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Sixth graders, teachers, parents and high-school volunteers from Vilonia all enjoyed a day of outdoor learning at the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower Tuesday, May 10.

Sixth graders, teachers, parents and high-school volunteers from Vilonia all enjoyed a day of outdoor learning at the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower Tuesday, May 10.

Nearly 270 sixth-grade students from Frank Mitchell Intermediate School in Vilonia were the first anglers to enjoy the latest improvement to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s shooting range in Mayflower at their annual fishing derby Tuesday.

Jodi Brewer, a sixth grade teacher at the school who coordinates the derby with the AGFC’s Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs program, said the derby continues to improve each year.

“I remember fishing in a derby when I went to Vilonia, but it went away for a while,” Brewer said. “We started it back up about five years ago and have had the event ever since.”

Brewer says restarting the event took a lot of trial and error.

“The first two years, we brought the kids out and just fished with some cane poles,” Brewer said. “During our second year, the kids fished all day and caught maybe four fish and a stick. Some even mentioned that they would have rather been in school. That’s when we called Dawn Cook with HOFNOD to learn how to do it better.”

Cook, HOFNOD coordinator for the AGFC, said she has a lot of schools come to workshops and learn how to keep their students interested during these all day events.

“You have to have a lot of different activities to keep them interested,” Cook said. “But that takes a lot of people and commitment from volunteers.”

Coach Will Black gave students some last-minute reminders about casting before they hit the water.

Coach Will Black gave students some last-minute reminders about casting before they hit the water.

In addition to teachers from the school, close to 100 parents and 25 high school students volunteered to help with the many stations needed to put on the huge event. Some led fun exercises such as scavenger hunts and fish bingo, while others baited hooks, untangled lines and helped release fish. Some parents even set up a cleaning station to filet fish if the students wanted to bring home their catch.

Cook says one of the best things about setting up fishing derbies like this is that all the students stay busy having a good time while they’re learning about different subjects. Those stations disguised as bingo and scavenger hunts actually are teaching the students fish anatomy and regulations. Other stations have more obvious subjects, such as smoking prevention and alcohol and drug abuse awareness.

“All of our HOFNOD materials are aligned with state education frameworks,” Cook said. “So it makes it easier for teachers to meet their needs while letting the kids have some fun.”

The lessons aren’t only crammed into a one-day derby. Teachers at Frank Mitchell Intermediate School present materials from HOFNOD trainings throughout the school year to teach many subjects. Before the students load up on the bus, they’ve had at least a few basic casting lessons in their Physical Education class.

“We have a set of rods and reels for the class to learn on in PE class,” said Will Black, physical education teacher for fifth and sixth grade at Frank Mitchell. “We also spend a lot of time playing a backyard bass game, where students cast at and catch fish-shaped targets to collect points.”

Brewer says the derby also is an excellent team-building exercise for most students.

“We have some kids that have ponds in their backyard at home and fish all the time, and then we have some who have never learned to cast a rod and reel,” Brewer said. “What’s really neat is that here, you’ll see some kids that never really interact with each other at school work together to help each other out catching fish.”

The pond where the students spent their time also is the result of an ongoing work in progress. While the range has always had one pond that hosted derbies, the new pond features a central island, dozens of artificial fish habitats and a clean shoreline ringed with soft grass.

“The pond actually is the borrow area from when the range’s berms needed to be rebuilt years ago,” said Grant Tomlin, range development program coordinator for the AGFC. “Clifton Jackson, former Family and Community Fishing Program Coordinator wanted to make it a location for that program, but it was surrounded by a thicket and a lot of people didn’t even know it was here.”

This was the first derby held at the new pond and the first class to attend Vilonia's new middle school after the school was demolished by a tornado in April 2014.

This was the first derby held at the new pond and the first class to attend Vilonia’s new middle school after the school was demolished by a tornado in April 2014.

AGFC staff worked to clear all the thick brush away and establish a more inviting shoreline. They also moved a culvert to build up a walkway around a low section of the pond that was always too swampy to walk around. But the pond still had a few problems.

“Each summer, the pond would just about evaporate away,” Tomlin said. “We’d get a dry spell and the water would just seep out, but at the end of last year, it was still holding a little water.”

Thanks to an extremely wet early spring, the new pond is actually a foot or two above its target level. Tomlin hopes the pond has established a firm enough bottom and will continue to be a great attraction to the range.

“It is open to youth 16 and younger whenever the shooting range is not operating,” Tomlin said. “Mondays, Tuesdays and any time after 4:30 p.m. the rest of the week.”

Visit http://www.agfc.com/hofnod for more information about Hooked on Fishing — Not on Drugs.

For information on the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower, visit www.agfc.com/aboutagfc/Pages/AboutFacilitiesRobinsonFR.aspx.

High school students volunteered to help bait hooks and teach about conservation at the derby.

High school students volunteered to help bait hooks and teach about conservation at the derby.

 

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Stocking Threadfin shad

Threadfin shad are a vital component of the food chain in many lakes. AGFC image.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has initiated a project to bring excellent fishing back to Greers Ferry Lake, and it all starts with what’s on the menu.

Early in 2015, many predator fish species in Greers Ferry Lake were exhibiting poor condition.

“It was evident in the crappie, largemouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass we sampled that there was not enough forage to support the predator population,” said Tom Bly, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Mayflower office. “There are many minnows and bream species in Greers Ferry, but gizzard shad and threadfin shad are the dominant forage species. Just about everything eats them.”

AGFC Fisheries Biologist Tom Bly stocking shad into Greers Ferry. AGFC image.

AGFC Fisheries Biologist Tom Bly stocking shad into Greers Ferry. AGFC image.

Bly says threadfin shad are the most preferred food of many predator fish because their maximum size is still easy for most predators to fit in their mouths, but they’re fragile.

“Threadfin shad are a subtropical and southern temperate fish that prefer warm water,” Bly said. Water temperatures in the low 40’s can cause significant mortalities in threadfin populations and the winters of 2014 and 2015 caused surface temperatures in Greers Ferry to plummet to less than 40 degrees for several weeks.”

Bly says shad in lakes as large as Greers Ferry can usually find refuge from the cold in deeper water. The species is very prolific and it does not take them long to recover from winterkill if enough survive to reproduce.”

Biologists became alarmed when intensive sampling of Greers Ferry last year failed to produce the first threadfin shad. Since you can’t make something from nothing, the AGFC developed a plan to reestablish the population through stocking.

Biologists stocked approximately 37,000 threadfin shad in late April to reestablish this important forage fish in the lake. This species is not readily available for stocking, nor is it raised in the AGFC hatchery system, so biologists purchased the shad from American Sport Fish of Montgomery, Alabama, a commercial facility with a long history of culturing threadfin that meets all of Arkansas’s disease testing and monitoring requirements for importing fish. Some of the fish were stocked directly into the lake, while many went into a nursery pond to grow and reproduce before being released.
“Threadfin typically spawn more than once a year and young produced in the first spawn, April or May, will be mature enough to spawn by August or September,” Bly said.
Bly says the entire management strategy for the lake will shift to bolstering the forage base. Direct stockings of threadfin to the lake will continue until the lake’s shad population shows signs of recovery. The lake’s nursery pond will be used to culture minnows, bluegill and threadfin as well to supplement the direct stockings.

“We also will not stock any predators until the forage population recovers,” Bly said. “This includes largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass. Once the forage recovers, we will stock these species in a manner that lends itself to a more sustainable fishery.”

Threadfin shad will repopulate quickly once reintroduced into the lake. AGFC image.

Threadfin shad will repopulate quickly once reintroduced into the lake. AGFC image.

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Bullfrog season runs April 15-Dec. 15 each year.

Bullfrog season runs April 15-Dec. 15 each year. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

April 15 marks one of the most stressful deadlines in America – tax day. It also marks the kickoff to one of the most exciting summer pursuits in Arkansas bayous, the opening of bullfrog season.
Bullfrogs can be found across Arkansas, but the heaviest concentrations usually are found along the many ponds, slow-moving streams and fish farms in the east half of the state. It may take some door-knocking and asking for permission, but many small, private ponds can prove worth the effort once you break out the gigging gear.

Fish farms and small private ponds make up the bulk of Arkansas's frog hunting destinations. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

Fish farms and small private ponds make up the bulk of Arkansas’s frog hunting destinations. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

Some froggers don waders or rubber boots to ease along the banks as quietly as possible, but many slide silently along in an aluminum johnboat or kayak, using only an electric trolling motor or a sculling paddle to get close to the easily spooked amphibians.
It’s possible to sneak up on a frog or two during the day, but the real action takes place at night, when spotlights and headlamps come into play. The reflective eyes of bullfrogs will shine brightly at the water’s edge, and the beam will daze the frog enough that a careful sneak can get you within arm’s reach. Then a fast stab with a gig or a quick grab of the hands will nab the fat frog before it can hop or swim away.
It’s usually a good idea to scan the bushes along the banks before making an approach on a frog as well. Plenty of spiders set up shop along the shore’s edge to catch their prey, and the webs can be a bit of a nuisance. More than one snake also has fallen into an unsuspecting frog gigger’s johnboat, causing him to nearly walk on water trying to get to the shore. Most water snakes are harmless and should be left alone, but that doesn’t make you feel any safer when they slide off a branch and thump down in the bottom of your boat.

A long gigging pole comes in handy when chasing frogs from a boat. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

A long gigging pole comes in handy when chasing frogs from a boat. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

Gigging frogs is more akin to hunting than angling, but participants need an Arkansas fishing license to participate. The limit is 18 bullfrogs per day, which runs from noon to noon. Along with grabbing them by hand and gigging, frogs may be taken by hand net, hook-and-line, spear or bow and arrow. Firearms and air guns may not be used.
Most folks who fry up a mess of frog’s legs may use the old “tastes like chicken” phrase to get a newcomer to try the delicacy. It usually doesn’t take any further prodding to get someone to eat more once they’ve tried them. Col. Sanders can’t compete with the tenderness and flavor of fresh frog’s legs done right.

 

 

 

 

Frog giggers may take up to 18 frogs per night and must have a valid fishing license. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

Frog giggers may take up to 18 frogs per night and must have a valid fishing license. Photo by Mike Wintroath.

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The tailwater below Greers Ferry Dam was home to the world-record brown trout for nearly two decades. Just because that record was broken doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of big fish and big action to be had on the Little Red River. Check out this “Talkin’ Outdoors” segment of anglers chasing the big bite on the Little Red.

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Adult zebra mussels up to 2 inches wide were found on a pontoon boat before it could be transported to Norfork Lake.

Adult zebra mussels up to 2 inches wide were found on a pontoon boat before it could be transported to Norfork Lake.


 

Thanks to the sharp eyes of a marina and boat transport service, Arkansas Game and Fish Biologists intercepted a vessel carrying hundreds of invasive zebra mussels on Jan. 6, 2016, before it could be launched in Norfork Lake.

Jeremy Risley, district fisheries supervisor for the AGFC said the boat had been housed in a marina slip at Bull Shoals, which has been infested with zebra mussels since 2007.

“The owner of the boat had just purchased it and had contracted the marina to move it to Norfork,” Risley said. “When the men who worked for the marina saw what they thought were zebra mussels on the boat, they called us to come out and inspect it.”

zebra mussels cause millions of dollars in damage each year to water intake structures and boats throughout the United States.

zebra mussels cause millions of dollars in damage each year to water intake structures and boats throughout the United States.

Upon inspection, the boat had many adult zebra mussels attached to its hull, motor and in its bilge area. Some of the mussels were as large as 2 inches. All zebra mussels will be removed from the boat and the vessel will require power washing and a 30-day drying period and final inspection before the boat can be launched into Norfork Lake.

To date, there have been no confirmed sightings of zebra mussels in Norfork Lake, Table Rock Lake or Beaver Lake, but the zebra mussels in Bull Shoals Lake saw a large population increase in 2014 and 2015. One adult female can produce between 10,000 and 50,000 larvae (called veligers) each time it spawns, and the species can spawn up to 5 times per year. It is still unclear how zebra mussel infestations will impact the overall health of the fishery, but they can cause native mussel populations to decline and cause serious damage to water intake pipes and other equipment left in the water. A report by the U.S. Department of State in 2009 estimated the total cost in the United States of the zebra mussel infestation from 2010 to 2020 at $3.1 billion.

“I really want to say thank you to the men who spotted the zebra mussels and called them in,” Risley said. “Any time you see something like this that doesn’t look right, it’s always best to ask for help to make sure you’re doing the right thing.”

Visit cleandraindry.org to learn how you can help stop zebra mussels and other invasive species.

Visit cleandraindry.org to learn how you can help stop zebra mussels and other invasive species.

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Old Christmas trees are ideal cover for many species of game fish.

Old Christmas trees are ideal cover for many species of game fish.

Once the wrapping paper has been thrown away and the last drop of egg nog has been consumed, few people have a use for that evergreen tree that graced their home during the holiday season. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has a new job for those leftover trees – as fish habitat.

The AGFC has drop-off locations across the state to let your old Christmas tree have a second life as underwater cover.

Jason Olive, AGFC assistant chief of fisheries, says the small spaces and dense cover offered by fresh Christmas trees make excellent nursery habitat for small fish.

Christmas trees at AGFC drop-off locations are available for any angler to sink.

Christmas trees at AGFC drop-off locations are available for any angler to sink.

“In ponds where we’ve sunk Christmas trees, we’ve seen increased growth in smaller fish,” said Olive. “Young bass, crappie and bream and baitfish all benefit from the cover, and larger gamefish will be attracted to the smaller fish.”

Anglers are welcome to remove trees from drop-off locations to create their own fish attractors. Olive suggests using parachute cord and cinder blocks to weigh trees down.

“Sink groups of Christmas trees together,” said Olive. “Within two to three years, you won’t have much left except the trunks, but when we drained Lower White Oak Lake in Ouachita County recently, we saw several nice piles of Christmas tree trunks that were still good fish habitat after 12 years of being in the water.”

Trees should be clean of all ornaments, lights and tinsel before they are dropped off. Artificial Christmas trees should not be used as fish habitat, either.

Trees can be dropped off at any of the following locations until the end of January:

Central Arkansas

  • Arkansas River – Alltel Access beneath the I-30 Bridge.
  • Greers Ferry Lake – Sandy Beach (Heber Springs), Devils Fork Recreation Area and Choctaw Recreation Area (Choctaw-Clinton).
  • Lake Conway – Lawrence Landing Access.
  • Harris Brake Lake – Chittman Hill Access.
  • Lake Overcup – Lake Overcup Landing.
  • Lake Barnett – Reed Access.
  • Lake Hamilton – Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery Access Area.

Northeast Arkansas

  • Jonesboro – Craighead Forest Park Lake boat ramp.
  • Lake Dunn – Boat Ramp Access.
  • Lake Poinsett – Dam Access Boat Ramp.

Northwest Arkansas

  • Beaver Lake – Highway 12 Access and AGFC Don Roufa Hwy 412 Access.
  • Lake Elmdale – Boat Ramp Access.
  • Bob Kidd Lake – Boat Ramp Access.
  • Crystal Lake – Boat Ramp Access.

Southeast Arkansas

  • Lake Chicot – Connerly Bayou Access Area.
  • Cox Creek Lake – Cox Creek Lake Access Area.

Southwest Arkansas

  • Bois d’Arc Lake – Kidd’s Landing or Hatfield Access.
  • Millwood Lake – Cottonshed, White Cliffs Recreation Areas and the Millwood State Park ramp on the point.
  • Dierks Lake – Jefferson Ridge South Recreation Area.
  • DeQueen Lake – Any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp.
  • Gillham Lake – Any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp.
  • Lake Greeson – New Cowhide Cove and Self Creek Recreation Areas.
  • Camden – AGFC Regional Office on Ben Lane.
  • Upper White Oak Lake – Upper Jack’s Landing.
  • Magnolia – Columbia County Road Department Yard on Highway 371.
  • El Dorado – City recycling center drop-offs: one behind Arby’s and one on South Jackson.
  • Smackover – Recycling Drop-Off Center (these will be transported to El Dorado).
  • South Fork Lake – South Fork Lake Access.
  • Terre Noire Lake – Terre Noire Lake Access.

 

Sink Christmas trees in bundles, so the pile of trunks can attract fish long after the branches have rotted away.

Sink Christmas trees in bundles, so the pile of trunks can attract fish long after the branches have rotted away.

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Watch how Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Biologists search for and research one of Arkansas’s oldest fish species. The alligator gar has been found in fossil records dating back 100 million years. These giant gar are becoming less common in The Natural State, and biologists are working to keep the species swimming in Arkansas waters.

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