Biologists boost the food chain at White Oak Lake

Biologists boost the food chain at White Oak Lake

CHIDESTER (AGFC) – A dingy green lake in the spring, colored that way by fertilization, does not mean fishing will be poor. In fact, that may be one of the biggest misconceptions about spring and early summer fishing.

"I hear that on a very regular basis," said Andy Yung, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fisheries management biologist. "It is a common myth."

Being a regular angler himself, Yung said, it might just be a matter of changing the color of bait if the fish aren't biting what's being thrown. Big fish are still hungry, he said.

Yung, who works out of Camden, oversees the annual fertilization project at White Oak lakes, both the upper and lower sections, which usually takes place in April and May. The upper section totals 600 acres, while the lower is 1,100 acres.

Lake fertilization leads to the development of phytoplankton, or algae bloom. The phytoplankton serves as food for the tiny baitfish and bream, which the bigger fish then feed upon.

Fertilization and the algae bloom also temporarily reduce sunlight reaching the deeper vegetation, which can take over a lake and ruin the fishing.

Some lakes are fertilized by crop duster, but the AGFC employs a barge carrying a water tank for Upper and Lower White Oak Lake. Yung and the staff slurry the fertilizer in the tank with water drawn from the lake, then pump it out as the boat moves across the water.

"It's a real slow process, but it's pretty simple" Yung said. "We try to cover most of the lake. We place 5 pounds per acre. It takes us about a day to get it done, and then we come back about a month later and do it again."

Lakes like the upper White Oak are considered lower productivity lakes that require more food to handle many hungry mouths, hence the annual fertilization work.

"The project increases the carrying capacity of the area," Yung said, but adds that, "it changes the water color. You get a bloom, it gets a little greener. People notice that."

And, some of those people believe it's better to just stay off the lake until it clears. "People who fish a lot know that when water conditions change like that, you may need to change baits or change colors."

In fact, Yung said, a peer-reviewed study done on Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir showed how fertilization and in the immediate days following it showed a slight increase in fish caught.

"Maybe the opposite is true as far as shutting off the bite," Yung said. "Personally I think a lot of the issue is the change of water conditions and folks being stubborn like myself, but if something's not working you've got to change it up."

It's not the big fish that are being fed by the fertilizer, he added, it's the "little guys" who wouldn't bite a hook. They're dinner for the bigger fish later. Those bigger fish still need to nibble on something. "We may stimulate the feeding by helping those little guys survive," Yung said. "It's all for the base production of the lake and it trickles down from there."

Yung said that White Oak Lakes had an excellent spawn last year, where higher water last spring may have been a boost.

"The environmental conditions in general were good for the lakes," he said. Small fish tend to hide out in the weeds during high water, he said, and the fertilization was the boost they needed in April and May. Meanwhile, electrofishing in the lake revealed several bass in the 5-pound range, he said.

"There is some pretty good fishing going on right now," Yung said. "We're seeing some good fishing in the lower lake." Yung expects the fishing in the lower lake to be even better. The lower area was drained a couple of years back, he said, but it's refilled and "the fish are back and looking really good. It's a bass fishing destination for sure in the next couple of years." Crappie also are prevalent, but the lake is catch-and-release only for crappie until the population bounces back.