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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Maumelle River Water Trail

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

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

Crooked Creek Water Trail

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

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

Wattensaw Bayou Water Trail

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

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

Bayou DeView Water Trail

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

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

Rabbit Tail Water Trail

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

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

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

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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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01102017PatFittsDirectorThe Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced today that Pat Fitts will become the agency’s 18th director in its 102-year history. Fitts will replace Jeff Crow, who announced his resignation Oct. 10. The appointment was announced during a special called meeting earlier today and becomes effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Fitts’ previous position was as the agency’s assistant deputy director – a position he’s held since April. Before that he was colonel of the agency’s Enforcement Division.

He has been with the agency for 29 years, and began his career as a fisheries technician at the Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery in Lonoke. Fitts has a bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife management from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

Commission Chairman Steve Cook said Fitts has demonstrated the character, initiative and work ethic necessary to lead the agency.

“Pat’s unique skills, experience and drive make him the right person to spearhead the mission of the AGFC,” Cook said. “His ability to interact with the public and continue to manage this agency made him a natural for this position.”

Fitts said he was determined to strengthen the AGFC’s legacy as he takes over the leadership of the agency.

“I’m blessed to have spent my entire adult life serving alongside amazing people protecting our valuable natural resources,” Fitts said. “It’s a humbling experience and I know there are challenges ahead. It’s just another opportunity to serve the wonderful people of Arkansas.”

Fitts was selected following a search and selection process conducted by commissioners of the AGFC.

Fitts and his wife, Alice, have been married for 29 years. Their son, Austin, his wife, Aubrey, and granddaughter, Amelia, live in southeastern Arkansas. They also have a daughter, Audrey Kay, who is a senior at Arkansas Tech University.

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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hold special public meetings during March to introduce proposed changes to management practices on many popular wildlife management areas for waterfowl habitat.

The meetings are part of the AGFC’s ongoing effort to keep the public informed about habitat degradation in many wetland areas, particularly artificially flooded bottomland hardwood forests known as greentree reservoirs that produce the finest duck hunting experience in the United States.

“Hunting on greentree reservoirs draws duck hunters from all over the country to The Natural State,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “But over decades, those forests have slowly changed, and our management must change with them if we are to continue this great tradition of hunting flooded timber and providing waterfowl with the habitat they need.”

Many hunters have become accustomed to constant high water being available near the opening day of waterfowl season, but according to growing scientific research in Arkansas and other states with greentree reservoirs, the practice has damaged many of the trees that produce the acorns ducks need.

“Flooding before a tree is dormant, and doing so consistently, causes damage,” Naylor said. “And most hunters will tell you there often are plenty of green leaves on the trees during the opening weekend of duck season. We need to begin managing our greentree reservoirs to follow more natural flooding patterns, which typically occur later and fluctuate from year to year.”

The AGFC also has produced a mailing, which describes the situation in detail. It will be delivered to each Arkansas resident who has purchased a waterfowl stamp in the last three years and each non-resident who has purchased a non-resident waterfowl WMA permit in the last three years. A digital version of that mailing is available at http://www.agfc.com/hunting/Documents/GTR.pdf.

“There has been a lot of talk lately about many other aspects of duck hunting on Arkansas’s famous public WMAs,” Naylor said. “But this change is much more important. This is to protect and re-establish the habitat that originally drew ducks to these areas. Without that, Arkansas’s famous green timber duck hunting could very well become a thing of the past.”

Public meetings will be held at the following dates and locations:

Stuttgart
6-8 p.m., March 9
Grand Prairie Center, Salon B
2807 Highway 165 South
Stuttgart, AR 72160

Searcy
6-8p.m., March 14
Searcy High School Cafeteria
301 N Ella,
Searcy, AR 72143

Little Rock
6-8 p.m., March 16
AGFC Headquarters Auditorium
2 Natural Resources Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205

Jonesboro
6-8 p.m., March 28
Nettleton High School Fine Arts Center
4201 Chieftan Lane
Jonesboro, AR 72401

Russellville
6-8 p.m., March 30
Doc Bryan Lecture Hall, Arkansas Tech University
1605 N. Coliseum Drive
Russellville, AR 72801

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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.

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