HARRISBURG – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission plans to conduct an intensive renovation to Poinsett Lake in northeast Arkansas beginning in July. The lake will be drained during the renovation, which is expected to last until 2020.
Poinsett was created in 1960 by damming Distress Creek, and like many reservoirs constructed from the 1930s to the 1970s, it shows many serious signs of aging. Bank erosion, declining fish habitat and a deteriorating water control structure all plague the lake that has been a popular recreational opportunity in Northeast Arkansas.
“It’s really not unusual to see these sorts of issues,” said Ben Batten, assistant chief of fisheries for the AGFC. “All water-control structures have a usable life span, and many of our lakes built in that era are reaching the end of that term.”
The only way to replace the water-control structure and complete the necessary repairs involves completely draining the lake. However, the drawdown will enable biologists to make many improvements like what was done at Lake Atkins, Columbia Lake and White Oak Lake, some of the hottest up-and-coming lakes for angling in the state.
“We know the draining will be a temporary inconvenience to anglers, but if past renovations are any indication, anglers will be very happy with the results in the years to come,” Batten said.
Batten says simply drawing down the lake will benefit the new system once it is filled with what biologists call a “new lake effect.” When a lake is filled, it is flush with nutrients and invertebrates from decomposing organic matter. The flooded vegetation enables sport fish to spawn successfully and their fry to evade predators, resulting in massive amounts of small fish and food for them to grow. This is the same sort of effect that boosted the trophy-class bass swimming in Lake Atkins. The fish from that drawdown showed remarkable growth, and the system has sustained a trophy fishery for quite a few years since its initial peak.
In addition to the repairs on the water-control structure, biologists and engineers will be hard at work during the drawdown to add even more improvements for the future of the fishery.
“We plan to stabilize the bank, which is beginning to erode in some places,” Batten said. “This will reduce the amount of sediment and silt being added to the system, which can decrease reproductive success. We also plan to conduct many fish habitat enhancement projects.”
Batten says biologists hope to disc the lakebed while it is dry, which will increase breakdown of organic material and encourage soil compaction to firm up the lake bottom. Brush piles will be scattered throughout the lake bed to create woody cover for predator fish to ambush prey and offer nursery habitat for young fish. Gravel will also be added to key areas of the lakebed to enhance spawning areas and maximize the amount of natural spawning taking place in the lake. Once renovations are complete, the new gates will be closed and the lake will be allowed to refill naturally.
“We’ll give the lake a good jump start on production as well by stocking channel catfish, bass, bream and crappie,” Batten said. “The channel cats will be catchable size, so anglers can begin to enjoy the lake as soon as possible while the other fish populations grow in size and number.”
In preparation for the proposed drawdown and renovation, biologists will request the Commission drop all creel limits on Lake Poinsett beginning May 22, so anglers may take advantage of the resource and prevent the waste of fish that comes with draining. Biologists also plan to hold meetings at the following times to present the renovation plan and speak with the public about any concerns they may have regarding the project: