Oct. 3, 2018
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission helped provide fishing opportunities for more than 45,000 people this year through catfish and trout stockings and events focused on community ponds and fishing derbies in 2018.
More young anglers are getting involved in fishing at free AGFC derbies through its Aquatic Resources Education Program and through free events held by the AGFC Family and Community Fishing Program. Fishing derbies organized by the ARE Program and supported by many area sponsors attracted almost 22,000 children ages 15 and younger this year. An estimated 14,000 children and 7,000 adults registered and enjoyed the 29 fishing events put on by the Family and Community Fishing Program and its partners and sponsors so far in 2018. Topping it off, five fishing derbies held at AGFC hatcheries in early June drew more than 2,200 kids, bringing the total number of participants in AGFC’s fishing events to about 45,000, with 38,000 of them being children age 16 and under.
The AGFC’s five hatcheries provided more than 107,000 catfish to these fishing derbies and community events. On June 9 alone, the ponds at those AGFC hatcheries were stocked with 4,909 catfish.
The ARE’s 234 fishing derbies required stocking of 76,450 catfish, while 26,200 catfish were stocked in Family and Community Fishing Program ponds, according to Tommy Laird, assistant chief of fisheries.
Ben Batten, chief of fisheries for the AGFC, said, “Arkansas is fortunate to have a very strong fish culture program, which allows us to provide these opportunities to so many of our state's residents. When I visit with my colleagues in other states, they often comment on the challenges they have to face because of much more limited budgets for purchasing or growing fish for their programs.”
Batten added, “We are very focused on getting Arkansans outdoors and providing a quality fishing opportunity. Studies have shown that time restraints, lack of access and funding all cause people to go fishing less than the amount that they would like to. These programs try to minimize all of these factors by providing great opportunities close to home for many potential anglers.”
Family and Community Fishing Program Coordinator Maurice Jackson said, “These attendance numbers don’t even include people who will come to the pond the day after our event because they know we stocked the pond with catfish. These are nice-size fish, enough for a meal. Some of these ponds will see 100 or so people come the next day. For a one-day event, we may stock 1,000 to 2,000 fish. So total numbers we reach are hard to pin down outside the registration for our events.
“If you look at all the AGFC programs, we actually reach more with our events because a kid will come out there with their family and they’re going to tell their neighbors and then their neighbors are going to come out and fish,” Jackson added. “We look at our events in our program as fishing awareness events. It says to people, ‘Here is our program and we’re going to be stocking 41 ponds and we’ll stock them at least eight times a year.’ ”
The FCFP program attendance nearly tripled from 2017, Jackson said, from 7,500 people a year ago to 21,000 this year. The number of youths attending the events is estimated as 2 youths per every adult attending, he added.
Because of extreme warm weather in the summer, regular catfish stockings were halted until temperatures began to drop to a level more suitable for the fish. They have resumed for the rest of this year. Also, many of the Family and Community Fishing Program ponds will receive trout from November through February, as the water temperatures permit.
“When you consider all of our programs, there’s probably not a state in the union that can compare with what we do as far as our actual reach for youths and the communities,” Jackson said. “Women, adults, everyone, our mission is we’re trying to recruit people into the outdoors. Our (Family and Community Fishing Program) is rolling. The eighth-cent sales tax (Amendment 75, approved by voters in 1998) allowed us to do so much more at the AGFC, and our program began that year.”
The 2019 fishing schedules are already taking shape. To find out more about the Family and Community Fishing Program, call 501-223-6461. For information on holding an Aquatic Resources Education Program fishing derby, call 501-676-3188.