high, fast and muddy. I was tempted to launch there, but it was probably too early to fish that far upriver. I then went downstream to my usual spot.

Even though the current looks forbidding, it's surprisingly manageable with a small outboard. I dragged the canoe down to the water and attached the motor to the transom. Before I hauled the rest of my gear down the hill, I started the motor and let it run awhile. The last thing I wanted was to have it die mid-river. All was in order.

At that point, I started getting some weird feelings. For example, I donned a hunter orange cap consciously thinking it would make it easier to find me. I texted a couple of friends and asked them to call me at 6:30 p.m. to make sure I was OK. I formulated a plan to get ashore in case the canoe overturned. I have had those little naggings over the years, premonitions or whatever you want to call them. I've learned from hard experience to heed them solemnly.

On the other hand, I've soloed many times. I would be attentive and careful. Everything will be fine I told myself.

When I was ready to get underway, I put on lightweight waders, wading shoes, a duck hunting blind jacket and a life vest. I put my cooler and most of my gear in the bow to provide forward ballast, and then I nosed the canoe into the current.

I recognized my vulnerability immediately. There wasn't enough weight in the bow, so at least a third of the boat was out of the water. Usually, a partner sits up front, which makes the canoe very stable. With only me, it felt like it wanted to roll in the surging current.

About a quarter of a mile upstream, I encountered really fast water in the first shoal. At half throttle I barely made headway, but I feared that throttling up would raise the bow higher and create even more instability.

"This is really, really stupid, and really, really dangerous," I said out loud. I slowly angled the canoe toward the middle and let the current catch the bow and turn me downstream.

Assist by the motor, the little canoe practically flew. I sailed past my takeout, turned upstream into an eddy and beached gently in the sand.

I walked upstream and spent a couple of hours wade fishing. I am happy to report that my Rock Treads traction kit helped anchor my feet to the bottom very well.

Just one fish would have made the trip worthwhile. I didn't get a bite.

Sports on 02/09/2020

Print Headline: Ouachita River too fast to fish safely from canoe

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