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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Fishing Derbies will be held at each of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Hatcheries, Saturday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

If you’ve ever wanted to wet a line but didn’t want to spend the money for a fishing license, this weekend is your time to give it a try. By special proclamation of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, anyone, resident or nonresident, may fish without a license or trout stamp from noon, Friday, June 12, to midnight, Sunday, June 14, 2015.

Chris Racey, chief of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Fisheries Division, said, “It’s an excellent opportunity for friends and family to get together and enjoy the great sport of fishing.”

All other fishing regulations, including daily limits, remain in effect during Free Fishing Weekend. Visit agfc.com for a free download of the 2015 Arkansas Fishing Guidebook

In addition to the license waiver, each AGFC hatchery has reserved special locations for free kids’ fishing derbies from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 13. Children 12 and younger may bring their own tackle and bait to their local hatchery to catch and keep up to three fish per child.

“We host kids’ fishing derbies at all five of our state fish hatcheries each year to provide an opportunity for children to catch fish in a fun and safe environment,” Racey said. “We hope many children will catch their first fish at one of our hatchery derbies and go on to become lifelong anglers.”

Click for Hatchery Locations for Free Fishing Weekend Derbies

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Volunteers cleaning up the shoreline of Crooked Creek and planting native trees and shrubs to stabilize the banks.

Volunteers cleaning up the shoreline of Crooked Creek and planting native trees and shrubs to stabilize the banks.

More than a dozen college students joined other volunteers and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission personnel on a chilly Saturday to plant about 400 trees and shrubs on flood-ravaged areas of two creeks in north Arkansas.

Most of the plantings were on Crooked Creek, the internationally renowned smallmouth bass fishery. The work was just north of the Harmon community in eastern Boone County. Other plantings were on Ponca Creek near the AGFC’s Ponca Elk Education Center.

The Crooked Creek work was part of a renovation project to counter damage done by flooding. Two years ago, another project helped with problems downstream on the creek near Yellville.

David Evans of the AGFC’s Stream Team was in charge of the work near Harmon. He said, “We planted a variety of trees and shrubs. Every species we put in produces nuts or berries. Which are very wildlife friendly.”

The plantings were done on the creek’s bank several feet above the water’s surface. Previous work had involved using heavy equipment to move large boulders and down trees into positions to help the creek’s flow and to restore habitat favorable to fish spawning.

Four students drove from Jonesboro to do the plantings. They were members of the Wildlife Club at Arkansas State University. A van full of University of Ozarks students came up from Clarksville for the planting activities. Hal Johnson came from Rogers, Eli Evans came from Harrison and Gwen Allison came from Guy to wield shovels.
Students were Nena Evans, Chris Thigpen, Jonathan Wagner, Joe Sellers, Alexander Wern, Richard Rumpf, Trent Ueunten, Janett Cisneros, Lauren Ray, Heather Hill, Natalie Roda and Elliot Sharp.

The trees and shrubs were scattered along the creek with the various species spaced apart. Some of the species that went into the ground were black walnut, white oak, redbud, dogwood, serviceberry, beauty berry and catalpa.
Crooked Creek rises in northern Newton County, flows north through the middle of Harrison then turns east and meanders to the White River between Cotter and Buffalo City.

It is picturesque, and it is fish-rich. The smallmouth action has drawn anglers from near and far for generations, and this built the creek’s deserved reputation. Several other species are numerous and attractive to fishermen – largemouth bass and several members of the bream family plus channel catfish and flathead catfish.

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Old Christmas trees are ideal cover for many species of gamefish. AGFC photo.

Ask any Arkansas fisherman and you’ll get a multitude of answers about how they feel when it comes to underwater structure. Anglers may curse those logs and branches that snag their brand new lures, but they know that structure is key to a successful outing.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is asking that those leftover Christmas trees be used to help improve the state’s fisheries by dropping the trees off at several sites around the state. AGFC community fisheries biologist Clifton Jackson says that studies have shown that fish utilize underwater structure for cover. “These trees are some of the best natural forms of underwater structure. Crappie, bass, bluegills and other fish will often use the tress to hide in and around,” Jackson said.

The Christmas trees provide cheap, but quality underwater structures. They are easy to place in ponds and lakes, and they last for several years, Jackson said. “More importantly, their limbs offer something to fish of all shapes and sizes,” he explained. The Christmas tree drop-off is underway and will run through Jan. 23. Retail stores may also recycle any unsold trees at these locations.

Trees can be dropped off at the following locations:

  • Lake Hamilton – Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery Access Area
  • Lake Chicot – Connerly Bayou Access Area
  • Camden – AGFC Regional Office on Ben Lane, Bragg Lake and Upper Jack’s Landing on Upper White Oak Lake
  • Bragg Lake – Boat ramp
  • Upper White Oak Lake – Upper Jack’s Landing
  • Magnolia – Columbia County Road Dept 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)
  • 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 Corps of Engineers boat ramp
  • Gillham Lake – Any Corps of Engineers boat ramp
  • Lake Greeson – New Cowhide Cove and Self Creek recreation areas
  • Arkansas River – Alltel Access underneath the I-30 Bridge
  • Lake Pickthorne – Near the boat ramp
  • Greers Ferry Lake – Sandy Beach (Heber Springs), Devils Fork Recreation Area and Choctaw Recreation Area (Choctaw-Clinton)
  • Dardanelle Lake – Dwight Mission Access, Highway 64/Piney Access, Cabin Creek Slough Access
  • Jack Nolen Lake – Largest access ramp on rip-rap near ramp
  • Sugar Loaf Lake – Sugar Loaf Access Area near ramps
  • Lake Conway – Lawrence Landing Access
  • Harris Brake Lake – Chittman Hill Access
  • Lake Overcup – Lake Overcup Landing
  • Lake Barnett – Reed Access
  • Jonesboro – Craighead Forest Park Lake boat ramp
  • Lake Elmdale – Boat Ramp Access
  • Bob Kidd Lake – Boat Ramp Access
  • Crystal Lake – Boat Ramp Access

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