7 July 2008
Spearfishing Lake Ouachita - Central Arkansas
Last week, several friends and I (along with our families) headed down to Lake Ouachita in Central Arkansas for a little R&R. We rented a houseboat for the 11 of us and headed out onto the magnificent lake.
To be honest, most of our time was spent simply relaxing. Relaxing for us inlcudes: swimming, wakeboarding, hillbilly surfing, scuba diving, and spearfishing.
Lake Ouachita is touted as the second cleanest (clearest) lake in the USA and the largest lake in Arkansas. I must admit that it is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. It has jagged rocky coastlines, bluff walls, and dozens of islands. Development is not allowed on the lake, so there are no houses or buildings.
There were dozens of houseboats out on the lake, but the lake is so big that we still never felt crowded. In fact, the lake was much quieter and had a lot less traffic than we had anticipated. We quickly realized that the ‘cool’ thing to do is to take all of your camping gear out to one of the islands and set up camp. Most of the islands had families camped out for the weekend of the 4th. I immediately decided that I would return with my family to camp out on one of the islands.
We had a great time spearfishing. The water was not as clear as we expected. In fact, visibility is usually better on Bull Shoals than it was here at Ouachita. Apparently the lake hasn’t recovered from the deluge of rain it received this summer. The water was warmer than what we are used to, too. In fact, we had no problem diving without wetsuits - even when diving under the thermacline. Even without the clarity we had hoped for, we still found some big cats as you can see from the pictures. This must be the year of the big cats!
This was my friend Thad’s first time spearfishing. Us hardcore spearfishing veterans were anxious to find out what he thought of it……… He loved it, of course! The first fish he got was a big, big cat - close to 20lbs! He was instantly hooked and decided to try to get his wife Michelle to give it a go.
I was real curious to see how a ‘girl’ would feel about spearfishing. I’ve found that most females that I’m around love to dive in the carribean or some exotic locale, but aren’t too eager to dive a local lake. Michelle suprised me. I located a cat in a stump during an early morning dive and went back and told the guys and Michelle where it was. Michelle suited up and took off for it. Unfortunately, she missed that cat (it is alot easier to miss than you might think) but spent the next hour intently looking for others. During this same dive her husband Thad, not to be outdone, missed a big 20 lb+ cat that was lounging under a rock ledge. He, of course, tried to let on like he missed to make Michelle feel better, but none of us were buying that.
When Michelle came up from her first spearfishing dive she promptly told Thad that he would be buying her a speargun! So, on this one trip we added two new spearfishermen (and spearfisherwomen) to the ranks.
For anyone keeping score, Jeff, again, took the biggest catfish - followed closely by Thad. I did, however, have one of the more interesting stories:
I found a catfish back in a hole at the same time I ran out of air. I did not have a light with me and I couldn’t see 1) how big the catfish was or 2) exactly where he was. I could just see fins moving in the black water. I shot into the hole where I thought he was. I missed. My tip lodged firmly into something and I could not pull it out. I was out of air. So, I quickly unscrewed the tip (which cost $26.99) from my spear and pulled the spear from the hole. I then reached in, grabbed the cat as firmly as I could and headed for the surface and a breath of air. The cat went crazy and I was barely able to hold onto him. I gripped that fish harder than even I would have thought possible. I’ve never taken such a thrashing before. By the time I got to the surface, my air tank was broken free of my BC and was trailing behind me. My fish stringer was broken off my BC and my speargun had floated off. However, I did get the fish, got a breath of fresh air, and was able to recover all my gear. This was just a 12 lb fish! I’ve seen videos of guys grabbing 60lb cats and wrestling them to the surface. I now fully realize that those guys are really, really tough (and completely insane)!