Largemouth bass

Fish hatcheries have supplied tens of thousands of largemouth bass to lakes in South Arkansas.

Several South Arkansas lakes, including Columbia, June, Erling and White Oak, have been stocked with Florida largemouth bass.

Biologists with the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery delivered the last batch of Florida largemouth bass fingerlings to Millwood Lake and White Oak Lake in early July, completing the second-highest annual stocking of these fish in Arkansas.

South Arkansas lakes stocked with Florida largemouth bass fingerlings in 2019 include:

Bois d’Arc Lake, Hempstead County

Bragg Lake, Ouachita County

Cane Creek Lake, Lincoln County

Chicot Lake, Chicot County

Columbia Lake, Columbia County

Felsenthal Reservoir, Union County

Lake Erling, Lafayette County

Lake June, Lafayette County

Millwood Lake, Howard County

Lake Ouachita, Montgomery County

South Fork Lake, Hempstead County

Lower White Oak Lake, Ouachita County

Upper White Oak Lake, Ouachita County

The AGFC hatchery system delivered more than 1.3 million Florida bass to select lakes throughout south and central Arkansas this spring. The weather conditions posed a challenge to biologists. Tommy Laird, assistant chief of fisheries over the AGFC’s hatchery system says the wet, cool spring had a serious impact on spawning in hatchery ponds this year.

“The first week or so, everything was going great, and then for about a week period after one of these showers, the males just stopped fertilizing eggs,” Laird said. “We started losing whole nests to this lack of fertilization.”

The Florida bass spawning project, which has been a strong annual component of the Hulsey hatchery since the early 1990s quickly fell behind schedule. Hatchery staff went into action to salvage the season and keep up with demand.

“We were about halfway to where we should have been by the time we’re normally wrapped up,” Laird said. “We had to start spawning some younger-than-normal broodstock to get more spawning time, and we had to cut back on some stocking densities in the ponds to increase survival.”

According to Laird, even in the best conditions, only a fraction of the fry stocked in the ponds survive to fingerling size. Large amounts of fry must be stocked to compensate for this loss. But this year, managers reduced the amount of fish per pond to increase the overall health of the fingerlings and saw a better return.

“There’s only so much food and space available to grow fish in the pond, so by reducing your stocking rate, you’re hoping to see better growth and survival of those fish present,” Laird said. “This year we saw that scenario play out. Instead of being a half-million fingerlings short, the increased survival rates enabled us to get very close to our target production.”

This year’s stockings were concentrated on 16 bodies of water, including large lakes like Millwood Reservoir in Southwest Arkansas, medium-size reservoirs like Upper and Lower White Oak Lakes in Nevada and Ouachita counties and river systems possessing abundant backwaters filled with aquatic vegetation.

“Florida largemouth bass thrive in shallow reservoirs with high-fertility and long growing seasons,” said Jason Olive, assistant chief of fisheries management. “Many anglers ask us to stock them all over the state, but we have to reserve the limited supply we can produce to those areas where we believe they will make the most impact. All of the Florida largemouth bass stocked this year were placed in bodies of water south of I-40, and nearly all were in lakes with an abundant amount of shallow flats where they do well.”

One deviation from the shallow-water recipe this year was the resumption of stocking Florida largemouth bass into Lake Ouachita.

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