Fishing opportunities in Arkansas are plentiful and diverse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, shelter-in-place, social distancing and temporary non-essential business closures have added confusion to the task of finding certain types of fishing venues – especially for those who do not own a boat.
"Overall, fishing is open for business in Arkansas," said Scott Jones, small impoundment Extension specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. "Individuals may just have to study on where to go more than usual and adjust to daily changes in facility openings and closures."
Jones reminds individuals that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Free Fishing Weekend starts at 12 p.m. Friday, June 12, and lasts until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, June 14. Both residents and nonresident anglers will be able to fish anywhere in Arkansas without a fishing license or trout permit. Regulations for Arkansas waters (daily limits, slot limits and length limits) must be observed.
Most public boat ramps and all public state waters remain open to both recreational and fishing boat access unless storm damage, flooding or construction activities have otherwise closed these facilities, he said. Some of these access points also include nearby fishing piers that shoreline anglers are still permitted to use.
"Just remember that piers and docks located immediately next to boat ramps are almost always meant for boaters in the process of loading and unloading their boats," he said. "While some venues may allow fishing from these docks, if you decide to fish from them, please allow boaters space as they come to dock."
Jones said national, state and municipal parks can be excellent places to find fishing spots from the shore. Because they offer a wide range of amenities, the operational statutes of various parks differ during this period of social distancing.
"Visitor centers, meeting facilities, gift shops, indoor museums, restaurants, lodges, cabins, camping areas, guided tours, swimming beaches and playgrounds will most likely be closed," he said. "It appears that some restrictions will begin scaling back in the near future, making some of these amenities available again in some capacity."
Trails and fishing locations are generally still available unless high traffic volume at these areas trigger closures. Individuals should call their city parks department for their operational status before going. They can check the status of Arkansas state parks online at www.arkansasstateparks.com/covid-19-update. The status of Arkansas national parks can be checked online at www.nps.gov/state/ar/.
Fishing tackle shops have remained open during the social distancing period, Jones said. The owners and employees at local tackle shops can be valuable sources of guidance on local hot spots, what fish are biting and where you can and cannot go during the social distancing period.
Jones reminds individuals to give other anglers and park visitors plenty of space while out fishing during the period of social distancing.
"Many states are encouraging the use of face masks while out in public," he said. "This may be an unnecessary precaution in remote fishing spots, but it’s a good idea to ‘mask up’ while in city, state and national parks and popular fishing locations if you are fishing from shore. It decreases your chances of contracting the virus and reduces the chances of you spreading it to others if you are carrying the virus."
Jones said park staff and law enforcement officials are keeping a close eye on park use and the behavior of visitors. Several city parks in Arkansas have been temporarily closed in response to high volume and possible failure of visitors to follow safety guidelines.
"Do your part to stay safe and keep public places open," Jones said. "Give fellow visitors space and wear proper protective gear. Don’t forget the bug spray or sunscreen."