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AGFC nature centers are full of great gifts for outdoors enthusiasts.

AGFC nature centers are full of great gifts for outdoors enthusiasts.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are all behind us, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity to grab some gifts for your holiday shopping. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has some of the best gifts for that hard-to-buy outdoors enthusiast on your list, and you’ll be contributing to the state’s wildlife resources at the same time.

Sounds like a deal

Every 3-year subscription to Arkansas Wildlife between now and January 1, 2017, will include a free wireless bluetooth speaker.

Every 3-year subscription to Arkansas Wildlife between now and January 1, 2017, will include a free wireless bluetooth speaker.

What’s even better than a year’s worth of award-winning stories and photography delivered to your door? How about three years’ of entertainment with an added special gift to boot? From now until Jan. 1, every three-year subscription to Arkansas Wildlife magazine will come with a free Bluetooth-enabled wireless speaker sporting the magazine’s title on one side and the AGFC logo on the other. The speaker hooks up wirelessly to any phone or tablet with Bluetooth capability to provide excellent sound-quality to your favorite music and includes a microphone to be able to talk back through it when taking a phone call. One surface of the speaker has a special coating that allows it to cling to glass and other smooth surfaces while playing to keep it out of harm’s way. Just purchase a three-year subscription or three-year gift subscription to Arkansas Wildlife magazine and we’ll ship the speaker to the subscriber’s address.

Click here to order gift certificates for the AGFC's Conservation License Plate.

Click here to order gift certificates for the AGFC’s Conservation License Plate.

Plate up some conservation

It doesn’t matter if your secret Santa is a birdwatcher, bowhunter or both, a gift certificate for an AGFC conservation license plate is the perfect gift to show their love of the outdoors. License plates featuring northern cardinals, black crappie, deer, squirrels and a host of other wildlife species are available at Department of Finance and Administration offices all over the state. Just visit http://www.agfc.com/aboutagfc/Pages/AboutConservationLicensePlates.aspx to purchase as many gift certificates as you need to outfit your friends and family with plates of their choosing. The certificate costs $35, $25 of which is placed into the AGFC Conservation Scholarship Fund to help Arkansas students become the next generation of biologists and conservationists.

Two books for $10

Buy the AGFC's 180-page photo history book and cookbook together for an incredible savings.

Buy the AGFC’s 180-page photo history book and cookbook together for an incredible savings.

While supplies last, the AGFC will be offering it’s 180-page hardcover photo history book, “A Century of Conservation,” and it’s Centennial Cookbook, “A Celebration of Conservation,” together for $10 at AGFC nature centers and the Little Rock Headquarters. You can also cash in on a great deal if you order online at http://www.agfc.com, to get both great books delivered to your door for $13. Act quickly and we’ll throw a 100-year Anniversary Baseball Hat in your order for free.

“A Century of Conservation” is the story of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s first 100 years. Read along and discover how the state went from scarcely more than a few hundred deer to a booming population approaching the million-deer mark, not to mention the comeback of Arkansas black bears, turkeys and elk. Stunning photographs and a few stories you probably haven’t heard make this journal a must-have for anyone interested in the outdoors, hunting, fishing or Arkansas history.

“A Celebration of Conservation” includes some of the AGFC employees’ favorite concoctions of everything from wild game to fancy desserts. Mouth-watering recipes will have your taste buds working overtime and make this cookbook a weekly go-to for your kitchen reading. Visit http://www.agfc.com/store/Pages/Merchandise.aspx to order both books.

Bring the outdoors inside

In addition to the gifts above, the AGFC’s four nature centers throughout the state each have a gift shop full of outdoors-oriented items for the nature lover and die-hard outdoorsperson on your list. Shirts, hats, coffee mugs and a variety of smaller gifts are available at reasonable prices in each center, as well as books and other educational material on the outdoors. While you’re there, take in some of the sights and sounds of the center and ask the staff about some of their excellent programs available to the public throughout the year for free. Everything from photography to nighttime “owl prowls” are possible. Click http://www.agfc.com/education/Pages/EducationNatureCenters.aspx to get started finding a nature center near you.

Youth hunters harvested nearly 9,500 during the two-day 2016 youth hunt.

Youth hunters harvested nearly 9,500 during the two-day 2016 youth hunt.

Cooler temperatures and the first good signs of rutting activity beckoned well for the first youth hunt of the 2016-17 deer season last weekend, and Arkansas’s young guns did not disappoint. Hunters harvested 9,429 deer during the two-day season.
According to Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the harvest is lower than last year’s 12,000-deer youth hunt, but is very similar to the 2014 season, in which youth hunters took just over 9,700 deer.
Since the development of internet and telephone checking, biologists and the public can see the harvest in real time by visiting https://www.ark.org/agfc/gamecheck/reports.php. According to checked numbers, Arkansas’s deer harvest is at about 51,000 deer statewide. Again, this is below last year’s harvest of 64,000, but on track with the year before, which had 53,000 deer checked by this point in the season.
The slow start to this season has had a few hunters concerned. But Gray says things should balance out as cooler weather sets in and more hunters enter the woods.

Cooler weather had deer moving for the morning of the hunt.

Cooler weather had deer moving for the morning of the hunt.

“We often see hunting seasons start off slowly, but quickly catch-up as the season progresses,” Gray said. “The opening weekend of modern gun season and the week of Thanksgiving will be crucial periods for state harvest.”
The AGFC will be continuing to monitor for the spread of chronic wasting disease during opening weekend of modern gun season by manning 25 biological sampling sites within 10 counties in northern Arkansas. Biologists ask all hunters who wish to voluntarily submit their deer for sampling on Nov. 12-13 to bring any checked deer from Boone, Carroll, Johnson, Logan, Madison, Marion, Newton, Pope, Searcy and Yell counties to one of the following sites:

Boone County

  • Alpena Community Building, 107 Highway 62 E., Alpena
  • Anderson’s Propane, 8563 Highway 7 N., Harrison
  • Anderson’s Store, 12181 Highway 62 E., Harrison

Carroll County

  • Carroll County Fairgrounds, 104 County Road 401, Berryville

Johnson County

  • Haggarville Grocery, 11925 SR 123, Lamar
  • McCormick’s One Stop, 7823 Highway 103, Clarksville
  • Oark General Store and Café, 10360 County Road 5440, Oark

Logan County

  • New Blaine Fire Dept., 9 Highway 197 Loop, New Blaine

Madison County

  • Combs Store and Café, 10342 Highway 16, Combs
  • McIlroy Madison County WMA headquarters, Highway 23

Marion County

  • Pyatt, Crooked Creek Access, Highway 62 W., Pyatt
  • Yellville City Park, Highway 14, Yellville

Newton County

  • Arkansas Forestry Commission Office, Route 1, Box 275, Western Grove
  • National Park Service Maintenance Shop, HCR 73 Box 176B, Marble Falls
  • Ponca Elk Education Center, Highway 43, Ponca
  • USFS Office, 18360 Highway 16 W., Deer

Pope County

  • Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Storage Facility, Sand Gap (1 mile south of Highway 7/16/123 intersection)
  • City of London Maintenance Shop, 3731 SR 333, London
  • Downtown Mini-Mart, 102 W. Main St. (Highway 64/105 intersection), Atkins
  • Fountain’s Grocery, 36386 Highway 27, Tilly
  • USFS Big Piney Ranger District Office, 12000 SR 27, Hector

Searcy County

  • Arkansas Forestry Commission, 602 Highway 65 N., Marshall
  • Misty’s Conoco, 6542 Highway 65 N., Leslie

Yell County

  • Ouachita Livestock Market, 12115 N. State Highway 7, Danville
  • Yell County Wildlife Federation, 10035 Wildlife Lane, Dardanelle

Hunters outside of these 10 counties may contact a veterinarian from the list provided at http://www.agfc.com/hunting/Documents/CWD/CWDVets.pdf if they wish to learn the CWD-status of deer they have harvested. However, the hunter will be responsible for the cost of these tests outside of the 10-county CWD Management Zone.

Hunters must be 6 years old to legally tag and check deer in Arkansas.

Hunters must be 6 years old to legally tag and check deer in Arkansas.

Hunters are advised to report any deer that looks sick to the AGFC at 1-800-482-9262. AGFC photo.

Hunters are advised to report any deer that looks sick to the AGFC at 1-800-482-9262. AGFC photo.

A list of veterinarians who have expressed interest in collecting samples and testing hunter-harvested deer for chronic wasting disease has been published on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website at http://www.agfc.com/hunting/Documents/CWD/CWDVets.pdf.

All results from the tests will be shared with the AGFC, but it is the responsibility of the hunter to pay any fees associated with using one of the listed veterinarians to process samples.

The AGFC will test hunter-harvested deer taken from the CWD Management Zone (Boone, Carroll, Johnson, Logan, Madison, Marion, Newton, Pope, Searcy and Yell counties) on a voluntary basis during opening weekend of deer season (Nov. 12-13).

AGFC staff will be collecting CWD samples from hunter-harvested elk Nov. 12-13 in the CWD Management Zone. AGFC Photo.

AGFC staff will be collecting CWD samples from hunter-harvested elk Nov. 12-13 in the CWD Management Zone. AGFC Photo.

According to Cory Gray, AGFC deer program coordinator, the AGFC’s deer team developed the list of vets to offer hunters outside of those counties or those who harvest deer outside of opening weekend the opportunity to test their deer if they wished.

“We can’t test every deer harvested in the state, but we do want to offer an option for hunters who are concerned with the possibility of the deer they harvested having CWD,” Gray said. “While a CWD test is not a food safety test, it may put some hunters’ minds at ease about serving it to their family.”

The recent detection of chronic wasting disease has many hunters concerned about the safety of eating venison, but there shouldn’t be any reason to worry. Hunter-harvested venison is still one of the healthiest forms of protein you can find, free of preservatives, steroids and other chemicals that can be found in some farm-raised foods.

“There isn’t any confirmed case of CWD spreading to any species outside of the cervid family (deer, elk, moose and caribou),” said Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “But the World Health Organization and Arkansas Department of Health both advise against eating any animal known to have CWD.”

Hunters shouldn’t eat any animal showing obvious signs of any illness.

“Any hunter anywhere in the state who sees a deer showing symptoms of CWD should report it to 1-800-482-9262,” Gray said. “We can dispatch someone to collect samples from that animal and will let the person reporting know the outcome of the tests.”
Gray says biologists have collected thousands of samples during summer throughout the state, and the extended search for CWD will begin to slow once the first week of modern gun season has ended.

“We anticipate reigning back on our sampling beginning Nov. 18,” Gray said. “We’ll still be collecting samples from sick deer, but road kill samples will drop to weekdays during normal business hours.”

Hunters may voluntarily submit their deer for CWD testing to a list of veterinarians available at www.agfc.com/cwd. AGFC photo.

Hunters may voluntarily submit their deer for CWD testing to a list of veterinarians available at http://www.agfc.com/cwd. AGFC photo.

Hundreds of trees found new homes in Greers Ferry Lake as fish habitat thanks to a huge cooperative effort by the AGFC and Corps of Engineers.

Hundreds of trees found new homes in Greers Ferry Lake as fish habitat thanks to a huge cooperative effort by the AGFC and Corps of Engineers.

A fleet of habitat barges and support boats led a cooperative effort between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers to place a literal “ton” of new habitat in Greers Ferry Lake earlier this month.

Five of the AGFC’s habitat barges, one habitat barge from the Corps, backhoes, skidders, excavators and support boats all converged on Choctaw Recreation Area to create and place extra-large brush piles in the west end of the lake. The brush piles were constructed of large cedars removed from the campground at Choctaw as part of a wildlife enhancement project. In all, 300 cedars were removed, bundled and placed in key points of the lake to serve as fish attractors and aquatic habitat.

“We were able to enhance 18 sites,” said Tom Bly, AGFC fisheries supervisor in Mayflower. “Six were existing fish attractors that were freshened up, but 12 were entirely new places where we sank these large piles of cedars. All were within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation Area.”

Most brush piles were placed in 20 to 25 feet of water, where they can be the most benefit to fish and anglers on a year-round basis. While the attractors make it easier for anglers to locate fish, they’re also important additions to the lake for fish.

Invasive cedars were removed from the campgrounds at Choctaw Recreation Area in early October.

Invasive cedars were removed from the campgrounds at Choctaw Recreation Area in early October.

“Any fish that relates to natural shoreline cover can use these attractors,” Bly said. The structures will be coated with algae, which attracts small insects and minnows, which are food for larger fish. The complex cover also offers shelter from larger predators, so you will see forage fish hiding within the maze of branches. Larger predator fish, like bass, crappie and walleye will stay close by to ambush those smaller fish.”

The locations of all habitat sites were recorded with GPS units and will be available through the AGFC’s interactive map at http://gis.agfc.com/ soon.

According to Bly, the habitat enhancement was a pilot project for a new approach fisheries managers will use in enhancing the state’s waters for fish and anglers. One or two large-scale habitat projects will be selected each year, and the AGFC’s entire Fisheries Management Team will work together and work with partners to benefit the resource like never before.

“We had 25 AGFC employees and a half a dozen Corps employees working together over two days to get the job done,” Bly said. “The area had been prepped and some cedars removed two weeks prior, but nearly all the aquatic habitat work was done in two days without injury or equipment malfunction.”

Downed cedars were used to create and enhance 18 fish attractor locations within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation area on Greers Ferry.

Downed cedars were used to create and enhance 18 fish attractor locations within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation area on Greers Ferry.

Bly says sinking brush for habitat is a regular job for fisheries biologists, and anglers will continue seeing smaller-scale habitat projects continue throughout the state, but these large-scale, all-hands-on-deck habitat improvements should enable fisheries managers to make an even larger impact for the benefit of fish and anglers in some of Arkansas’s larger reservoirs.

The climb into the treestand can tax any hunter who's out of shape. Photo by Cara Holland

The climb into the treestand can tax any hunter who’s out of shape. Photo by Cara Holland

Hunters are beginning to scout, prepare food plots and set trail cameras to pattern the biggest buck in the area as summer wanes and the thrill of the next deer season builds. That same effort should be used to prepare their body for the stresses of the coming season. Nutrition and physical conditioning are keystones for success in the field, but often are overlooked.

Hunting situations provide many intense physical demands. Even hunters who do not travel far on foot still must climb in tree stands and hopefully drag out a downed deer. The real work starts after taking a game animal, and it’s a hunter’s responsibility to recover their harvest no matter the situation. Hauling a 100+ pound deer up a ridge will cause anyone to break a sweat.

Sportsmen should be aware of their limitations to ensure they do not over-exhaust themselves while pursuing game. This concept is discussed in the National Bowhunter Education Foundation’s guide, Today’s Bowhunter:

“Conditions that hamper your physical ability to perform safely and responsibly while
hunting include: asthma, a heart condition, excess weight and poor physical conditioning.”

Hunters should stay hydrated and fuel their body with nutrient-rich foods. These are the fundamental steps in staying healthy. Kathleen Robinson, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America-certified personal trainer and personal training manager at 10 Fitness Maumelle, explains, “Dehydration causes fatigue and cravings for sugar and carbohydrates as energy sources.” Robinson continues, “More serious issues like certain infections can come from long-term dehydration, so drink to your health.”

Add a couple slices of lemon or cucumber for flavor, and keep a full cup of water nearby to stay hydrated all day.

Add a couple slices of lemon or cucumber for flavor, and keep a full cup of water nearby to stay hydrated all day.

Put in the work now to improve abilities during the season. Some simple changes in daily habits can yield good long-term results in the field:

1. Take the longer route when possible.
Parking further away forces you to be more active during daily tasks such as visiting the local outdoors shop or walking in to work every morning. These extra steps add up over time to help hike extra miles in the deer woods.

2. Skip the elevator.
Elevators are overrated. Opt for the stairs to add even more steps. Stairs also simulate inclines you’ll find in the field. Those hills aren’t going to climb themselves come hunting season.

3. Join a gym.
Gym memberships can be as cheap as $10 a month and offer a variety of machines for anyone to hop on and bust out an extra 20-30 minutes of heart-pumping cardio. Increase the incline on the machine to get your heartrate up and ready for climbing treestands.

4. Cut carbonation.
There is nothing healthy about a drink containing 30+ grams of sugar. Avoid “zero calorie” drinks also. They contain artificial sweeteners that have a worse effect on the body’s blood sugar levels. A sugar rush only leads to a crash and no one wants to be snoozing on the job or in the stand.

5. Avoid vending machines.
Bring homemade snacks to work or on the go. Snack bags packed with vegetables, fruit or even slices of deer jerky from last season will curb hunger longer than sugar-filled candy. Other snacks could include a handful of mixed nuts or two tablespoons of peanut butter.

6. Drink more water.
Robinson further explains why drinking water is important to everyone, “Staying hydrated is how the body cools itself, removes toxins and waste and helps to lubricate joints.” Add a couple slices of lemon or cucumber for flavor and keep a full cup nearby to stay hydrated all day.

Don’t try to do everything all at once. Take it one step at a time turning these simple daily tasks into habits. Overall, keep active in everyday life to be able to take the next step in your hunting adventures.

Paddlewheel and fountain aerators help add oxygen to small ponds during extremely hot periods.

Paddlewheel and fountain aerators help add oxygen to small ponds during extremely hot periods.

Anyone who has ever had their breath taken away after sitting in a car that’s been parked in the summer sun will tell you that even a momentary drop in oxygen can turn things upside down. The same holds true for fish if the dissolved oxygen in a pond or lake crashes.
According to Eric Brinkman, district fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in Hope, fish kills associated with low oxygen levels can be common in many small bodies of water during late summer.

“It can happen on any body of water or a section of a body of water, but the most common places we get fish kills like this are smaller ponds on people’s property,” Brinkman said.

Brinkman says the factors leading up to a fish kill because of low oxygen are more complex than the simple fact that hot water holds less oxygen.

“There’s a lot going on in summer,” Brinkman said. “Fish are cold-blooded creatures, so their metabolism rises with the temperature. A higher metabolism means more activity and more oxygen demand.”

The amount of fish in the system also is at its peak during the summer. Fish and insects that hatched all spring add more demand for the dissolved oxygen available.

“Summer also brings an abundance of vegetation, phytoplankton and zooplankton,” Brinkman said. “Which all use oxygen as well.”

Everyone who’s had third-grade science learned plants provide oxygen when they create sugars through photosynthesis, but plants also use part of that oxygen when they burn those sugars to survive.

“An abundance of fish, insects and plankton can consume a lot of dissolved oxygen, especially at night or during prolonged periods of cloudy weather, when photosynthesis slows due to lack of sunlight,” Brinkman said. “Typically fish kills from depleted oxygen will occur in the very early morning, just before sunup oxygen levels are at their lowest.”

Fish kills resulting from low oxygen also can happen during sudden events called “turnover.” During the hottest part of summer, water will separate, or stratify, into two distinct layers. The upper layer will be warmer and contain most of the oxygen. The bottom layer will be cold, and contains little or no oxygen. Most fish will be in the upper layer of the water column, often very close to where the two sections meet – called the thermocline. However, a cool rain or extreme cold front can cool the surface layer rapidly, which causes it to drop to the bottom of the pond, forcing the oxygen-poor layer to the surface zone holding the fish. The rapid drop in oxygen causes large fish kills, including all species present.

No matter the cause of oxygen loss, the best solution is aeration.

“Oxygen diffuses into the water from the surface quicker if there’s a lot of splashing and wave action,” Brinkman said. “On our hatcheries and on many farms with the proper equipment, a paddle-wheel aerator will get oxygen back into the system efficiently. A lower-cost option for ponds and small lakes is an aeration fountain to cause an adequate disturbance.”

Brinkman says once fish begin to go belly up, there’s not much that can be done, but investing in a fountain aerator definitely guards against oxygen loss and helps prevent the water from stratifying.
Another piece of advice for would-be pond owners is to limit the maximum depth of any small pond you build to less than 10 to 12 feet. Shallower systems do not stratify or turnover as easily.

“Many people think you should have some deeper water for fish to use as refuge during the hot summer months, but it’s actually a bad idea when you’re talking about smaller ponds,” Brinkman said.

Anything that adds nutrients to the system during summer also can increase the demand for oxygen. Overabundant fertilization, runoff from agriculture or sewage treatment areas and livestock waste all can increase the fertility of the system too much and eventually lead to a crash.

Telltale indicators that you may have a turnover occurring on a pond are an overnight change in the water color from relatively clear to a “chocolate milk” appearance, a foul, rotting smell and fish opening their mouths, or “piping,” at the surface of the water. These symptoms are much more prevalent in the morning just as the sun rises.

If a person sees a fish kill, they can call their local AGFC office and ask to speak to a fisheries biologist. They can walk you through a series of questions to determine whether the kill is due to oxygen depletion or if other factors are at play. A list of regional offices is available at http://www.agfc.com/aboutagfc/Pages/AboutRegionalOffices.aspx

John Duncan with yoyoguideservice.com finds crappie deep in summer.

John Duncan with yoyoguideservice.com finds crappie deep in summer.

Each spring, anglers comb the shallows at DeGray Lake in Hot Spring and Clark counties, probing tiny jigs and minnows at any likely looking spot in search of crappie. Rarely do anglers leave empty-handed when the dogwoods are blooming and the fish are spawning. But once summer’s heat sets in and the fish move out of the shallows, most anglers hang up the jigging poles or use the same tactics as spring, leaving the lake with hungry stomachs and a bare live well.

John Duncan, owner of yoyoguideservice.com says catching crappie once the spawn has ended can be just as good as when they’re on the beds. Anglers just have to switch to deep-thinking mode. Once the water’s surface temperature begins to creep into the 80s, crappie seek the comfort of cooler water found a little deeper.

“If you just look across the surface, there doesn’t seem to be hardly anything to hold fish, but it’s a different world under the water,” Duncan said. “The Corps [of Engineers], the Game and Fish and some local anglers have sunk a bunch of brush piles throughout the lake, you just have to look for them.”

The latest electronics can be extremely helpful in finding brush piles made of branches and woody cover, but can be tricky to read when searching for brush made of bamboo or river cane, materials extremely popular with crappie anglers.

Brush piles made of cane or bamboo often appear better on standard 2D sonar instead of side-imaging or down-imaging units.

Brush piles made of cane or bamboo often appear better on standard 2D sonar instead of side-imaging or down-imaging units.

“If you’re using a side-imaging depth finder, wood will show up easily, but bamboo brush piles may only look like a shadow on the bottom,” Duncan said. “Sometimes you have to go right over it before you can really see what it looks like.”

Anglers who can’t afford high-dollar electronics still can find plenty of offshore options for crappie, it just takes a little more effort and elbow grease. A five-gallon bucket, some hand-cut bamboo and some fast-setting concrete is all it takes to create your own brush piles and place them wherever you want.

“Bamboo offers excellent cover, and lasts for a few years in the water, but it’s much easier to work with and not as heavy when it’s time to place your brush pile,” Duncan said. “Just be sure to cut the bamboo where a node or stem is coming off the main stalk so it stays firmly in the concrete for years.”

Duncan says he’s placed about 24 “crappie condos” in DeGray Lake in the last year, and many have turned out very productive.

“You learn as you go along about where to place them,” Duncan said. “If you see a shoreline with a lot of cover, there’s already plenty for the fish to congregate on. Sink your cover in an area with a rocky bottom but no trees or vegetation and it usually is going to produce much better.”

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has plenty of fish attractors in DeGray Lake to get anglers started, and all of them are only a click of a mouse away. Just visit www.agfc.com and click on the “Interactive Map” icon underneath the banner on the front page. Zoom in to DeGray Lake, or any lake you’re interested in, to get the locations of any fish attractors found on that body of water.

“As time goes by, some of the attractors deteriorate or are moved by currents or anglers,” said Chris Racey, chief of fisheries for the AGFC. “So you need to get the GPS coordinates for as many as you can to make a ‘milk run’ until you find a good one.”

Racey also says it’s important to contact the owner of a lake before placing any fish attractors.

“Some agencies do not allow sinking brush in their lakes, while others have restrictions on the materials fish attractors may be made of,” Racey said. “

When Duncan hits the water to fish the deep brush he or others have planted, he wastes little time with lure selection. A minnow suspended underneath a slip float gets the nod almost every time when he’s guiding and serious about catching fish.

A standard slip-cork rig using a no. 6 cricket hook baited with a minnow gets the nod when Duncan's serious about catching fish with clients.

A standard slip-cork rig using a no. 6 cricket hook baited with a minnow gets the nod when Duncan’s serious about catching fish with clients.

“My boat is outfitted with enough rod holders to run 32 poles at once, but I rarely will put out more than two poles per person,” Duncan said. “On an older boat, I ran 12 poles with three jigs on each line, but one run-in with a school of white bass left me so tangled up it cured me of that chaos forever.”

One suggestion Duncan offers on the setup is to abandon the gold no. 2 or 4 Aberdeen crappie hooks often used with minnows. Instead, he uses the cricket hook popular with bream anglers in size no. 6. The smaller hook bends enough to free him of snags if needed, but doesn’t flex too much to let fish get away.

“Fishing brush in deep water can mean hitting a lot of brush piles until you find the one the fish want to be around, so I do everything I can to keep things moving quickly,” Duncan said. “A minute or two saved here and there retying can add up to hours of lost fishing time in the course of a month.”

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