Turbulent Tailwaters Present Fresh Perils to Anglers, Boaters

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Turbulent tailwaters present fresh perils to anglers, boatersHEBER SPRINGS – Water is a wonderful commodity and an Arkansas asset – except when there is too much of it.

Weeks after the storms and heavy rains the state received earlier in the year, too much water remains here and there even as the traditionally dry summer is underway. The state’s large lakes, which are reservoirs in actuality, are well above normal level, and discharges of water are continuing to lower these levels.

One result is large amounts of water coming through the dams, meaning the tailwaters just downstream tend to be turbulent and extremely dangerous.

Capt. Gary Mullins, a district enforcement supervisor with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said, “We have had six accidents in about two weeks on the Little Red River (just downstream from Greers Ferry Dam). Luckily no one has been injured or worse, but there are presently two boats, one canoe and one jet ski, still in the river from capsizing.”

Mullins said the high and swift water just below the dams may catch some fishermen and other water recreation enthusiasts by surprise, especially young or new users of personal watercraft (jet skis), kayaks and canoes.

Of the six Little Red River mishaps, five were due to trout fishermen throwing out anchors to hold their boats in place, according to Cpl. Shawn Smith, an AGFC wildlife officer stationed in Cleburne County.

Smith said, “A lot of trout fishermen are used to throwing anchors out of the back of their boats to hold them in place. But you can’t do that in this swift water. The boat is just pulled under the surface when the anchor hits the water.” Smith said the safe tactic is just not to use an anchor in swift water.

Another accident on the Little Red left a fishermen clinging to a tree in the water, where he was rescued. He had grabbed a cooler as a float when his boat went under.

Along with the churning water, another danger is that persons can’t see obstacles like rocks and logs as well when water is frothing.

Smith said that just moving downstream for fishermen and boaters won’t help much. “The river is high and swift for a long ways when the two generators are running (at the dam).”

Wearing  personal flotation devices (life jackets) is essential also. Smith said that most of the people involved in the six recent accidents were wearing PFDs.

Water releases from the large lakes are expected to continue for several more weeks. Water flows also continue to be high on the Arkansas River, and this is complicated by the high Mississippi River, where flood waters are coming down from the devastated Midwest.