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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 Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Boone Pond retriever training area at Camp Robinson Special Use Area will play host to the Super Retriever Series May 31-June 2.

The Super Retriever Series sanctions hunting retriever competitions across the country, but the May 31-June 2 event near Mayflower is part of a fund-raising effort to expand the popular Boone Pond training area at Camp Robinson SUA.

“The area has extremely high use at certain times of year,” said AGFC wildlife biologist Matt Mourot. “Sometimes, there are dozens of people and retrievers using the area on a daily basis.”
For the past two years, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been working with the Pin Oak Hunting Retriever Club and the Super Retriever Series to expand the highly popular retriever training area located off of Arkansas Highway 89 east of Mayflower. In 2012, the AGFC provided equipment and labor to clear an additional 25 acres adjacent to the existing training area. The retriever club has raised money and solicited in-kind donations of equipment and materials.

“A few years ago, we began to see that there was a high demand, and we felt like we needed to add to it,” said Larry McMurry, a retriever trainer and member of the Pin Oak HRC. “People were pulling up and leaving because it was so crowded at times.”

Working with Pin Oak HRC and other members of the state’s retriever training community, the AGFC originally developed the Boone Pond training area on Camp Robinson SUA in 2000. Use of the area skyrocketed over the next decade, including the use by the Super Retriever Series for nationally televised events.

The AGFC and retriever training groups saw an opportunity to expand the area following a tornado that devastated timber near the Boone Pond training area in the spring of 2011. The Super Retriever Series was set to hold an event there shortly after the tornado struck but couldn’t access the area because of an abundance of downed timber. The AGFC cleaned up the mess in time for the SRS to hold its event, and last summer the AGFC cleared additional timber and storm debris to prepare an additional 25 acres for future development.

The Pin Oak HRC, Super Retriever Series and other Arkansas retriever clubs hope to construct a training pond on the additional 25 acres and create additional opportunities for retriever training enthusiasts.

For more information on the ongoing project or the May 31-June 2 Super Retriever Series competition, contact Larry McMurry at 501-580-1953 or by email at fieldrep9@att.net.

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Crews are working diligently to prevent oil from the ruptured Pegasus pipeline from entering the main body of Lake Conway in Mayflower.

Crews are working diligently to prevent oil from the ruptured Pegasus pipeline from entering the main body of Lake Conway in Mayflower.

If not for the quick work of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission staff, other state and local agencies, along with various hazardous material cleanup crews, the oil spill at Mayflower may have been much worse. Last week, a 20-inch pipeline carrying heavy Canadian crude oil burst spilling thousands of gallons of oil into a residential storm drain that leads to Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir. The Pegasus pipeline carries crude oil from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas. Twenty-two homeowners in the Northwood subdivision were evacuated after the oil rushed across lawns and residential streets. At this time, oil has not reached the main body of Lake Conway. Several dams and booms have been erected to protect the lake from the spill. As of Wednesday, six dead ducks and a coot have been found. Nine other ducks have been found alive as well as a muskrat, a beaver, nine snakes and seven turtles that were affected by the spill. The animals have been taken to wildlife rehabilitators to be cleaned. If an oiled animal is found, the public should not handle any affected wildlife because of contamination concerns. Call 800-876-9291 to report any oiled wildlife. The 6,700-acre lake is located between Conway and Maumelle and parallels Interstate 40 in Faulkner County. The lake was built by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 1948. Sportfish found in the lake include blue catfish, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, flathead catfish, largemouth bass and redear sunfish. Lake Conway is the largest AGFC lake and the largest lake ever constructed by a state wildlife agency. Because of its large size, central location and excellent fishing, it has been one of the state’s favored fishing spots since construction began on Palarm Creek in 1948. Lake Conway was the first lake constructed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The lake is best known for its seemingly endless supply of bluegills and redears. Creel surveys indicate that bream are not only the most popular fish, they account for the most poundage taken by anglers. Bass and crappie fans also flock to Conway, hoping to catch one of the lake’s lunker largemouths or a mess of big slabs. Big blue and channel catfish are abundant, and Conway is a hotbed for monster flatheads. Fishing is good around logjams, brushpiles, stumps, cypress trees, lily pads buckbrush, inundated lakes, creek channels, private docks and the Highway 89 bridge. Numerous boat trails are cleared and marked. Boaters leaving the trails should navigate cautiously. Many stumps and logs lie unseen just below the water’s surface, making spare shear pins essential gear here. An east-side nursery pond stocks millions of crappie, largemouth bass and catfish directly into the lake. Fingerling fish from hatcheries are fed until they reach sizes ensuring safety from most predators. The fish are then released into the lake through a canal. Before the nursery pond was constructed in 1968, crappie were almost non-existent in Lake Conway.

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