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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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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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