PENDLETON (AGFC) – Hundreds of thousands of largemouth bass fingerlings will be paroled from Cummins Correctional Facility at this year’s Big Bass Bonanza, June 24-26. These fingerlings are the result of an ongoing partnership between the Arkansas Department of Corrections, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas anglers.
Each year, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission works with tournament anglers to collect mature largemouth bass from the Dumas pool of the river during spring tournament weigh-ins.
“This year we collected our brood fish from a weigh-in of the Dumas Bass Club,” said JJ Gladden, biologist at the AGFC’s Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery. “In some years we may work with a few clubs to get the fish we need because of weather or poor fishing conditions, but we got enough at the first tournament this year to supply what we needed.
The bass are transported to the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections and placed in ponds once planned for raising catfish.
“Roughly 200 bass are stocked into the ponds,” said JJ Gladden, biologist at the AGFC’s Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery in Lonoke. “Our goal is to get about 200,000 fingerlings out of that.”
Colton Dennis, Black Bass Program coordinator for the AGFC says the partnership has produced more than 1 million largemouth fingerlings for the Arkansas River since its creation in 2001.
“Five of the 15 years suffered no measurable production because the river rose into the ponds before we could get the fingerlings out,” Dennis said. Once ready, 100,000 fingerlings are seined from the ponds using inmate labor supervised by AGFC hatchery crews. The fish are loaded onto hatchery trucks and delivered to weigh-in sites for the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza.
“20,000 fingerlings go to each weigh-in location,” Gladden said. “As anglers come in to weigh their fish hourly, we give them bags of fingerlings to stock on their return trip.”
Dennis says the boat-side releases by anglers not only allows them to be part of the process, but increases the effectiveness of the stocking effort.
“They’re spreading out and placing the fingerlings in the backwaters and areas they fish,” Dennis said. “It’s going to be more favorable habitat than if we backed up a truck at a ramp and released thousands into an area with less complex habitat, less vegetation and more current to fight.”
Dennis says the last four years fingerlings were available from the ponds, nearly 373,000 bass were stocked by volunteer anglers through the tournament. The additional fingerlings left in the ponds after seining were released directly into the Dumas pool of the river through the pond’s drainage pipe.
“There are usually 100,000 or more fingerlings left in the pond that go right back into the pool of river the brood stock came from,” said Gladden.
Stocking bass is not always the answer to improving a fishery, but in the case of the Arkansas River, Dennis says the stockings do make an impact.
“The river has seen a dramatic decline in backwater spawning and nursery habitat the last few decades because of siltation,” Dennis said. “That, coupled with years when the river experiences high flows and flooding during spring when bass are trying to spawn, make programs such as this very important. A study conducted for us by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff showed that stocked fingerlings contributed between 10 and 15 percent to the wild population in the river.”