Blue Catfish spawning at the Joe Hogan Fish Hatchery in Lonoke, Ark.LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Family and Community Fishing Program will be in full swing this week, delivering catfish to many central Arkansas program ponds for families to enjoy during spring break. According to Maurice Jackson, FCFP coordinator for the AGFC, parents looking for a way to spend some precious time and make memories with their kids should consider fishing at one of the stocked locations this spring. Most locations are within easy reach of large cities and towns and many are in parks where you can enjoy a picnic lunch or other activities once you’ve caught your limit.

“The best part is that you can take your fish home and continue enjoying your experience with a delicious meal of catfish that’s as good as any farm-raised fish you’ll find in the grocery store,” Jackson said. “Later this Spring around May, we also have some special catfish that have been marked with fluorescent green tags that are worth a fishing tackle prize package to the lucky anglers who catch them.”

Tag returns aren’t just for kicks. The AGFC monitors tag returns from ponds to assess fishing pressure and adjust the frequency of stockings. Jackson says the stockings were to begin in central Arkansas locations, and other ponds would be stocked as soon as the hatcheries around the state have time to transport the fish.

The AGFC’s hatcheries are also involved in spawning projects for walleye, stripers and other programs now and have short windows, Jackson noted. But the Family and Community page at agfc.com will be updated as soon as fish are stocked at each location. Also, many fishing events are planned for this year, so be sure to check https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/where-fish/family-and-community/stocking/  (click the box below) regularly to see when a pond near you is stocked and when a special event is headed your way.


03142018quailcourseFORT SMITH – Ask any wildlife biologist where they may find quail, and the last place you’d expect would likely be a golf course.  Well-manicured fairways with small flags nearly anyone could spot from 400 yards sound like ideal hunting grounds for avian predators such as a hawk. But these manicured fairways aren’t the entire picture.  Nearly every golf course contains “rough” spaces which add some degree of difficulty into the game. With a little forethought and planning, these unkempt spaces also can provide critical habitat for many wildlife species such as quail, and do it at a reduced maintenance cost for golf-course owners.

A few years ago, the superintendent of the Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith decided to change up his management approach to maintaining the course.  “Roughs” were strategically converted to native grasses and wildflowers, which require much less maintenance than introduced species once established.

“Grasses like big bluestem and little bluestem are very drought tolerant and require little to no nutrients added to the soil because they are already adapted to the conditions,” said Levi Horrell, assistant regional supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commisssion at its Beaver Lake Regional Office. “They also improve local water quality by increased filtration and less fertilizer runoff. In the case of Ben Geren, the restoration plan has even been thought out in such a way that there is connectivity between native patches, allowing wildlife to more feasibly move across the course.”

Bobwhite Quail are just one species that has already responded to the restoration. Quail not only are game animals that have experienced significant declines in recent years, but they are indicators of habitat quality. Wildflowers that produce cover and forage for quail also support a wide variety of songbirds and even butterflies such as the Monarch. With many species seeing declines due to human development and changes in land use, creativity in our efforts to maintain or restore wildlife populations is critical.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Acres For Wildlife program can even provide technical assistance, seed and herbicide to restore native vegetation on private land. In this case, assistance was provided to the Ben Geren Golf Course to support their efforts in restoring portions of the property. In addition to the northern bobwhite restoration, the land’s historical purpose played a key role in its restoration.

“The property is situated on what was once part of the Massard Prairie,” Horrell said. “This prairie has now essentially been developed over and looks nothing like it once did.  As a result, many wildlife and plant species that were native to the area are now either gone or increasingly hard to find.”

One flower species in the area (Nuttall’s pleatleaf) is so rare that Ben Geren is one of only a handful of places in the state where it is known to be found and it waits for only one perfect moment out of the year to bloom (after approximately three hours the entire event is over).  However, with work like what is occurring at Ben Geren, the area will not only continue to provide enjoyment to the people who visit, it will also provide some protected space for the plants and animals that belong there.

Thanks to the success of this golf course conversion, the AGFC has planned a special meeting with the Golf Course Supertintendents Association of Arkansas this month to share the methods used to improve habitat and lower maintenance cost and discuss ways the AGFC can expand some of its resources toward these diamonds in the rough.

Visit www.agfc.com/habitat for more information on how you can restore habitat for quail or other wildlife on your land.

02212018taggedcrappieHUGHES – Horseshoe Lake, an oxbow once part of the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas, has long been noted for good crappie production, but recent studies have shown a mostly smaller, younger fish population. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is in the second year of a project to determine the cause of crappie mortality, and anglers can help.

The AGFC has placed reward tags on many crappie, with each tag being worth anywhere from $5 to $100, according to Justin Homan, an AGFC district supervisor in Brinkley. Anglers who catch a tagged crappie can report the tag to the AGFC claim the reward value. After removing the tag, they may keep the fish or release it, whichever they would normally do.

Results from the tag returns will help fisheries biologists determine if the low numbers of large, older crappie in the lake are the result of angler harvest or natural causes, Homan said.

“The sampling we’ve done the last two years, what we’ve seen is, we’re having good catch rates, catching a lot of fish from Horseshoe Lake, but we’re not seeing the bigger fish in our samples,” Homan said. “There appears to be very few fish age 3 and over, of the ones we’ve sampled. There are a lot of smaller fish. Most of the fish are 1 or 2 years old. We think they are just not surviving long enough to grow into a larger fish.

“Through the crappie management plan and our sampling, it’s led us to look at angler harvest,” Homan said.

Determining catch rates by anglers will help determine what the AGFC does next at Horseshoe Lake in terms of crappie management. Currently, the daily creel limit on Horseshoe Lake is 50 crappie, a figure that has been in effect for several years at Horseshoe Lake and between the levees of the Mississippi River. When that limit was established at Horseshoe Lake, crappie were considered overcrowded.

Numbers from sampling have indicated that  60 percent of the lake’s crappie will die before age 2, and 60 percent of those surviving fish will not reach age 3.

“We want the anglers to report the tags and send them in,” Homan said. “We’ll want to know, did you harvest it or throw it back? Answers to these questions will help us plan a course of action to improve the crappie size in the fishery.”

Similar angler sampling programs have been used on such lakes as Harris Brake and at Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir, he said.

The AGFC provides a public ramp access to Horseshoe Lake on its western end. Horseshoe Lake is accessible off U.S. Highway 79 at Hughes by taking Arkansas Highway 38 east to Arkansas 147, which runs alongside the west and northwest portion of the lake. Highway 147 also runs due north to Interstate 40, just west of West Memphis.02212018taggedcrappie

02212018atipHOT SPRINGS – Anglers looking for the next place to take a fishing trip can narrow their search to some of Arkansas’s best bass waters with a quick visit to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Black Bass Program web page.

The Black Bass Program works with bass fishing clubs and tournament circuits across the state to gather tournament results throughout the year. The information is then compiled into a single report that ranks bodies of water according to certain criteria.

Percentage of anglers who catch a weighable bass, average weights, number of bass per day, pounds of bass per day and average angler hours to catch a 5-lb. or larger bass are all indicated in the report.

Jeff Buckingham, assistant black bass program coordinator for the AGFC, says the partnership can provide valuable data to both tournament directors and biologists.

“Angler catch data is already being collected by the tournament officials, it’s just a matter of putting it all together,” Buckingham said. “We can use this in addition to the data we gather through our sampling efforts to see some interesting trends.”

Buckingham says one trend that becomes apparent after looking at decades-worth of data is that anglers are getting much better at catching more and bigger bass during tournaments.

“The percent of anglers who weigh-in a bass, weight per angler and overall average weights have increased steadily over the years the program has been in place,” Buckingham said.

The report also offers tournament directors valuable insight on lakes as they build their yearly schedules. Lakes with high average weights and lakes with high angler success typically mean happy anglers, so an obvious approach is to focus on the lakes that rank high in those areas. A little deeper digging in the report also can yield some good information.

“Some tournament directors want to fish on lakes that don’t receive a lot of pressure,” Buckingham said. “All lakes receiving reports, even if it’s only one, are listed in the final report in addition to the top-ranked lakes. From this a director can get an idea of how many tournaments were there.”

The months in which tournaments are held also are ranked, to help directors schedule tournaments during times when catch rates and weights will be highest. Last year, December, February and March scored as the top three months for holding tournaments, while September and October, months when many clubs try to hold championships, scored very poorly.

Buckingham says that participation in the program has grown during the last few years, but there’s room for every bass fishing club in the state to submit their data as well.

“The more data we have, the more complete the information will be,” Buckingham said. “And participating is as simple as filling in a card or an online form with the weights and numbers you’re already writing down to conduct the tournament. You can even enter it right there from your phone.”

Contact Buckingham at Jeffrey.buckingham@agfc.ar.gov, call 877-525-8606 or visit www.agfc.com/atip for more information on how to participate in the Arkansas Tournament Information Program and a list of recent ATIP summary reports.

WaterfowlGEORGETOWN – Despite horrible conditions throughout the state for much of the 2017-18 waterfowl season, one wildlife management area has continued to provide hunters with increasingly good hunts since its purchase. Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMA in White County turned in impressive harvest numbers, especially considering the conditions.

Rainfall was extremely scarce leading up to the 2017/18 season, however Raft Creek WMA is capable of being flooded using on-site pumps and water from neighboring landowners. A contractual agreement was made between AGFC and a neighboring landowner, to use his relift on Red River to get water to the WMA. Due to malfunctions with that pump, the WMA did not receive enough water to conduct normal hunting practices, which include a lottery-style draw for flooded holes, until Dec. 30.

Once water finally came to the WMA, hunting faced another setback, as Arctic cold swept in, freezing many of the hunting areas solid. An additional 12 days of the season were lost to frigid conditions in which no open water was available to attract ducks.

Anyone hunting Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMA must fill out a daily activity card and deposit it in a dropbox on their way out of the hunting area. This enables wildlife managers to keep tabs on success rates and hunter participation so they can continue to modify the area to fit the needs of hunters and waterfowl alike. According to harvest data collected from these cards throughout the season, 874 waterfowl hunters participated in 37 days of hunting on the WMA.

Almost 300 of those 874 hunters hunted during weekdays, and 23 hunted during the youth hunts. The remaining 550+ participants were weekend hunters.

“Hunters shot 2,231 ducks at Raft Creek this season,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “When you add up the numbers, that’s almost 2.9 ducks per hunter per day hunted. In 2016-17 hunters statewide averaged 2.69 ducks per day. That includes private and public land.”

Naylor says the harvest at Raft Creek is a good example of how high-quality habitat can pay off for hunters. Historically, the area was bottomland hardwoods, but had been converted in the late 1960s and early 1970s for row crop production.  When Ducks Unlimited, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the AGFC acquired the property, the topsoil had been depleted of many nutrients from intensive agricultural operations. Since that time, the AGFC has focused on providing the soil what it needs to stimulate the growth of native moist-soil vegetation that is beneficial to waterfowl.

In 2009 the AGFC began ramping up work on moist-soil units on the area, and in 2014 the region was able to add more efficient equipment to conduct the work. These purchases, along with significant infrastructure changes have led to a vast improvement to the quantity and quality of moist-soil units on the area.

“Since 2009, we have really been able to increase the amount of moist-soil habitat work we conduct on Raft Creek, and harvest numbers reflect that,” said Jacob Bokker, wildlife biologist at the AGFC’s Brinkley office. “We’ve been able to produce more food per acre for ducks with less cost as we’ve been able to secure needed funds for equipment and materials.”

Bokker says close to 2,000 acres of the WMAs 4,962 acres are devoted to moist-soil units. These areas are managed through properly timed soil disturbance methods and flooding to promote species which produce abundant seeds for waterfowl in winter.

“We disc, irrigate, mow and stubble roll to promote good annual smartweeds, Ammannia, sprangletop, native millets and sedges,” Bokker said.

Manipulating the native vegetation in moist soil units past the growing season is legal and promotes many invertebrates ducks need to replenish protein and lipids. Deep tillage brings the good annual seeds to the surface and stimulates them with proper draw down timing to replenish the forage year after year.

Raft Creek is the only AGFC WMA which institutes a draw hunting system during the regular duck season. On weekends, hunters must show up two hours before shooting light to draw for one of 30 possible designated hunting areas. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the area is open on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The draw lets everyone have a chance to spread out and enjoy a high-quality hunt,” Naylor said. “It prevents shot-chasing and grouping up on one or two traditional hotspots, and many people will still have good hunts at different areas through the season as water levels change to provide new foods and promote duck abundance at new units. It’s pretty rare that anyone gets turned away without a place to hunt, but if it does occur, it’s still early enough for hunters to have a Plan B in place at another nearby waterfowl hunting WMA.”

02212018canoecampLITTLE ROCK – Despite the passage of time, little has changed in the fundamentals of a long, skinny boat propelled by paddles. A 21st century, Kevlar canoe probably would be recognized by a Native American of the 1700s.

Packing a canoe for an expedition today usually is associated with recreation – possibly a few days on the Buffalo River to get a taste of what early explorers and fur traders might have experienced. Canoe-access campsites offer a more intimate experience with the outdoors than traditional campgrounds. Canoe travel enables us to move silently through the water, which allows close encounters with wild creatures.

The AGFC has developed more than a dozen water trails across the state. A handful of these offer overnight camping. For maps, including those geo-referenced for smartphones, and more details about each trail, visit agfc.com/watertrails.

Little Maumelle River Water Trail

The Little Maumelle River rises in the Ouachita Mountains west of Little Rock, meanders south of Pinnacle Mountain and widens as it reaches the Arkansas River. The 8.2-mile trail offers solitude near the city, drawing paddlers with towering cypress trees, wildlife viewing and angling opportunities.

Tucked in among cypress trees, a camping platform near the banks of The Nature Conservancy’s William Kirsch Preserve at Ranch North Woods gives paddlers dry respite. It’s the first of its kind in Arkansas, although camping platforms are popular on waterways in the southeastern U.S. Experience the sounds of nature while floating under the stars by requesting a reservation at arkansaswatertrails.com.

Crooked Creek Water Trail

Crooked Creek near Yellville is known among anglers for feisty smallmouth bass. The trail covers 22 miles of the stream, although other stretches may be floated. The water level in the creek depends entirely on rainfall. Be sure to check the U.S. Geological Service gauge at Kelley’s Slab before paddling.

Although most property along Crooked Creek is privately owned, there are primitive camping options at Snow Access and TNC’s Brooksher Crooked Creek Preserve, which has no access by road. Paddlers also may camp at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek with permission from the center’s manager.

Wattensaw Bayou Water Trail

Waterfowl, woodpeckers or warblers flit overhead, depending on the season, and river otters and beavers swim in the coffee-colored water. Three access points along Wattensaw Bayou offer options on this 7.8-mile water trail that leads to the White River.

Blue paint designates primitive campsites (no water, sewer or electricity). Sites are available with road access along the bayou. For those looking for solitude, a river-access-only campsite is perched along the bayou about the midway point of the trail; first-come, first-served.

Bayou DeView Water Trail

With more than 15 miles of trail oozing through towering cypress and tupelo trees, Bayou DeView exposes paddlers to the Big Woods; only a small fraction of these wetlands remain today. Ancient cypress trees host barred owls, wintering bald eagles and nesting great blue herons. Fishing is good, too, especially for crappie, bream and catfish.

The bayou relies on rainwater, so check the USGS Bayou DeView gauge near Brinkley. To enjoy an overnight in the swamp, access the Hickson Lake campsite from a spur trail off Bayou DeView.

Rabbit Tail Water Trail

With more than 700 miles of undeveloped shoreline and more than 100 islands, Lake Ouachita can be a paddler’s dream. Rabbit Tail Water Trail is on the quieter, north shore of the lake and is tucked into relatively protected coves. Wind can be a deal-breaker on this lake’s wide-open water.

Paddlers on the 8.5-mile loop may camp on an island (check U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations) or along the shore in the Ouachita National Forest. Pack out trash. Reserve a guided trip at ouachitakayaktours.com.

Subscribe to Arkansas Wildlife Magazine for more outdoors ideas and award-winning articles. Visit www.ArkansasWildlife.com.

ANASP archery tournamentLITTLE ROCK – Close to 4,200 students filed into middle and high school gymnasiums across The Natural State last weekend to take their shot at qualifying for the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program State Championship. Regional shoots were held in 12 locations, covering every region of the state.
“We’ve had tremendous success with the regionals since we moved to this format,” said Curtis Gray statewide ANASP coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “It really gives more teams an opportunity to participate without having to drive across the state. If they qualify for the championship, they gain some momentum to make that trip and enjoy the experience even more.”
The top three teams from each division at each qualifier will move on to the state championship at Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs, March 2-3. Elementary and middle school divisions will shoot on March 2, and the high school competition will be held March 3.
In addition to team competition, the top shooters at each regional tournament will be invited to compete at the state championship individually for additional awards.
“Most of the top shooters are usually on qualifying teams, but there are some outstanding shooters we want to make sure have a chance to compete on an individual basis,” Gray said. “Individual awards are available during the state competition for these young men and women as well.”
Admission to the state tournament is free.
“We always try to have a variety of things for students to do at the state tournament while they are waiting for their turn to shoot,” Gray said. “We’ll have a few special challenge shots for archers to try, and a 3D archery course to give them a little more feel for where to aim at wild game.”
Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/anasp-app/ for complete team and individual scores for each region.

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