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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hold special public meetings during March to introduce proposed changes to management practices on many popular wildlife management areas for waterfowl habitat.

The meetings are part of the AGFC’s ongoing effort to keep the public informed about habitat degradation in many wetland areas, particularly artificially flooded bottomland hardwood forests known as greentree reservoirs that produce the finest duck hunting experience in the United States.

“Hunting on greentree reservoirs draws duck hunters from all over the country to The Natural State,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “But over decades, those forests have slowly changed, and our management must change with them if we are to continue this great tradition of hunting flooded timber and providing waterfowl with the habitat they need.”

Many hunters have become accustomed to constant high water being available near the opening day of waterfowl season, but according to growing scientific research in Arkansas and other states with greentree reservoirs, the practice has damaged many of the trees that produce the acorns ducks need.

“Flooding before a tree is dormant, and doing so consistently, causes damage,” Naylor said. “And most hunters will tell you there often are plenty of green leaves on the trees during the opening weekend of duck season. We need to begin managing our greentree reservoirs to follow more natural flooding patterns, which typically occur later and fluctuate from year to year.”

The AGFC also has produced a mailing, which describes the situation in detail. It will be delivered to each Arkansas resident who has purchased a waterfowl stamp in the last three years and each non-resident who has purchased a non-resident waterfowl WMA permit in the last three years. A digital version of that mailing is available at http://www.agfc.com/hunting/Documents/GTR.pdf.

“There has been a lot of talk lately about many other aspects of duck hunting on Arkansas’s famous public WMAs,” Naylor said. “But this change is much more important. This is to protect and re-establish the habitat that originally drew ducks to these areas. Without that, Arkansas’s famous green timber duck hunting could very well become a thing of the past.”

Public meetings will be held at the following dates and locations:

Stuttgart
6-8 p.m., March 9
Grand Prairie Center, Salon B
2807 Highway 165 South
Stuttgart, AR 72160

Searcy
6-8p.m., March 14
Searcy High School Cafeteria
301 N Ella,
Searcy, AR 72143

Little Rock
6-8 p.m., March 16
AGFC Headquarters Auditorium
2 Natural Resources Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205

Jonesboro
6-8 p.m., March 28
Nettleton High School Fine Arts Center
4201 Chieftan Lane
Jonesboro, AR 72401

Russellville
6-8 p.m., March 30
Doc Bryan Lecture Hall, Arkansas Tech University
1605 N. Coliseum Drive
Russellville, AR 72801

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Paddlewheel and fountain aerators help add oxygen to small ponds during extremely hot periods.

Paddlewheel and fountain aerators help add oxygen to small ponds during extremely hot periods.

Anyone who has ever had their breath taken away after sitting in a car that’s been parked in the summer sun will tell you that even a momentary drop in oxygen can turn things upside down. The same holds true for fish if the dissolved oxygen in a pond or lake crashes.
According to Eric Brinkman, district fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in Hope, fish kills associated with low oxygen levels can be common in many small bodies of water during late summer.

“It can happen on any body of water or a section of a body of water, but the most common places we get fish kills like this are smaller ponds on people’s property,” Brinkman said.

Brinkman says the factors leading up to a fish kill because of low oxygen are more complex than the simple fact that hot water holds less oxygen.

“There’s a lot going on in summer,” Brinkman said. “Fish are cold-blooded creatures, so their metabolism rises with the temperature. A higher metabolism means more activity and more oxygen demand.”

The amount of fish in the system also is at its peak during the summer. Fish and insects that hatched all spring add more demand for the dissolved oxygen available.

“Summer also brings an abundance of vegetation, phytoplankton and zooplankton,” Brinkman said. “Which all use oxygen as well.”

Everyone who’s had third-grade science learned plants provide oxygen when they create sugars through photosynthesis, but plants also use part of that oxygen when they burn those sugars to survive.

“An abundance of fish, insects and plankton can consume a lot of dissolved oxygen, especially at night or during prolonged periods of cloudy weather, when photosynthesis slows due to lack of sunlight,” Brinkman said. “Typically fish kills from depleted oxygen will occur in the very early morning, just before sunup oxygen levels are at their lowest.”

Fish kills resulting from low oxygen also can happen during sudden events called “turnover.” During the hottest part of summer, water will separate, or stratify, into two distinct layers. The upper layer will be warmer and contain most of the oxygen. The bottom layer will be cold, and contains little or no oxygen. Most fish will be in the upper layer of the water column, often very close to where the two sections meet – called the thermocline. However, a cool rain or extreme cold front can cool the surface layer rapidly, which causes it to drop to the bottom of the pond, forcing the oxygen-poor layer to the surface zone holding the fish. The rapid drop in oxygen causes large fish kills, including all species present.

No matter the cause of oxygen loss, the best solution is aeration.

“Oxygen diffuses into the water from the surface quicker if there’s a lot of splashing and wave action,” Brinkman said. “On our hatcheries and on many farms with the proper equipment, a paddle-wheel aerator will get oxygen back into the system efficiently. A lower-cost option for ponds and small lakes is an aeration fountain to cause an adequate disturbance.”

Brinkman says once fish begin to go belly up, there’s not much that can be done, but investing in a fountain aerator definitely guards against oxygen loss and helps prevent the water from stratifying.
Another piece of advice for would-be pond owners is to limit the maximum depth of any small pond you build to less than 10 to 12 feet. Shallower systems do not stratify or turnover as easily.

“Many people think you should have some deeper water for fish to use as refuge during the hot summer months, but it’s actually a bad idea when you’re talking about smaller ponds,” Brinkman said.

Anything that adds nutrients to the system during summer also can increase the demand for oxygen. Overabundant fertilization, runoff from agriculture or sewage treatment areas and livestock waste all can increase the fertility of the system too much and eventually lead to a crash.

Telltale indicators that you may have a turnover occurring on a pond are an overnight change in the water color from relatively clear to a “chocolate milk” appearance, a foul, rotting smell and fish opening their mouths, or “piping,” at the surface of the water. These symptoms are much more prevalent in the morning just as the sun rises.

If a person sees a fish kill, they can call their local AGFC office and ask to speak to a fisheries biologist. They can walk you through a series of questions to determine whether the kill is due to oxygen depletion or if other factors are at play. A list of regional offices is available at http://www.agfc.com/aboutagfc/Pages/AboutRegionalOffices.aspx

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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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Eric Maynard, facility director at the AGFC's Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, eases his boat through flooded parking lots to reach his office.

Eric Maynard, facility director at the AGFC’s Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, eases his boat through flooded parking lots to reach his office.

When the Arkansas River crested at 46.24 feet at the Pine Bluff gauge on Saturday, Jan. 2, it reached the second highest level since Emmett Sanders Lock and Dam was completed in 1968. The river crested at 47.70 feet May 9, 1990. The rising water flooded most of Jefferson County Regional Park, including the area surrounding Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center.

Eric Maynard, facility director for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s first nature center, says water has completely cut the center off from dry land for the last few days.

The eagle pens at the nature center did experience some flooding, but all exhibit animals have since been moved to safe locations during the high water.

The eagle pens at the nature center did experience some flooding, but all exhibit animals have since been moved to safe locations during the high water.

“The only way to access the center for the last few days has been by boat,” Maynard said. “We’ve been putting in off the main road and boating about three-quarters of a mile to the center to take care of the animals and exhibits.”

The main building of the center was built on stilts and remained dry during the deluge, but many of the outer buildings were inundated.

“The front deck of the center was like standing on a boat dock,” Maynard said. “The greenhouse has about 4 feet of water in it, and the eagle pens are partially flooded. We’ve moved all our educational exhibit birds from their outdoor pens to another building.”

Maynard says the biggest issue for the center now is a lack of power during the cold winter temperatures.

This is the second time this year that the Arkansas River has flooded Jefferson County Regional Park.

This is the second time this year that the Arkansas River has flooded Jefferson County Regional Park.

“Entergy came and turned the power off throughout the park before the major flooding to avoid major problems with the lines,” Maynard said. “That’s been over a week now. Education and enforcement staff have been making trips every day or two to fill generators and feed the animals, but the snakes, alligator and other cold-blooded animals are beginning to cool down because of the dropping temperatures.”

The center staff was prepared for this flood, only because of familiarity. The third-highest mark the river has reached since the dam was completed occurred only seven months ago, when the river crested at 45.96, shutting down access to the center for about two weeks.

“It looks like the water may be down low enough for us to drive in on the road by Thursday of this week,” Maynard said. “But even if we can get to the center, we won’t know how long it will be before the power is back on.”

Crooked Creek rose more than 20 feet above the historical low-water bridge during the Christmas holiday, shutting off access to the education center.

Crooked Creek rose more than 20 feet above the historical low-water bridge during the Christmas holiday, shutting off access to the education center.

The nature center in Pine Bluff was not the only one impacted by heavy rain. Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek in Yellville saw more than its fair share of precipitation as well. The water gauge at Kelly’s Slab on Crooked Creek peaked at 33.63 on Dec. 28, 2015, more than 20 feet higher than the slab. Although short-lived, the high water completely blocked access to the education center for a day and forced staff to close the facility for two more days while they worked to clean up debris and assess damage.

Marilyn Doran, facility manager at the education center said this is only the third time since the center has opened that she has seen the water so high. The buildings are fine but massive amounts of sand washed onto the property and the handicapped-accessible portion of Woodlands Edge Trail was damaged.

“The education center is open, but the trail will remain closed until we can repair that surfaced portion,” Doran said. “On the positive side, it’s a great time to build a sand castle with all the sand that washed up on the property from the flood.”

The extremely high water deposited tons of sand and sediment from the creek on the surrounding floodplain at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek.

The extremely high water deposited tons of sand and sediment from the creek on the surrounding floodplain at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek.

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Flood-prone regions have preset criteria to close deer season during high-water events. AGFC photo.

High water on the White, Cache, St. Francis and Black rivers has forced the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to temporarily close deer season in portions of eastern Arkansas.

According to Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the AGFC, many areas susceptible to wide-scale flooding offer excellent habitat and large deer populations. When water forces them to leave their normal range, they can become concentrated and vulnerable to overharvest.

“The primary intent of closing flood prone regions is to protect those deer displaced by floods,” said Gray. “These closed zones not only include land that is flooded, but also high ground that serves as sanctuaries from the rising water.”

Flood-prone regions not only include public hunting land, but also private land within those zones. The closure only applies to deer hunting.

“The AGFC conducted a statistically valid hunter survey in 2014 to gauge people’s opinions on flood-prone regions,” said Gray. “It showed 79 percent of hunters who hunted in these regions were in favor of flood-prone zone management.”

A description of all flood-prone regions and criteria for closures are available on pages 56-57 of the 2015-16 Arkansas Hunting Guidebook. Visit http://www.agfc.com or call the AGFC’s Wildlife Information Hotline at 800-440-1477 for the status of all flood-prone regions, updated each day at 3.p.m.

 

Check the current list of flood-prone regions and closings

Deer concentrate on high ground during floods, making them susceptible to overharvest and poaching.

Deer concentrate on high ground during floods, making them susceptible to overharvest and poaching.

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A little change in location can save a fortune in fuel costs for anglers and boaters.

A little change in location can save a fortune in fuel costs for anglers and boaters.

As gasoline costs rise, many people ditch their plans for fun in the sun and ride out the summer at home. A few adjustments in habits and maintenance measures can keep the cost of your boating fuel low. Here are a few tips to stay on the water all summer without flatting your wallet:

Go local: Your favorite lake or river might be an hour or two away, but there are fishing opportunities within a 30-minute drive of practically any place in the state. A 30-minute drive becomes a 1 hour round trip, which can cut your gas costs in half.

Small can be sweet: Smaller lakes and rivers are often overlooked by anglers who fish out of bigger boats, but they are gold mines for quantity and quality of fish. Some of Arkansas best big bass opportunities can be found on smaller lakes, such as Lake Atkins and Lake Monticello. The state record bass came from 330-acre Mallard Lake in northeast Arkansas. Plus, they take much less gas to travel from one point to the next once you’re on the water.

Lighten the load: It’s one of easiest things to do to save on gas, and it applies to just about every boat on the water – ski boat, cruiser, sailboat or fishing rig.
Before you leave home, take a good look at what you really need and clear out all that junk under the floorboards, in lockers or in less-used storage areas. And, if the boat is already in in the slip, remember that water weighs over eight pounds per gallon. Carrying more than necessary in freshwater and waste tanks is a waste of money.

Get a tune-up: An annual engine tune-up, whether you do it yourself or ask a marine professional, is a must for any powerboat owner. It’s also likely to save you a fortune in gas money over the course of the boat’s life.

Check the prop: Take your motor’s prop to a marina, dealer or local prop shop to reshape or file away any dings. A well-tuned propeller makes a boat more fuel efficient.

Check trailer tire pressure: Underinflated tires wear quicker and increase the amount of drag on the tow vehicle. Too much tire pressure causes the trailer to bounce, which can cause damage to the boat and tow vehicle’s drive train. Check tire pressure for proper inflation

Cover it up: While on the road, use a tight-fitting cover to reduce wind drag. The cover also helps keep the boat clean and protects it from the weather.

Slow down: You might be in a hurry to get to the lake, but a 5-mile per hour decrease in towing speed will result in a noticeable drop in fuel consumption.

Pay less for gas: Gasoline is going to be cheaper in town than right on the highway exit; boat dock fuel is extremely expensive compared to either. Fill up on the road en route to the lake or river, and you’ll save money.

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Click here for video of rescue.

Click here for video of rescue.

Wildlife officers help to rescue trio stranded by high water

DENNARD – Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers helped save three people stranded on their vehicle early Saturday morning. The three people were trapped on the roof of their vehicle for six hours after it was swept downstream in high water on the Archey Fork of the Little Red River.

The three people were trying to cross a low-water bridge when their vehicle was carried into the current. The Dennard Fire Department, Van Buren County Search and Rescue, Faulkner County Search and Rescue as well as the AGFC worked together in the successful rescue of the victims. AGFC wildlife officers have specialized training in swiftwater rescue.

Two women, who were rescued from the vehicle, were taken to Van Buren County Memorial Hospital to be treated for possible hypothermia. A male in the group refused treatment.

The Archey Fork of the Little Red River is a very remote Ozark whitewater stream that flows southeast from above Arkansas Highway 254 through Clinton in Van Buren County to Greers Ferry Lake where it joins the Middle Fork.

To see video of the rescue, go to: http://youtu.be/IwShAN84sE0.

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