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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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John Duncan with yoyoguideservice.com finds crappie deep in summer.

John Duncan with yoyoguideservice.com finds crappie deep in summer.

Each spring, anglers comb the shallows at DeGray Lake in Hot Spring and Clark counties, probing tiny jigs and minnows at any likely looking spot in search of crappie. Rarely do anglers leave empty-handed when the dogwoods are blooming and the fish are spawning. But once summer’s heat sets in and the fish move out of the shallows, most anglers hang up the jigging poles or use the same tactics as spring, leaving the lake with hungry stomachs and a bare live well.

John Duncan, owner of yoyoguideservice.com says catching crappie once the spawn has ended can be just as good as when they’re on the beds. Anglers just have to switch to deep-thinking mode. Once the water’s surface temperature begins to creep into the 80s, crappie seek the comfort of cooler water found a little deeper.

“If you just look across the surface, there doesn’t seem to be hardly anything to hold fish, but it’s a different world under the water,” Duncan said. “The Corps [of Engineers], the Game and Fish and some local anglers have sunk a bunch of brush piles throughout the lake, you just have to look for them.”

The latest electronics can be extremely helpful in finding brush piles made of branches and woody cover, but can be tricky to read when searching for brush made of bamboo or river cane, materials extremely popular with crappie anglers.

Brush piles made of cane or bamboo often appear better on standard 2D sonar instead of side-imaging or down-imaging units.

Brush piles made of cane or bamboo often appear better on standard 2D sonar instead of side-imaging or down-imaging units.

“If you’re using a side-imaging depth finder, wood will show up easily, but bamboo brush piles may only look like a shadow on the bottom,” Duncan said. “Sometimes you have to go right over it before you can really see what it looks like.”

Anglers who can’t afford high-dollar electronics still can find plenty of offshore options for crappie, it just takes a little more effort and elbow grease. A five-gallon bucket, some hand-cut bamboo and some fast-setting concrete is all it takes to create your own brush piles and place them wherever you want.

“Bamboo offers excellent cover, and lasts for a few years in the water, but it’s much easier to work with and not as heavy when it’s time to place your brush pile,” Duncan said. “Just be sure to cut the bamboo where a node or stem is coming off the main stalk so it stays firmly in the concrete for years.”

Duncan says he’s placed about 24 “crappie condos” in DeGray Lake in the last year, and many have turned out very productive.

“You learn as you go along about where to place them,” Duncan said. “If you see a shoreline with a lot of cover, there’s already plenty for the fish to congregate on. Sink your cover in an area with a rocky bottom but no trees or vegetation and it usually is going to produce much better.”

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has plenty of fish attractors in DeGray Lake to get anglers started, and all of them are only a click of a mouse away. Just visit www.agfc.com and click on the “Interactive Map” icon underneath the banner on the front page. Zoom in to DeGray Lake, or any lake you’re interested in, to get the locations of any fish attractors found on that body of water.

“As time goes by, some of the attractors deteriorate or are moved by currents or anglers,” said Chris Racey, chief of fisheries for the AGFC. “So you need to get the GPS coordinates for as many as you can to make a ‘milk run’ until you find a good one.”

Racey also says it’s important to contact the owner of a lake before placing any fish attractors.

“Some agencies do not allow sinking brush in their lakes, while others have restrictions on the materials fish attractors may be made of,” Racey said. “

When Duncan hits the water to fish the deep brush he or others have planted, he wastes little time with lure selection. A minnow suspended underneath a slip float gets the nod almost every time when he’s guiding and serious about catching fish.

A standard slip-cork rig using a no. 6 cricket hook baited with a minnow gets the nod when Duncan's serious about catching fish with clients.

A standard slip-cork rig using a no. 6 cricket hook baited with a minnow gets the nod when Duncan’s serious about catching fish with clients.

“My boat is outfitted with enough rod holders to run 32 poles at once, but I rarely will put out more than two poles per person,” Duncan said. “On an older boat, I ran 12 poles with three jigs on each line, but one run-in with a school of white bass left me so tangled up it cured me of that chaos forever.”

One suggestion Duncan offers on the setup is to abandon the gold no. 2 or 4 Aberdeen crappie hooks often used with minnows. Instead, he uses the cricket hook popular with bream anglers in size no. 6. The smaller hook bends enough to free him of snags if needed, but doesn’t flex too much to let fish get away.

“Fishing brush in deep water can mean hitting a lot of brush piles until you find the one the fish want to be around, so I do everything I can to keep things moving quickly,” Duncan said. “A minute or two saved here and there retying can add up to hours of lost fishing time in the course of a month.”

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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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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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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked with the AGFC and local anglers to place new habitat in Greers Ferry Lake.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked with the AGFC and local anglers to place new habitat in Greers Ferry Lake.

The AGFC worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a small habitat project on Greers Ferry Lake over winter. An expansion at Eden Isle’s parking area left many large stumps and rood wads to be discarded. Instead of burning or grinding them, the Corps loaded the wads on the AGFC Habitat Barge to be placed in the lake for fish attractors and cover. The GPS coordinates to these stumps, as well as all AGFC fish attractors, are available on the AGFC Interactive Map. Click http://gis.agfc.com/ to see more.

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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.

Cover is a key component to any hot angling prospect. Unfortunately, as lakes and rivers age, the woody cover once left under the water decays and washes away. Smart anglers know that a little work in the winter “freshening up ” their favorite honey hole can pay huge dividends throughout the year, but finding and cutting down the trees can be a bit of a chore.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has special “Christmas Tree Donation Centers” where people can drop off their tree. Instead of going to a landfill, these trees can be used by local anglers to add some cover to their favorite fishing holes. All you need is some rope and a weight to sink the tree and you have a nice mat of cover that will last for a year or two in your favorite fishing location.

Trees can be dropped off or picked up to be used at the following locations:

  • Lake Hamilton – Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery Access Area.
  • Cox Creek Lake – Cox Creek Lake Access Area.
  • Lake Chicot – Connerly Bayou Access Area.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Arkansas River – Alltel Access beneath 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).
  • 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.
  • Lake Willastein – Maumelle near the boat ramp access.
  • Bois d’Arc Lake – Kidd’s Landing or Hatfield Access.
  • Grandview Lake #1 – Grandview Lake #1 Access.
  • Grandview Lake #2 – Grandview Lake #2 Access.
  • Lake Dunn – Boat Ramp Access.

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Changes to Arkansas's fishing regulations have been proposed for public comment. Click the image to take the survey.

Changes to Arkansas’s fishing regulations have been proposed for public comment. Click the image to take the survey.

 

The Fisheries Division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission recently announced their proposed changes to fishing regulations to take effect Jan. 1, 2015. These proposals are open for public comment until June 8, 2014. They will then be reviewed, amended and submitted to the Commission in its June Commission meeting, and voted on during the Commission’s July meeting.

Topics for consideration include:

  • Adding a 10-inch minimum length for crappie on Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir
  • Replacing the 20/30 crappie daily limit map with a statewide 30-crappie daily limit (except on certain waters)
  • Replacing the 13-inch to 16-inch slot limit on largemouth bass in DeGray Lake with a 13-inch minimum length limit.
  • Reducing the daily limit on black bass (largemouth, smallmouth and spotted combined) from 10 to 6 on DeGray Lake.

To review all proposals and the reasoning behind them, and to make a comment on each, please visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2015FishRegs

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