ARKANSAS RIVER It was so hot, my body was as wet above the water as below.
So it goes at 3:30 on a 105-degree afternoon.
This summer, many outdoorsmen are doing nothing outside. Some diehards go only the first or last few hours of a day, to be in the relative coolness.
But Kelly Seal and friends wanted to hit the Arkansas River river at 3 p.m. for bowfishing. He had explained the importance of having the sun high in the sky for seeing fish in the clear water.
Even the cloud cover most pray for are detrimental to spotting fish.
“I’ve been looking at a fish and it’ll just disappear the second the sun goes behind a cloud,” Seal said as he checked a squadron of scattered cumulous clouds overhead.
The drought and low water have been a gift for Seal and bowfishing buddies Austin Freed, Gary Savage and Dave Olds.
This summer, the carp and have far fewer places to hide.
After a quarter-mile walk to the river, we entered a long stretch where the Arkansas was barely tennis shoe deep.
Seal pointed toward an old tree a half-mile upstream and said, “We haven’t shot here for about a week. There ought to be a lot of fish in that hole.”
The 15-minute sloshing toward the spot showed a handful of small fish. Dozens were seen as soon as we peered into the pool that was deep enough that we couldn’t always see the bottom.
The hope was for gar four feet or longer, but the best we could see were three-footers. The pool held quite a few carp as large as eight pounds, too.
Freed was the first to put an arrow through a fat carp. All four bowfishermen had launched arrows within the first few minutes. Many connected.
Occasionally, fish scooted from the pool and out on to the shallows of the river.
“They’ll be back in a little while,” Seal said.
The clouds were the biggest problem, casting shadows over the water that indeed made the fish nearly impossible to see.
Seal was disappointed by the number and size of the fish in the hole.
“I guess that’s just fishing,” he said as he turned and headed downstream.
Splashing and sweating along, the group checked several more places where they’d found fish before.
Most were now so shallow only a few fish were around.
“This will probably be the last time we come here until we get some more water,” Seal said.
Wandering a half-mile downstream, Savage signaled that he had found numbers of fish. It was a pool of knee-deep water below rocky riffles most don’t associate with the Arkansas.
In a line, we spread about 20 yards apart, calling to tell each other when carp and assorted suckers were on the move.
The four friends, all avid at the sport, were fast into hitting fish, while I carried a lottery-like success rate.
“When you think you’re aiming low enough, aim lower,” Seal advised, referring to the confusing refraction caused by the water’s surface.
I was aiming at what appeared to be a foot or so below the fish, on the few I hit.
And then it was over.
Between the sun’s angle and shadows from clouds and cottonwoods, what few fish remained in the hole had become difficult to see.
We were back at the cars before 6 p.m. The radio said the temperature was 100 degrees.
It was still an hour before even the bravest of anglers would venture outside, as we headed home.