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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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02142018Mississippi CWDVICKSBURG – A tissue sample collected Jan. 25 from a free-ranging white-tailed deer in extreme southern Issaquena County, Mississippi, returned the first known positive test of chronic wasting disease in the state.
The 4½-year-old buck died about 8 miles north of Vicksburg and was reported to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. The buck was found about 45 miles south-southeast of the southeastern corner of Arkansas.
According to a Feb. 9 press release, MDWFP implemented its CWD response plan, although the release did not go into detail about specific steps. Supplemental deer feeding was immediately banned in Claiborne, Hinds, Issaquena, Sharkey, Warren and Yazoo counties.
Issaquena County is across the Mississippi River from East Carroll Parish in Louisiana. Issaquena County, East Carroll Parish and Arkansas’s Chicot County meet in the southeastern corner of Arkansas and the northeastern corner of Louisiana. The northern boundary of Issaquena County is almost directly across the Mississippi River from the Arkansas-Louisiana state line.
Cory Gray, chief of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Research Education and Compliance Division, says biologists from Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana are already planning to meet and discuss future actions so each state can be on the same page.
“The discovery came at a difficult time to gather samples, as hunting season is nearly over in Arkansas with only a few bowhunters still looking for a deer,” Gray said. “We are reaching out to hunting clubs in the southeast corner of the state to keep a sharp eye out for any deer showing signs of CWD and to report it immediately.”
Gray says the AGFC plans to collect more hunter-harvested samples from the southeast corner of the state during the 2018-19 deer season. Other samples will come from target animals from public reports and roadkills.
“We are about to enter another season of collecting roadkill samples, and have already spoken to local biologists to increase that effort as much as possible,” Gray said. “From February 19 through April 1, we ask anyone seeing a road-killed deer to report it to our hotline at 1-800-482-9262. Anyone seeing any deer that shows signs of CWD should be reported to the same number immediately, day or night.”
For details about CWD developments in Mississippi, visit mdwfp.com.
For information about CWD in Arkansas, visit http://www.agfc.com/cwd.

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Frog Bayou WMAThe Arkansas Game and Fish Commission added more than 2,220 acres of access for hunters and anglers in 2017. Land for waterfowl hunting, upland game and bat conservation highlight the improvements for wildlife. A state-of-the-art weigh-in facility in Northwest Arkansas, new access for paddlers on Crooked Creek and additional bank fishing opportunity on one of the AGFC’s oldest lakes round out some of the improvements for 2017 for anglers.

 

Frog Bayou Jumps to Three Times its Size

Frog Bayou Wildlife Management Area in Crawford County has quickly become one of the most popular public lands for waterfowl hunting in the western half of the state. Popularity can lead to crowded conditions in small WMAs, but thanks to a partnership with the Trust for Public Land and Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grants, the AGFC nearly tripled the size of this popular waterfowl-hunting and wildlife-viewing destination in June 2017. The purchase of 1,390 acres adjacent to Frog Bayou WMA has been pursued by the AGFC for many years, and thanks to a recent sale of the property, this land is now available for the public.

“Expanding Frog Bayou has been a high priority,” said Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator. “But many complications with multiple ownerships surrounding the property had made it difficult to pursue until recently.”

The Trust for Public Land facilitated adding the property to the WMA by securing a purchase agreement with the landowner, acquiring the property and conveying to AGFC as grant funding became available. This enabled the AGFC to go through the proper channels to secure Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds. The total purchase price of the property was $4.54 million, 75 percent of which was brought in through Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds.

 

Public Quail Habitat a Stone’s Throw from Central Arkansas

The Commission reinforced its commitment to northern bobwhite management at its March 2017 meeting when it purchased 989 acres of fields and upland habitat bordering a portion of the Camp Robinson Special Use Area in Faulkner County. The new area is named Stone Prairie WMA, and will be managed separately from the Special Use Area.

“Stone Prairie has an ideal mix of open lands that lend well to our northern bobwhite initiative,” said Steven Fowler, assistant chief of the AGFC’s Wildlife Management Division. “It’s proximity to Camp Robinson (special use area) makes it a good fit to expand hunting opportunities in that area.”

 

Bat Restoration Leads to Gulf Mountain WMA expansion

Although the Diamond Pipeline was surrounded by controversy in 2017, hunters will see some new land on Scott Henderson Gulf Mountain WMA thanks to mitigation requirements derived from its path. A 240-acre tract of land bordering the WMA in Van Buren County was added in an effort to offset the impacts the project may have on habitat available for the threatened northern long-eared bat. Diamond Pipeline LLC, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arkansas Field Office, contributed $5.1 million to work with state and federal agencies, non-profits and private landowners to acquire, restore and protect an estimated 3,000 acres of forested northern long-eared bat habitat in perpetuity. The species has been documented on the 240-acres added to Gulf Mountain WMA, but recreational activities will not conflict with the habitat requirements of the species.

 

Anglers and AGFC Partner at Prairie Creek

Teamwork with local anglers was the key to a major improvement for Beaver Lake bass anglers this year with the addition of an impressive weigh-in facility at Prairie Creek.

“Prairie Creek is the most utilized access on Beaver Lake,” said Jon Stein, AGFC fisheries biologist for northwest Arkansas. “It has a six-lane boat ramp and a parking lot that can handle tournaments as large as 190 boats.”

Stein says the project began after local anglers spoke to him and Colton Dennis, the AGFC’s Black Bass Program coordinator, explaining their need and willingness to help in the project. He was able to secure a grant through the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

“Anglers came forward to pledge their commitment to the project,” Stein said.

In all, anglers contributed $32,500 worth of in-kind donations to the project and the AGFC contributed $41,250 of funding. This was enough matching money to secure $221,250 from federal grants to bring the total project cost to $295,000.

The facility has a 24-foot-by-36-foot pavilion and 42-foot laminated wood amphitheater. Two holding tanks are for anglers to keep their fish in while they wait to weigh-in. Water from the lake will be pumped into the tanks and an air blower will aerate them to ensure fish stay as healthy as possible during weigh-ins.

 

George’s Creek Access Makes Crooked Creek a Faster Float

The section of Crooked Creek between Snow and Kelly’s Slab not only harbors huge smallmouth, but also is one of the most picturesque stretches of stream in the state. A new access on Old U.S. Highway 62 west of Yellville will make it possible to enjoy without investing an entire day.

“If you want to fish that stretch, you are looking at a good 8 to 10 hours from put-in to take-out,” Mike Cantrell, AGFC regional maintenance contract coordinator, said. “Our new access on George’s Creek splits that float almost in half, making it much easier to get out for an afternoon or morning float when you don’t have a full day to fish.”

According to Cantrell, people parked along the Old U.S. Highway 62 just upstream and dragged their canoes and kayaks a few hundred yards downstream to meet up with Crooked Creek.

“At the new access, people can pull right down to the water on the concrete ramp and unload their canoes instead of dragging,” Cantrell said. “We even built a canoe loading ramp and handicapped access.”

Users can unload canoes at the ramp, put in all their gear and walk the canoe down the sidewalk before driving their car back up to the parking area. The added feature makes getting into the water much easier and helps keep things moving when a few groups are trying to get in the water at the same time.

In addition to the ramp, there’s roughly 6,000 square feet of parking and a 1,000-foot section of road connecting the access to Old Highway 62.

The project, funded by marine fuel tax dollars and Sport Fish Restoration Funds, was dedicated in May to Mark Oliver, the recently retired chief of the AGFC Fisheries Division, who pursued this access for many years to make it a reality.

 

Lake Conway Access Adds Reach for Bank Anglers

Anyone who has driven over the Arkansas Highway 89 Bridge at Lake Conway has likely seen a boat or bank fisherman nearby searching for crappie. During fall and winter, this area can become extremely crowded with cars, as many people have learned that the deep water of the channel congregates slab-sized crappie during cold weather. Unfortunately, this means many cars parked along the highway, creating a dangerous situation. But the Commission’s purchase of 1.3 acres near the bridge in March 2017 may improve things dramatically for shorebound anglers looking to enjoy a day on the bank.

Tom Bly, AGFC district fisheries biologist in Mayflower, says anglers have always parked along the bridge’s right-of-way established by the Arkansas Department of Transportation and walked to the water to fish, but a small piece of land adjacent to that area became available a few years back, and was finally able to be purchased last year.

“Right now it’s just a cleared and bushhogged piece of land,” Bly said. “But we plan to put a parking lot in there that can hold 10 to 15 cars. The bank will be accessible from the location as well, and we hope to include a handicapped-accessible fishing pier in the future with an intensive habitat project around it.”

Although boat launching will not be possible from the new access, Bly says there may be enough space to launch a canoe or kayak at the area, but his main goal in the access is to increase bank-fishing opportunities and safety for anglers looking for a quick trip to the water.

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Stock the RockCold weather means cold water, and that means the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is busy stocking Family and Community Fishing Program ponds with rainbow trout for anglers to enjoy.

“We’re right in the middle of stocking up ponds across the state with trout from our Spring River hatchery in Mammoth Spring,” said Clint Coleman, FCFP assistant coordinator. “Not only that, but we have special tags on some of the trout that anglers can send in to the AGFC to claim an extra prize. We’ll also have a grand prize drawing for fly-fishing rods and reels, fishing clothes and other angling gear.”

The FCFP also will host a special trout-fishing clinic at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Jan. 25, to teach people how to tackle the challenge of trout fishing and a special fishing event at MacArthur Park Pond in Little Rock from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Jan. 27, to try their hand chasing rainbows.

“Many people hear ‘trout fishing’ and think it’s too complicated to give a try, but nothing could be further from the truth,” said Maurice Jackson, FCFP coordinator. “Fishing for trout can be as simple as a cane pole and bobber, or as complicated as hand-tied flies and fly rods, depending on how in-depth a person wants to get. For most of us just looking at having a good time and catching some fish to eat, trout are a great fish to target.”

Anglers 15 and younger do not need a license or trout stamp to fish in Arkansas, and the derby is free. Anglers 16 and older are welcome to fish as well, but they must have a valid AGFC fishing license and trout stamp, available to purchase at www.agfc.com/buyalicense. Anglers must bring their own bait and tackle, and chairs or coolers to sit on are strongly encouraged.

Coleman says trout stockings will run through February, but once spring rolls around the water in the ponds will be too warm to support these coldwater fish. Then the ponds will receive channel catfish raised and grown to catchable sizes in the AGFC’s warmwater hatcheries.

Visit www.agfc.com/familyfishing to find a local pond, see when it was last stocked, and learn more about the Family and Community Fishing Program.

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Sinking Christmas trees as fish habitats in a channel off the Arkansas RiverOnce 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.

Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, says the Christmas tree program functions just like a “take-a-penny, leave-a-penny” tray, except it’s for fish.

“Anyone who wants to drop off a natural tree can place it at a location on the list, and anyone who wants to sink a few trees to create their own little honey hole can do that as well,” Coleman said. “You just need to bring your own parachute cord, wire, rope and cinder blocks to sink the trees.”

Coleman says artificial trees are not allowed at the drop off locations, and all trees should be cleaned of ornaments and tinsel before being dropped off.

Christmas trees typically only last a year or two before all that’s left is the main trunk, so Coleman suggests anglers sink groups of trees together. This way, the site is still attractive to baitfish and sport fish long after the smaller branches and needles have rotted away.

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 Bono – Boat Ramp Access
  • Lake Dunn – Boat Ramp Access
  • Lake Poinsett – Dam Access Boat Ramp
  • Lake Walcott – Crowley’s Ridge State Park Boat Ramp Access

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
  • Lake Monticello – Hunger Run Access
  • 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
  • Hope – AGFC Regional Office on Hwy. 67 East

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Trout  fishing on the White near Buffalo CityNative to Europe, the German brown trout found in the tailwaters of Beaver, Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry dams, typically start their spawning run during fall and winter, offering die-hard anglers a chance at some fantastic fishing. But biologists ask anglers to keep a conservation mindset when chasing these gems of the tailwater so everyone will be able to enjoy them for years to come.

Chief among fishing faux pas with the wading community is the destruction of trout nests, called redds, which serve to keep the population going.

Christy Graham, trout program coordinator, says anglers should be aware of spawning activities and the damage caused when redds or spawning trout are disturbed.

“The AGFC Trout Management Program recommends anglers be mindful of spawning activity during this time of the year and to be careful when wade fishing to avoid trampling over redds,” Graham said. “Anglers should also be aware that there are some seasonal regulations in effect that coincide with the brown trout spawning season on both the White and Little Red Rivers.”

Trout are nest guarders, and they can be nest robbers. Removing a large brown trout from the redd it is guarding not only can cause harm to an already stressed fish, but enables predators, including other trout, to destroy the redd. Simply walking through a trout redd can have disastrous results, which is why the Bull Shoals Catch-and-Release Area along Bull Shoals White River State Park is closed to angling from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 each year. An additional area becomes catch-and-release angling only during this time, to ensure spawning trout are not removed from the tailwater during the spawn.

According to Graham, trout redds can be identified fairly easily. They appear as clean, oval patches of small to medium-sized gravel and are typically 2 to 3 feet in diameter. The gravel in them is typically lighter-colored than surrounding gravel. There may be a small depression or mound, where gravel has been excavated and deposited over the eggs.

Fishing the trout spawn can produce some exciting action because extremely large brown trout tend to show themselves a bit more and become more aggressive during this time. But many dyed-in-the-wool trout anglers will avoid fishing for spawning fish entirely. Rainbow trout and cutthroats often produce some exceptional fishing on egg patterns and corn during this time because of their tendency to capitalize on brown trout eggs that become dislodged from nests and float downstream.

“If you do end up fishing around spawning areas for browns, there are a few things you can do to lessen the damage caused by angling during this time,” Graham said. “We always want anglers to use the best possible catch-and-release practices, but it’s even more critical during the spawn.”

Graham says aside from avoiding the spawning fish entirely, anglers can help provide next year’s fish by following a few simple steps. Avoid snagging fish, no matter how tempting it can be to “set the hook a little early.” Use barbless hooks to minimize damage to the fish’s mouth and land the fish as quickly as possible. Wet your hands to land the fish and minimize the amount of time it stays out of the water, so that it may return to its redd as soon as possible.

Visit http://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/sportfish/trout for more information about trout fishing in Arkansas.

 

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Squirrel Hunting on Wattensaw WMAThe deer rut isn’t the only game in town when it comes to winter hunts that get the blood pumping. Mid- to late December beckons an intense period of breeding activity for another animal in the deer woods, and most people have watched it happen while sitting in their tree stand.

“Most folks will get on their deer stand during the Christmas deer hunt and see a parade of squirrels, chasing each other, barking, and creating so much noise you’d think there was a herd of deer walking behind you,” said Clifton Jackson, small game program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “You’ll see a bunch of them, nine or more even, all chasing each other around chattering back and forth. What’s going on is that a female is in heat and all the males are picking up on that scent.”

Because they belong to the same family of mammals as rodents like mice and rats, squirrels often are thought of as year-round breeders, pumping out litter after litter of young. In fact, gray squirrels and fox squirrels are seasonal breeders, much like deer. Squirrels typically only breed once or twice per year, depending on their age and available mast crop. According to “Squirrel Dog Basics” by David Osborne only 20 to 40 percent of adult squirrels will breed twice per year, even after exceptional mast crops.

Jackson says the spring rut usually occurs in mid-May, when squirrel season opens in Arkansas. This is when the young squirrels born in early spring leave the nest and the female becomes receptive again if enough food has been available. The second rut occurs in December, once the squirrels have cached a fair bit of acorns and nuts for winter.

“Squirrel hunting can get tough before the rut because the squirrels won’t stay still,” Jackson said. “In early fall, you’ll see them sit still and work on a nut or acorn. That will give you time to get off a good shot, but later in fall, they’re moving all over the place. Last weekend, I went with three other dedicated squirrel hunters, and we only killed about three squirrels with rifles. We saw dozens, but they wouldn’t sit still long enough for a clean shot. Once the rut kicks in, they get distracted and are much easier to get close to. They also will stop and chatter with each other and hold still long enough for a good shot.”

Late-season squirrel hunting offers a different challenge than October outings. The leaves have fallen from the trees, which makes it easier to see them, but it also makes you easier to see as well.

“A shotgun might help gather some for the freezer with all the movement you get this time of year, but getting close to them is much more difficult in December,” Jackson said. “Not only are the woods more open, but the leaves are on the ground and sound off to every step you take.”

Jackson always prefers a rimfire rifle, but really touts its use during late season because it will offer at least a chance at a longer shot instead of being busted trying to get within range.

Where to train your eyes to look for squirrels also changes with in winter. In early fall, you scan the trees for shaking branches and listen for acorn hulls raining to the forest floor. In winter, Jackson suggests keeping your focus lower when slipping through the woods in search of squirrels.

“Most of the acorns have either fallen to the ground or been tucked away in caches by now,” Jackson said. “So I try to look at chest level and below for movement.”

Squirrels usually don’t try to cause as much racket when the trees are bare and the leaves are piled high on the ground. They will run along logs, careen off tree trunks and work their way through branches to avoid giving away their position. That is, unless they’re in pursuit of a female in heat. Then they tend to lose their better judgment.

“I also look for areas where they are still scratching around in leaves, especially as dry as it has been this year.”

Jackson says that although much of the acorns in the woods have been eaten or “squirreled away” by now, those left are still in good condition because the drier than normal conditions have prevented them from rotting or germinating. Squirrels will still bury a few here and there, and hunters can see where they are kicking up leaves to get to them.

The late season also offers the advantage of being able to catch a few more minutes of shuteye before heading to the woods. Hunters walking the woods during early season may have to watch a lot of movement before the sun peaks over the horizon to present a clear shot. In winter, the bushytails tend to wait until they have a little light before venturing from their nests and dens to warm up.

Getting up a little later makes it much easier to convince kids to join you in the woods as well. Sitting still for hours isn’t required, you’re likely to at least see some squirrels on every outing, and if you time it right, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a bushytail off guard and let kids take a few shots. The cold may require a little more clothing, but squirrels aren’t too picky about camouflage. After all, they’ve been barking at hunters wearing blaze orange all deer season.

Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/small-game/squirrel for information on squirrel season dates and limits.

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