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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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Sixth graders, teachers, parents and high-school volunteers from Vilonia all enjoyed a day of outdoor learning at the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower Tuesday, May 10.

Sixth graders, teachers, parents and high-school volunteers from Vilonia all enjoyed a day of outdoor learning at the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower Tuesday, May 10.

Nearly 270 sixth-grade students from Frank Mitchell Intermediate School in Vilonia were the first anglers to enjoy the latest improvement to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s shooting range in Mayflower at their annual fishing derby Tuesday.

Jodi Brewer, a sixth grade teacher at the school who coordinates the derby with the AGFC’s Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs program, said the derby continues to improve each year.

“I remember fishing in a derby when I went to Vilonia, but it went away for a while,” Brewer said. “We started it back up about five years ago and have had the event ever since.”

Brewer says restarting the event took a lot of trial and error.

“The first two years, we brought the kids out and just fished with some cane poles,” Brewer said. “During our second year, the kids fished all day and caught maybe four fish and a stick. Some even mentioned that they would have rather been in school. That’s when we called Dawn Cook with HOFNOD to learn how to do it better.”

Cook, HOFNOD coordinator for the AGFC, said she has a lot of schools come to workshops and learn how to keep their students interested during these all day events.

“You have to have a lot of different activities to keep them interested,” Cook said. “But that takes a lot of people and commitment from volunteers.”

Coach Will Black gave students some last-minute reminders about casting before they hit the water.

Coach Will Black gave students some last-minute reminders about casting before they hit the water.

In addition to teachers from the school, close to 100 parents and 25 high school students volunteered to help with the many stations needed to put on the huge event. Some led fun exercises such as scavenger hunts and fish bingo, while others baited hooks, untangled lines and helped release fish. Some parents even set up a cleaning station to filet fish if the students wanted to bring home their catch.

Cook says one of the best things about setting up fishing derbies like this is that all the students stay busy having a good time while they’re learning about different subjects. Those stations disguised as bingo and scavenger hunts actually are teaching the students fish anatomy and regulations. Other stations have more obvious subjects, such as smoking prevention and alcohol and drug abuse awareness.

“All of our HOFNOD materials are aligned with state education frameworks,” Cook said. “So it makes it easier for teachers to meet their needs while letting the kids have some fun.”

The lessons aren’t only crammed into a one-day derby. Teachers at Frank Mitchell Intermediate School present materials from HOFNOD trainings throughout the school year to teach many subjects. Before the students load up on the bus, they’ve had at least a few basic casting lessons in their Physical Education class.

“We have a set of rods and reels for the class to learn on in PE class,” said Will Black, physical education teacher for fifth and sixth grade at Frank Mitchell. “We also spend a lot of time playing a backyard bass game, where students cast at and catch fish-shaped targets to collect points.”

Brewer says the derby also is an excellent team-building exercise for most students.

“We have some kids that have ponds in their backyard at home and fish all the time, and then we have some who have never learned to cast a rod and reel,” Brewer said. “What’s really neat is that here, you’ll see some kids that never really interact with each other at school work together to help each other out catching fish.”

The pond where the students spent their time also is the result of an ongoing work in progress. While the range has always had one pond that hosted derbies, the new pond features a central island, dozens of artificial fish habitats and a clean shoreline ringed with soft grass.

“The pond actually is the borrow area from when the range’s berms needed to be rebuilt years ago,” said Grant Tomlin, range development program coordinator for the AGFC. “Clifton Jackson, former Family and Community Fishing Program Coordinator wanted to make it a location for that program, but it was surrounded by a thicket and a lot of people didn’t even know it was here.”

This was the first derby held at the new pond and the first class to attend Vilonia's new middle school after the school was demolished by a tornado in April 2014.

This was the first derby held at the new pond and the first class to attend Vilonia’s new middle school after the school was demolished by a tornado in April 2014.

AGFC staff worked to clear all the thick brush away and establish a more inviting shoreline. They also moved a culvert to build up a walkway around a low section of the pond that was always too swampy to walk around. But the pond still had a few problems.

“Each summer, the pond would just about evaporate away,” Tomlin said. “We’d get a dry spell and the water would just seep out, but at the end of last year, it was still holding a little water.”

Thanks to an extremely wet early spring, the new pond is actually a foot or two above its target level. Tomlin hopes the pond has established a firm enough bottom and will continue to be a great attraction to the range.

“It is open to youth 16 and younger whenever the shooting range is not operating,” Tomlin said. “Mondays, Tuesdays and any time after 4:30 p.m. the rest of the week.”

Visit http://www.agfc.com/hofnod for more information about Hooked on Fishing — Not on Drugs.

For information on the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower, visit www.agfc.com/aboutagfc/Pages/AboutFacilitiesRobinsonFR.aspx.

High school students volunteered to help bait hooks and teach about conservation at the derby.

High school students volunteered to help bait hooks and teach about conservation at the derby.

 

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The tailwater below Greers Ferry Dam was home to the world-record brown trout for nearly two decades. Just because that record was broken doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of big fish and big action to be had on the Little Red River. Check out this “Talkin’ Outdoors” segment of anglers chasing the big bite on the Little Red.

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Watch how Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Biologists search for and research one of Arkansas’s oldest fish species. The alligator gar has been found in fossil records dating back 100 million years. These giant gar are becoming less common in The Natural State, and biologists are working to keep the species swimming in Arkansas waters.

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The Forrest Wood Cup is coming to Lake Ouachita, August 20-23.

The Forrest Wood Cup is coming to Lake Ouachita, August 20-23.

Fifty of the best bass anglers in the world will converge on Hot Springs, Aug. 20-23, to participate in the Forrest Wood Cup, the championship event for the FLW bass fishing tour. Aside from local amenities for fans and anglers to enjoy, Hot Springs has a lot to offer in the way of its fisheries.

Lake Ouachita boasts more than 970 miles of shoreline from the upper reaches of the Ouachita River to Blakely Mountain Dam. Ravines, islands and creeks add plenty of nooks and crannies for anglers to get away from crowds and find a few hidden gems. More than 40,000 acres of clear, blue surface water cover rocky bluffs, flooded forests of 100-foot tall trees and submerged vegetation.
“A lot of anglers who have fished here before will remember the deep aquatic vegetation,” said Brett Hobbs, district fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “But the vegetation saw a large die off about six years ago.”
Hobbs said the vegetation is beginning to come back in some areas, particularly the Rabbittail and Cedar Fourche areas on the north shore of the lake.
“Both of those areas have a pretty good mix of hydrilla and Eurasian water milfoil,” Hobbs said. “Big Blakely Creek on the far northeast side of the lake has a lot of hydrilla and some coontail, as well.”
These aren’t the only possible areas to find vegetation and anglers who locate a patch or two away from the crowd may have found a gold mine.
In addition to all the natural cover and structure, the AGFC worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Arkansas Black Bass Coalition to place dozens of brush piles throughout the lake in prime locations to congregate bass, crappie and other sport fish. Anglers can visit www.agfc.com, click the interactive map link to zoom into Ouachita and locate the blue fish attractor icons. GPS coordinates are available to download through the map’s tools icons in the top right corner of the screen.
“Most of those brush piles were cedar trees placed in the North Fork arm and around mid-lake,” Hobbs said. “I fully expect a few tournament fish to come from some of these deeper brush piles.”
How deep is too deep? Hobbs has some advice about that, too.
“I recently completed a dissolved oxygen profile on the lake, and across the lake, once you hit 21 to 22 feet, there isn’t enough dissolved oxygen to sustain many fish,” Hobbs said. “Black basses should be holding near the thermocline, but may be located early in the morning feeding in the shallows or chasing shad at the surface at any time.”
Other than submerged vegetation, the Rabbittail area might have another X-factor for anglers – a little boost of Florida bass genetics. As part of a strategic management plan, Florida-strain largemouths were stocked from 2007 to 2014 in this area of the lake.
“This was something black bass anglers requested,” Hobbs said.
While the jury is still out on whether the stockings will have any effect on Lake Ouachita bass, it’s worthy to note that the first of those stockings are now seven years old.
“It will be interesting to see if we were able to get some of those Florida-strain genes in the bass population at Ouachita,” Hobbs said.
The lake isn’t just an angling paradise, it’s a great destination for wildlife watchers as well. The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail offers 45 miles of mountain biking and hiking paths on the south side of the lake, stretching from a trailhead at Avery Recreation Area below Blakely Mountain Dam. There’s also a special 1.25-mile watchable wildlife loop with an elevated boardwalk that is Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible at Denby Bay. For more information, visit www.lakeouachitavistatrail.com.
Be sure to visit http://www.flwfishing.com/tournaments/2015-08-20-forrest-wood-cup for a list of events scheduled around the Forrest Wood Cup, including what could be the largest FLW fishing expo ever.

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See how the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission produces more than 1 million trout per year for stocking into state waterways at the AGFC’s Jim Hinkle Spring River Fish Hatchery at Mammoth Spring.
On the YouTube channel, you’ll also find everything from interviews with first time deer hunters, to tailwater trout fishing, to elk viewing in the Boxley Valley, to Mississippi River catfishing as well as the agency’s 100th anniversary tribute “A Century of Conservation.”
Be sure to subscribe to the channel, so you’ll be notified whenever a new video is posted.

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Click here for details.

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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