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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.

20171206bull shoalsAs cold fronts finally begin to push the mercury down in Arkansas, many fair-weather fishermen have called it quits for the season, but that doesn’t mean the work stops for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Fisheries biologists and technicians from across the state have been diligently working for the last week to enhance fishing opportunities on Bull Shoals Lake in northwest Arkansas, even though many anglers won’t see the impact of these efforts until the weather warms.

More than 35 fisheries staff members, over one-third of the entire division, have worked shifts cutting trees from the shoreline and sinking them in predetermined locations to create fish attractors for anglers to key on when the fish move offshore.

“As part of the Fisheries Division’s strategic management plan, we do two major habitat projects like this and at least eight smaller ones per year,” said Jeremy Risley, AGFC regional fisheries biologist in Mountain Home. “This one was supposed to have happened in May and June, but due to high water at that time, we transferred that effort to Lake Chicot.”

The AGFC used PVC structures at Chicot because the majority of shoreline is privately owned. At Bull Shoals, however, biologists were able to cut and gather trees to create natural fish attractors through a special agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“If we can find a few good oaks, they’ll last a long time,” Risley said. “But cedars offer a little denser, more complex cover to the brush pile and can last up to 10 years or so. We’re looking for 8- to 12-inch diameter cedars, so they’ll last much longer than Christmas trees that are good for about a year or so.”

Risley says the primary benefit of the brush pile attractors is for anglers. The brush piles offer baitfish places to hide and predatory fish, such as bass and crappie, places to ambush the baitfish. While brush along the bank may offer some nursery cover, studies have not shown a substantial increase in the survival of young-of-the-year fish in lakes this large. Instead, naturally occurring cycles of high and low water have much more impact in spawning success and survival of young bass, crappie and bream.

“Spawning success during high-water years really drives the system,” Risley said. “Through our population samples, we can see nearly 10 times the productivity as average years.”

Most of the brush piles have been placed in locations that will be 20 to 30 feet deep when the lake is at full pool.

“The attractors will help concentrate bass, crappie, walleye, catfish, and most any other fish other than open water species like striped bass,” Risley said. “People will be able to get the GPS coordinates for these attractors when the fish move off the banks and hopefully find them out there.”

This isn’t the first time Bull Shoals has seen a major effort to create fish attractors from shoreline brush. In fact, the areas where these trees are being placed may have some remnants from earlier work.

“A lot of habitat work has taken place here in the past,” Risley said. “Mark Oliver, who was the chief of fisheries for many years, actually did a lot of habitat work here when he was a regional biologist.”

Risley says fish attractors and deep-water habitat have been added to Bull Shoals since at least 1988. Since then, the AGFC and its partners have placed more than 500 attractors in the lake. Biologists determined areas of the lake in need of maintenance and picked locations that have been popular with anglers to come up with a list of areas to enhance.

“Last week we were able to sink four to five trees at 42 sites, and we’re hoping to get 80 sites completed by the end of this week,” Risley said. “The first week focused on Howard Creek and sites near the County Road 15 Access, and this week we’re working hard on locations in and around Jimmie Creek.”

Efforts to increase fish attractors along the Arkansas-Missouri line have been bolstered by a special habitat barge donated by Bass Pro Shops in 2005. The customized 25-foot pontoon boat was designed to drag brush from the shore or load it on an open deck to be dumped at a site, and has been instrumental in many habitat enhancements over the years.

“We have three habitat barges working on the project, but this one really does a great job of pulling the brush from the shore because of the way its motor is mounted for added pulling power,” Risley said. “Our other barges work OK, but this one has really been a huge help for this project on Bull Shoals.”

Once the project is complete, the location of new fish attractors will be added and details of existing attractor locations will be updated on the AGFC’s interactive map at https://www.agfc.com/en/resources/maps.

CWD Ponca Check StationSeventy new cases of chronic wasting disease have been found in Arkansas since deer season opened in September, according to samples collected by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists, taxidermists and veterinarians. Although the number of positive cases is high, no samples from new areas of the state have been found so far. The disease has been found in Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Newton, Pope and Searcy counties since September.

Cory Gray, manager of the AGFC’s Research, Education and Compliance Division, says overall the results have been as good as can be expected.

“We have taken more than 2,400 samples so far this season, and we have several batches of samples still at the laboratory,” Gray said. “But most of the positive cases are reinforcing where we believe the disease is most prevalent. Once we have completed this year’s sampling, we hopefully will have a clearer picture of disease distribution.”

Gray says hunters who turn in samples that come back positive for CWD are being notified as soon as possible, and any hunter can check www.arkansascwd.com to look up their sample’s status to have some added piece of mind. Biologists will work with hunters to collect and dispose of any meat from CWD-positive animals and reinstate their game tag if possible.

“If a positive sample is returned from a county which doesn’t currently have CWD, we will follow our standard protocol and confirm that sample through an additional test,” Gray said. “If that test also comes back positive, we will issue a release to make sure hunters in that area are informed.”

Gray says the AGFC’s partnership with taxidermists around the state continues to be invaluable to both the hunters and the agency.

“Last year we worked with taxidermists to gather samples from deer turned in to be mounted, but this year we’ve really tried to advertise to people that any deer can be taken to one of our participating taxidermists to have a CWD sample pulled for free,” Gray said. “We don’t have the manpower to pull samples all over the state throughout the entire deer season, so this partnership really helps give hunters peace of mind about their deer and helps us continue to monitor for the disease outside the focal area, where we know we have it.”

Any hunter who harvests a deer still can have the animal tested by taking the head with about 6 inches of neck attached to one of the participating taxidermists listed on www.arkansascwd.com.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects members of the deer/elk family. It was first described in 1967 in Colorado and since has spread to 23 additional states, Canada, South Korea, and Norway. It was discovered in Arkansas in February 2016, and has since been found in 288 deer or elk in Arkansas after thousands of deer have been tested from across the state.

It is similar to “mad cow disease” in cattle. These diseases are caused by misshapen proteins called prions, which accumulate in the tissues of affected animals, especially the brain, spinal cord, and lymph nodes. Infected animals will not show signs of disease at first, but late in the disease process, they will be thin and may demonstrate weakness, abnormal behavior, excessive thirst or drooling.

There has been no confirmed case of CWD affecting humans or livestock, but with an abundance of caution, the Centers for Disease Control recommends hunters test their harvested game and warns that people should not consume any deer or elk known to have CWD.

ALERT  App update available.

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People who have enjoyed the AGFC hunting and fishing app for the last seven years may notice a few changes taking place behind the scenes. With the redesign of http://www.agfc.com, many old links no longer function unless users update their app though iTunes or Google Play’s Android App Store.

Fishing for Catfish

Protecting yourself from the heat and sun should be top priority for summer anglers.

Fun in the sun often brings to mind pictures of relaxing on a boat, enjoying all the Arkansas outdoors has to offer. Whether you’re catching bass, crappie or bream, or just catching a few rays, it’s important to keep in mind that too much of a good thing can be damaging to your health.

Overexposure to the sun and indulging in too many alcoholic beverages top the list of dangers that can turn an otherwise relaxing trip to the lake into a nightmare. Each year, wildlife officers and other first responders are called to boat ramps and banks throughout the state in response to someone who’s had a little too much of either.

Tod Johnson, Assistant Boating Law Administrator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says with the varieties of sunscreen and products available to fight against overexposure, there’s really no reason not to take a little extra precaution on the water.

“You know, when I was younger I remember running around in the hot sun in blue jean cutoffs all day without thinking about sunscreen, but we’ve learned a lot since then,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t let my daughter go out without some sunscreen on. Not just for sunburns, but because we know repeated exposure to the sun can cause long-term damage to the skin and even skin cancer.”

Johnson says he’s seen the shift in thought from sun-worshiper to informed outdoorsperson, particularly in middle-aged and older anglers. But younger anglers also are paying a little more attention to old Sol’s impact.

“I see a lot more boats out there with canopies or tops nowadays,” Johnson said. “Even the bass boats we patrol in all day have retractable canopies to block the sun. And you see more anglers wearing thin, long-sleeved shirts made of UV-protective materials. Some die-hard anglers have even adopted wearing lightweight facemasks and gloves to prevent too much exposure to the sun.”

Johnson says people wanting to cover up should pay attention to the UV protection rating of the clothes they choose for days on the water.

“A plain cotton shirt doesn’t block all the UV rays, but new materials that do protect you are lightweight and comfortable enough to wear all day,” Johnson said.

Sun not only stings the skin, but it saps your body of moisture, which can cause dehydration. Sugary or carbonated drinks can magnify the drying effect of the exposure to UV rays. It’s always smart to have some extra drinking water nearby and remember to take an occasional drink, even if you don’t feel all that thirsty.

“Alcohol isn’t something to rehydrate with, either,” Johnson said. “A lot of people may think a cold beer or alcoholic beverage will work, but alcohol actually reduces the amount of water that gets into their cells.”

Aside from contributing to dehydration, alcohol impairs judgment and can cause very dangerous situations for boaters and their passengers. The effects of alcohol are more potent when out in the summer heat because of natural stress factors like the sun, wind and waves rocking of the boat.

“A person who might have a drink or two at home and not feel anything may discover that same amount of alcohol really impairs their response time, balance and judgment when they combine it with the common surroundings of summer boating.”

This summer, be safe. Take the simple steps that could save your life. Summer heat and alcohol are such mundane things that their dangers are easily overlooked. Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen or protective clothing and pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you decide to drink, be aware of the added effects of the sun and don’t operate the boat. A designated driver is just as important on a boat as he or she is in a car.

Rainbow trout caught on spinner

MOUNTAIN HOME — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will host a special public workshop from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., August 3 at the Vada Sheid Community Development Center in Convention Center Rooms A and B to begin reviewing the trout management plans for the Bull Shoals and Norfork tailwaters. The center is located on the Arkansas State University Mountain Home campus.

The current trout management plans for the 92 and 4.5 mile trout fisheries on the White and North Fork of the White Rivers below Bull Shoals and Norfork Dams were developed in 2007. Management actions outlined in the plans were implemented, and the AGFC is trying to determine if these strategies have worked and whether public expectations of the fishery have changed.

“As part of our continued effort to keep the public involved, we want to give concerned anglers and stakeholders the opportunity to give input on the direction of the fishery,” said Christy Graham, Trout Management Supervisor. “We want to make sure these fisheries are the best they can be and are meeting the expectations of our anglers.”

The public meeting is the first step of the revision, which is scheduled to occur every five years in the future.

Progress of the tailwaters’ management plan revisions will be posted on http://www.agfc.com throughout the process. For more information, contact Graham at 877-425-7577.

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