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Wellness calendar: Arkansas’s outdoors offers plentiful social distancing opportunities

by Bryan Hendricks | January 9, 2022 at 4:01 a.m.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/ BETH HALL.Curt Warren of Venice, Fla flies tandem with Buddy Gough.Saturday morning at Byrd's Adventure Center near Cass..for 0617 for nw outdoors..6/12/04

With the pandemic still raging, we are motivated anew to spend a lot of time social distancing outdoors in 2022.

We have refined the social distancing art since this time in 2020, and fortunately we live in a state that affords many great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors on land, water and even in the air. Here are a few suggestions to get us through the year, and we'll think of many more as the months progress.

JANUARY

White River trout

One of my favorite memories is fishing for trout on the White River below Bull Shoals Dam with my buddies in a snowstorm.

It was bitterly cold, but the fishing was tremendous. We caught rainbow trout, of course, but also some big brown trout. The harder it snowed, the better they bit. It didn't matter what we used. They bit Gulp Alive prepared baits and Powerbait for the two guys that always tie up to trees and fish eddies. Rusty Pruitt and I caught bigger fish trolling stickbaits in the heavy current.

Afterwards, we warmed up in our cabin at White Buffalo Resort, enjoyed grilled ribeyes and watched the NFL playoffs. There are plenty of other places on the White River to stay, including Gaston's White River Resort and Rim Shoals Resort on the White River.

My buds and I make this trip every year, and it is always a high-octane kick-start to the new year.

FEBRUARY

Tributary walleyes

Arkansas is a sleeper state for walleye fishing, but our great walleye fishing is an open secret among anglers in the know.

In February, walleyes swim up main tributaries in our big Corps of Engineers reservoirs to spawn. When heavy rain swells major tributaries, walleyes swim as far upstream as they can, stopping below the last gravel bar they can cross.

Lake Ouachita is my favorite walleye destination, but you can also catch them in the Caddo River above DeGray Lake and in the big tributaries that feed Bull Shoals Lake, Lake Norfork and Beaver Lake.

There are lot of ways to catch walleyes. You can troll stickbaits upstream against the current or you can slow troll soft plastic lures or live bait on a bottom bouncer rig.

These waters are narrow and swift, and access can be difficult, but good things are seldom easy. A square-stern canoe with a small outboard motor is ideal. You can carry it in a pickup truck and take it almost anywhere.

MARCH

Bankside crappie

When sunlight warms the weather in late winter and early spring, crappie move to the bank to spawn. This is the easiest time to catch a mess of big crappie for the frying pan, and you don't need expensive electronic graphs to find them.

I've had most of my early season success catching crappie in the upper sections of big reservoirs. Look for areas that have hard bottoms with gravel, fallen trees and brush. You can catch them swimming small, soft-plastic swimbaits with paddle tails and with live minnows. My favorite method is to fish very light lead jigs with white or chartreuse maribou tails under a light balsa bobber. I prefer a short ultralight rod and an ultralight reel spooled with 4-pound test line.

When the bobber plunges, set the hook by simply lifting the rod. When you find a hot hole, it's the easiest catching you will ever do.

APRIL

Topwater stripers

From February through May, you can catch striped bass on topwater lures at lakes Ouachita, Beaver and Norfork, as well as in the Arkansas River. There are also stripers in Bull Shoals Lake.

By April, stripers have departed from the tributaries and have dispersed into bigger water. At Lake Ouachita, I most often encounter them between Crystal Springs and Mountain Harbor.

The best topwater bite occurs in the morning, when stripers push schools of shad to the surface. Walking a cigar-style plug like a Zara Spook is a popular tactic, as is retrieving a big Cordell Redfin just fast enough to make a wake. Frankly, I catch most of my stripers with stickbaits sitting still on the surface shortly after casting. They hit with a plop and emit ripples, giving the appearance of a wounded baitfish. Within seconds, a striper slams it.

Few experiences in fishing are more exciting that watching a striper slam a plug on the surface, and it always fights hard. For real fun, try it with light-action tackle, or even ultralight tackle. Landing fish with that kind of gear gives you bragging rights fo a lifetime.

MAY

Bankside bluegills

Bluegills spawn on every full moon in the spring, but May is my favorite time to catch a mess of palm-size panfish.

It's easy fishing. Quietly approach bankside cover, especially fallen trees in the water and submerged grass on a hard bottom, and give them a live cricket under a bobber. A long crappie rod or even a fly rod is an excellent delivery method. Let out a length of line roughly equal to the length of the rod and swing it to the cover. If bluegills are present, the bobber will plunge in very short order. Don't linger in one spot. Work down the bank to catch consistently big bluegills.

Small lakes and ponds are easiest to fish. Lakes Conway, Overcup (near Morrilton) and Hinkle (near Waldron) are some of my favorites. Truman Baker Lake near Waldron is also an overlooked bream hotspot.

JUNE

Hang gliding

While this section is devoted primarily to hunting and fishing, we long to soar with eagles every time we see hang gliders slip the surly bonds of earth at Mt. Magazine State Park and Mount Nebo State Park.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism promotes hang gliding at Mt. Magazine at www.arkansasstateparks.com. Hang gliding participants must register each day at the park visitor center. You must be Class 4 certified to fly solo, but a Class 3 flier can fly with a Class 4.

Every time I see them, I want to be with them.


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