About 100,000 bass fingerlings received early release from Arkansas' Cummins Correctional Facility in June, so anglers could stock them in the Arkansas River during the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza.
As fishermen brought in their bass for hourly weigh-ins at five sites, they were given bags of small fish to take on their return trips for release.
“They’re spreading out and placing the fingerlings in the backwaters and areas they fish,” said Colton Dennis, coordinator of the Black Bass Program for Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). “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.”
The river needs a boost because of decline in spawning and nursery habitat in its backwaters, he added.
The project that began in 2001 is a joint effort of AGFC and the Department of Corrections. During spring, agency biologists collect brood fish from weigh-ins at the Dumas pool of the river. They're then placed in ponds at Cummins, once used for raising catfish.
“Roughly 200 bass are stocked into the ponds,” said JJ Gladden, biologist at the Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery. “Our goal is to get about 200,000 fingerlings out of that."
After 100,000 fingerlings are removed for stocking throughout the river, the remainder are released into Dumas.
During the past four years, angler volunteers have stocked 373,000 fingerlings.
“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.