Arkansas’s sporting community lost a great friend Tuesday with the passing of Scott Hunter of Little Rock.
Hunter, 72, was the definition of a life well-lived. A former Marine, he served in Vietnam, and as a yachtsman he traveled all over the Caribbean. In some ways, he was everything Jimmy Buffett wanted to be.
I met Hunter in 1985 when we worked for Watkins Graphic Impressions, a multi-faceted operation that was run by Rick Watkins, who served an abbreviated term on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 2007-12. Hunter drove a black Corvette in those days, and you could hear his raspy, cackling laugh all over the building.
We reunited in February 2007 when he invited me to join him on one of his walleye fishing adventures on the Ouachita River above Lake Ouachita. Walleyes make spawning runs into the major tributaries of our big reservoirs this time of year, but it takes a big push of high water to get them over the shoals into their spawning areas.
Reaching those turbulent, treacherous waters requires a shallow-draught boat with a jet drive motor. Hunter had War Eagle make a boat especially for this purpose, which he fitted with a 25-horsepower Evinrude jet drive. Hunter handled that boat like the expert seafarer that he was in those narrow, boulder-strewn waters and took us to places that would be impossible for a mere mortal to reach. Once there, we enjoyed the kind of fishing you see in dreams and magazine articles.
Actually, the water was too low when we finally got together, so we did the trip in my 17-foot Alumacraft canoe and a trolling motor. We launched at River Bluff Recreation Area and floated downstream, trolling up and down through the best holes. We caught a limit of walleyes, a mess of smallmouth bass and lost a big striped bass.
I was only one of Hunter’s proteges. He taught an entire community of walleye enthusiasts the ways of the Ouachita, a group that includes Chris Larson and Audie Walding, to name a few. Some of these folks initially resented Hunter sharing their secrets with a newspaper writer, fearing I would unleash a torrent of rival anglers in their paradise.
Hunter laughed it off and said anybody that was willing to spend that kind of money and abuse their equipment that bad was welcome to join the fraternity, as far as he was concerned.
Eventually, they welcomed me into their ranks, and they are great friends.
In that way, Hunter brought people together. He also got me in on the annual Oakwood Ratcliffe Farms dove hunt, where I met Adam Ratcliffe, Steve Koehler and Cathy Koehler, and by extension, Dr. Bob Mc-Gowan, Luke Berger, Jeff Lawrence and a cast of other characters that make for a memorable opening day of dove season every year whether birds fly or not.
Hunter, a blunt, irascible curmudgeon, was the biggest character of them all.
In 2008, we went to Rim Shoals on the White River. Hunter loved to use stickbaits to catch big brown trout. To comply with the special regulations at Rim Shoals, Hunter removed all of the treble hooks from a rainbow-trout colored Bomber Long A and attached a single barb-less hook to the middle ring.
A trout fishing guide with a boatload of clients motored near and informed Hunter that he was fishing in a special regulations area. Hunter ignored him.
The guide, unaware that Hunter had modified his lure, yelled that he was using an illegal method.
Hunter took a long drag from his cigarette, turned to the guide and asked in a low, icy tone, “Are these people paying you to take them fishing?”
“Yes,” the guide answered.
“Then why don’t you shut the hell up and get to work?”
The clients couldn’t help it. They started laughing. The guide went apoplectic and threatened to summon a wildlife officer.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Hunter said. “Do you want his number?”
Hunter’s father was the late Carl Hunter, one of Arkansas’ great naturalists and a former deputy director for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Scott idolized him.
When Hunter was about to leave for college, Hunter said his mother implored Carl to impart some wisdom to young Scott.
Carl said, “Son, I want you to remember three things. Motors have Evinrude on the side, trucks say GMC, and shotguns say Winchester.”
“That was it?” I asked.
“That was it,” Hunter said.
Hunter heeded that advice all the way to the end.