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The American Eel: An Arkansas Aquatic Phantom (Part III)


It was a few days after the Caddo River, and the plan was to run the trotline beneath Remmel Dam on the Ouachita River, where Casey had caught a hundred eels two weeks ago. Those eels were bigger than the Caddo eels, some of them longer than three feet.

I took Robin along, and we got off at the Malvern exit and met my assistant Scotty, who works with me on the Toad Suck Review. A grad student in creative writing and avid fisherman, he was staying with his mother in Hot Springs, so only had to drive a few miles.

american eel part 3 only in arkansas

We found a spot downstream from the dam with tons of toaster- to microwave-sized boulders in knee-deep water. Following me upstream as I unwound the trotline and Scotty followed, baiting it with small chunks of night crawlers. The line was 125 feet long and had twenty-five hooks dangling from it, plus a pop bottle float on each end.

I’d been trotlining hardcore for over a year, a method I found to be a massive improvement over the yo-yos I employed for five, living on the shores of Lake Conway. Yo-yos, or “auto-fishers,” are these spring-loaded things you hang from trees. When a fish takes the bait, the spring sets the hook. I used to check my yo-yos twice a day out in the cypresses, and I frequently caught big fish. But when fish are suspended, waiting for me to wake up or come home from work, they can die pretty easily. Especially in warm weather when turtles are prone to strip fish of their flesh, leaving nothing but a skeleton. Trotlines, however, keep fish under water, where they can swish around and avoid turtles.

I’d had a lot of luck with my trotline, which is strung across a spot where a creek used to be before the reservoir was flooded. Catfish still travel there, and other fish too. Since I’d been running that line, I’d caught a twenty-eight-pound flathead, and another that must’ve weighed sixty. I’d also caught crappie the size of flattened footballs, plus drum, gar, bass, bowfin, and the occasional unfortunate water bird.

My point being, since I’d had some practice, I felt pretty confident that I could get them with my custom-made small-game trotline. If they were in there, that is. …

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Mark Spitzer is the author of twenty books and an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas, where he is the Editor in Chief of the award-winning Toad Suck Review. His essay collection Season of the Gar (U of Arkansas Press, 2010) will soon be followed by a sequel entitled Return of the Gar (U of North Texas Press), and he is also working on a book called Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be seen on the alligator gar episode of Animal Planet's River Monsters series, or paddling through the tornado-littered sandtar soup of Lake Conway.

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