I was first made aware of this through a Facebook post by Terry McWilliams concerning an interesting stocking program using bass anglers and tournaments as a mechanism for distributing fingerling bass into more areas of a lake than what most DNR programs could do on their own. This is happening down on Toledo Bend where Brent Chapman recently filmed the following video.
Then today I received the following piece out of Arkansas that is doing a very similar stocking program. Does this have any merit or possibilities here in Indiana?
100,000 Bass Go in the Drink
Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza participants partner with Game & Fish, Department of Corrections to rebuild fabled bass fishery.
– With a $50,000 check and tens of thousands of dollars in other winnings up for grabs during the state’s largest amateur fishing tournament, it’s no secret that the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza is all about numbers. And while anglers are fishing for a shot at life-changing sums of money June 24-26, thousands of other lives will be changing in the process— the lives of some 100,000 black bass fingerlings.
“20,000 fingerlings go to each weigh-in location,” said Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) biologist Joe Gladden, of the five weigh-in locations spread along the Arkansas River from Fort Smith to Desha County. “As some anglers come in to weigh their fish hourly, we give them bags of fingerlings to stock on their return trip.”
The result, Game & Fish biologists say, is part of the solution to the decline of spawning grounds along the Arkansas River’s backwaters. “The river has seen a dramatic decline in backwater spawning and nursery habitat,” explains Colton Dennis, the Black Bass Program coordinator for the AGFC. “That, coupled with years when the river experiences high flows and flooding during the spring when bass are trying to spawn, make programs such as this very important.”
This particular program consists of a joint partnership between the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza, Arkansas Game & Fish, and the state’s Department of Corrections, which houses and collects the fingerlings that are released during the tournament.
Fishery experts have been actively attempting to maintain the black bass population on the Arkansas River since at least 2001, when AGFC biologists began working with the Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock on long-term solutions to population decline that included habitat restoration, the notching of dikes and—crucially—increased stocking efforts.
Now, thanks to tournament participants, black bass are returning to backwaters like the creeks and bayous that feed not only the main river itself, but popular fisheries like Mud Lake near Pendleton, Lake Longhofer near Pine Bluff and Ozark Lake near Fort Smith.
From a stocking standpoint, biologists say the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza presents a perfect solution for distributing fingerlings, as the “baby bass” are carried by anglers from weigh-in locations to all corners of the river’s ecosystem. “They’re spreading out and placing fingerlings in the backwaters and areas they fish,” Dennis says. “It’s going to be a more favorable habitat than if we backed up a truck at a ramp and released thousands into an area with a less complex habitat.”
In the past four years, biologists say that over 373,000 fingerlings have been distributed by anglers at the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza, giving the Arkansas River ecosystem a shot in the arm. Dennis says that research from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff shows that stocked fingerlings contributed between 10 and 15 percent of the wild population of largemouth bass in the river.
It’s a wildlife impact that parallels the human aspect of the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza. Since 2001, tournament participants have collected well over $1 million by fishing the river’s waters. But— perhaps more importantly—biologists say they’ve released over 1 million lively fingerings back into the great waterway that breathes so much life into The Natural State, turning Arkansas’ largest fishing tournament into a win-win for both humans and fish.
The Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza runs from June 24-26. Weigh-in locations are located at Fort Smith, Russellville, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Dumas. For more information, previous results and registration forms, visit ArkansasBigBass.com.