Spring rains provided many benefits for the state's fisheries. The abundant rainfall provided additional water to local fisheries, improved the survival rates of young bass within the lakes and provided sufficient amounts of cold water to support the trout fisheries below Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry Dams.
Along with those benefits come challenges brought on by the spring rains. Flooded boat ramps and campgrounds were just two of the problems related to the heavy rains. Another challenge that many may not be aware of and one that usually follows a high rainfall spring is reduced water quality in tailwater trout streams.
This season's low dissolved oxygen conditions are occurring in the Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry tailwaters. These conditions can result in slowed feeding, lower catch rates and reduce survival. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Southwestern Power Administration are working together to monitor water quality.
Under the Operation Action Plan for 2008, the AGFC will cease stocking trout in any river where the dissolved oxygen is less than six parts per million during the period of time planned for the trout to be stocked. Trout are not stocked in areas with low dissolved oxygen to avoid stressing the fish as they are stocked. It also allows the remaining trout the best opportunities for survival should conditions continue to decline.
AGFC Cold Water Coordinator Melissa Jones said that trout stocking activities have ceased in the upper 24 miles of the Bull Shoals tailwater, the upper 4 miles of the Norfork tailwater and the upper 6 miles of the Greers Ferry tailwater. "This policy helps reduce the risk of mortality of stocked trout and to get the best use of the trout stocked by the AGFC," Jones explained.
Trout that are not stocked in the scheduled locations will be held at the hatchery until conditions get better, Jones said. "As things improve, stocking will resume. Conditions this year are worse than normal because of the unusually large amount of rainfall this spring," she said. AGFC biologists expect these conditions to continue through this fall until sometime in December when surface water cools and a winter wind is able to remix and re-aerate the lake.
The actual area where trout are stocked will vary according to measured conditions. The trout management program staff will continue to monitor the situation and work to protect the health of the state's trout fishery and ensure anglers can enjoy a good fishing experience.