By Ronnie Weston| June 19, 2014 at 9:16 PM CDT - Updated July 27 at 9:10 AM
LEAD HILL (AGFC) – Hundreds of thousands of young crappie are swimming just outside the Sugarloaf arm of Bull Shoals Lake, waiting to boost the population and keep anglers happy for years to come.
Thanks to the Dr. Ralph Bowers/Tommy Donohoe Bull Shoals Lake Nursery Pond in Lead Hill, biologists hatch and raise fish right next to the lake instead of trucking them in from a distant hatchery. It's a plan that's paid off for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission since the 21-acre pond was established in 2007.
Jeremy Risley, AGFC fisheries biologist in Mountain Home, says fish stocked through the nursery pond are allowed to grow without competition from other species and can be released into the lake much easier than by hatchery truck.
"It's a cost-effective, low-maintenance means to stock more fish into Bull Shoals," Risley said. "These fish are not being handled, which reduces mortality. We just open up the gate and release the fish directly into the lake."
This year, biologists decided to run crappie through the system.
"The plan is to stock walleye every third year," Risley said. "Crappie are stocked during other years, and we only do one species per year through the pond. We still stock thousands of channel catfish, blue catfish and other species by truck."
When biologists use the pond for walleye, fingerling fish from a hatchery are stocked into the system and allowed to grow until their chances of survival in the big lake are better, but crappie stocking is a one-stop-shop.
"With crappie, we stock brood fish before the spawn and allow them to reproduce naturally in the fertilized water free of predators and competition."
This year, the pond was stocked with 200 adult crappie, which produced hundreds of thousands of fingerlings.
"We checked the pond in mid-May," Risley said. "The pond had a very successful spawn. The young fish were already more than an inch long. We'll continue to check their growth and will either release them into the lake at the end of June or October, depending on their condition."
Risley estimates that about a half of a million walleye fingerlings and 300,000 crappie fingerlings have been stocked through the pond since it was established in 2007.
"We had two years of abnormally high water when the lake rose into the pond and production was lost, but overall the pond has been a huge success. And this year's looking like it's going to be one of the best yet."