LITTLE ROCK — With many states issuing orders to “stay at home” or “shelter in place,” some Arkansas anglers may worry that their favorite outdoor pursuits are in jeopardy. Although a couple of these states have ordered partial or complete halts to fishing within their borders, most, including Arkansas, are trying to keep the outdoors open for people to enjoy during this time of social distancing. Even in states with “stay at home” orders, outdoor exercise and recreation like fishing are listed as exceptions and healthy alternatives to sitting inside. People still need to be mindful of extending the same precautions they have in indoor settings when heading to their favorite fishing location. Here are a few things to keep in mind before loading the boat or car with the rods, reels and minnow bucket.
Keep it local
Spring is normally a time to get out and explore new places, and anglers are always looking for the “hot bite.” Traveling can promote the spread of coronavirus to new areas, so it’s best to keep your fishing trips within a manageable distance for a single day’s trip. Fill up your gas tank before leaving at your local gas station and pack all the food and drinks you’ll need for the trip at home to prevent unnecessary exposure to others. Preventing the spread of the virus to remote areas is just as important as preventing its spread within larger communities. Some rural areas do not have the medical resources to handle a large-scale outbreak.
It’s also important to call ahead if the area you’re going is part of a park or other recreation area. Many lakes the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission manages are owned by other agencies or organizations, and they ultimately have control of access. In some cases, it may mean a boat ramp within a particular park is closed, but in cases such as Gurdon Lake in south Arkansas and the Buffalo National River in north Arkansas, the entire area is closed to all visitors. If you know a particular fishing location is within a park or recreation area, it is important to call the owners of that park to determine if the water is accessible. A list of fishing locations is available at https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/where-fish/public-fishing-areas.
It’s exciting to see so many people enjoying the outdoors as a way to enjoy their time of social distancing, but there’s plenty of room to spread out and not gather closely while enjoying what Arkansas has to offer. Try to keep at least 6 feet between you and the next person while fishing from the bank. The best way to do this is to hold your fishing pole out and make a circle. If someone is within that distance, they’re too close. “Fishing pole distance” is good practice even during normal times to prevent any accidental line tangles with your neighboring angler. Many AGFC-owned lakes have fishing piers and bank accesses that are inviting, and many of these areas are being improved by area technicians clearing brush and overhangs along the bank to make more room. The entire shoreline of an AGFC-owned lake is accessible to the public. It can seem a little awkward on some of the lakes where people have built houses nearby, like Lake Conway or White Oak Lake, but the landowner’s property line actually ends before you get to the bank. Boathouses and private docks on those lakes are still private property, but the bank itself is public. Just try to be as courteous as possible and don’t leave any sort of mess or litter behind, just like you should act on any public access.
Avoid crowded access points
If you pull up to your favorite fishing location to find a full parking lot or dozens of people already there, consider going to another spot or visiting at another time. Not only can the crowds increase your chances of coming in contact with a germ, but they can also cause the fishing to go downhill quickly. Even the best hotspots will begin to cool when the fish have seen a nonstop parade of lures and hooks.
Keep it friendly, but keep it quick
Social distancing doesn’t mean being an anti-social jerk. We’re all in this together, and most of us are a bit cranky after being cooped up for so long. Arguing over fishing locations or fighting over who goes next putting your boat in at the ramp isn’t worth the added aggravation.
At the same time, it’s not a good idea to hang out at the ramp or boat dock after the day is done to swap stories. Instead of sharing a tailgate, sit on your own and keep that “fishing rod distance” in mind. Try not to linger or form a large group, and keep the conversations for your phone once you’re back home.