The Paper photo by Brent T. Wheat
The angler’s view of an Old Town PDL kayak fishing the shores of Lake Ouachita, Arkansas.
The Paper photo by Brent T. Wheat The angler’s view of an Old Town PDL kayak fishing the shores of Lake Ouachita, Arkansas.
I wasn’t completely sure if a 10-hour drive to fish a new lake for a couple of days was really worth the trouble and effort.
Passing Little Rock, Arkansas, I headed west into the Ouachita National Forest and mulled the reason for this road trip. I would be incarcerated at a media camp along famed Lake Ouachita, sponsored by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW). The purpose was to gain “ink” for the region.
Now on a two-lane road, I snaked among the hills and thick forests. It generally seemed like a pleasant sort of place. Maybe this would be OK.
I finally reached my destination, Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa, where I checked in at the suitably rustic front desk and was directed to my cabin. There, I began to realize this might not be like other press junkets I had attended.
“Do they understand we’re outdoor writers?!?” I incredulously asked AGLOW Executive Director Mark Smith after setting down my bags. He grinned inscrutably while sounding like a James Bond villain: “I think you’ll find the accommodations quite satisfactory.”
It was terrible. The upscale cabin overlooking Lake Ouachita, equipped with three huge suites anchored by a large great room with full kitchen, was wholly, completely unsuitable for a veteran outdoor journalist such as myself: there were no mouse droppings on the pillows, the tap water was clear and odor-free and there wasn’t a snake or bat to be seen anywhere inside.
There were other problems as well. The thick, fluffy towels in the bathroom looked too nice for cleaning fishing reels, the expensive spa-grade soap couldn’t remove the trailer-hitch grease off my pants leg and the chocolates left on the kitchen island didn’t document if they were made from cage-free cocoa beans. Oh, the horrors we writers have to endure!
Jokes aside, my cabin-mates, well-known outdoor writers Ken Kieser and Ken Perrotte, agreed that Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa was the kind of place where even wives and other sensitive types would be overjoyed to spend time. I plan on putting that theory to the test though it seems like a fairly low-risk endeavor.
After unpacking in my suite, we all headed out in a luxury pontoon boat for a quick tour of the lake. Along the way, between cigars and semi-bawdy stories, we managed to pick up several spotted bass and a couple of nice white bass though the real goal was to hook one of the abundant and large stripers of Lake Ouachita.
The evening, the company and the sunset were all flawless in spite of somewhat questionable music chosen for the stereo. Let me publically state that I have never boated while listening to “Mambo Number 5” by Lou Bega and intend to never do so again, unless held captive and forced to fish against my will by ISIS.
The next morning dawned clear and gorgeous. The plan was for writers to head out into the wilds of Lake Ouachita to pursue the lake’s stripers along with any other species that struck our fancy, while generally enjoying the bounties of this impressive reservoir.
After a breakfast and briefings, we headed out to our trusty steeds for the next two days, Old Town Predator PDL sit-on-top kayaks. The boats were also equipped with a Raymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro fishfinder/GPS combo. Without much overstatement, I submit this combo of kayak and electronics might be the ultimate human-powered fishing machine.
I quickly discovered the pedal drive of the Old Town boats works far better than the competition’s more expensive fin drive. With the PDL, you have ultimate position and speed control, including reverse, while leaving your hands free to cast.
If you need to travel long distances, the pedal drive is also quite zippy. My boat, burdened by two-hundred-fifty-something-plus of writer and all sorts of tackle, could crank along at 3.5 miles per hour with virtually no effort yet it could creep at any speed you needed when trolling.
And troll we did. Striper fishing is primarily a business of dragging lures for hours so our long days on the water were split between peddling and casting the scenic shores and inlets.
In that regard, what really smashed any lingering pre-conceived reservations was the stunning beauty of Lake Ouachita. With exceptionally clear water, cliffs rising 80 feet above the lake, winding inlets, islands, pine trees and surrounding low hills, you might forget you’re in Dixie, not Deer Lake, Ontario.
It was impeccable, incredible, delightful, unexpected and highly pleasurable, even in the rain.
And, of course, it began to rain before lunch; one of those all-day, steady, cold, soaked-to-your-underwear rains.
Next week we’ll discuss more of Lake Ouachita fishing, the gear, the lake and, of course, the rain.
Maybe my fingers will un-prune by then and I can type a little faster.
Brent Wheat is a familiar face to Montgomery County readers. His weekly outdoor column, “Out in the Open,” now appears in The Paper of Montgomery County. He can be reached at editor@wildindiana.com.