Oct. 23, 2019
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
MT. IDA — The anglers of Lake Ouachita High School Fishing Team may still be a few years from taking on the challenge of top-level tournament angling, but they already are showing the character of true sportsmen and women through their conservation actions. The team netted a $1,000 grant from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to help fund their organization after successfully completing a fish habitat project on Lake Ouachita this summer.
Tilly Davis, who organizes and helps manage the fishing team, says her two sons approached her about it.
“We heard about some of the grants the AGFC gives for the shooting sports team and I asked the school if it was possible to use some of those funds for the fishing team,” Tilly Davis said. “Robbie Strother and Alex Gilbert from the AGFC spoke up and told us we didn’t have to share that grant, we could apply for this one.”
Tilly Davis then asked Stacy Sigman, resource officer for the Corps of Engineers at Lake Ouachita, if the Corps would be willing to help with the project.
“He was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’d like to help and know where there are some dead and dying trees that need to be removed that you can use for the brush piles,’” said Tilly Davis.
Early in the morning on July 26, eight young anglers shoved off in a Corps of Engineers barge piloted by Sigman and a bass boat with Tilly’s husband, professional angler Mark Davis, behind the wheel.
“Stacy (Sigman), Robbie (Strother) and two other adults also helped with the project, cutting trees and showing us how to tie them off to the blocks,” Tilly Davis said. “Mark used his GPS and fishfinder to find the best locations for the brush and report the locations back to the Game and Fish.”
The young anglers helped drag brush and load it onto the boats, then helped push it into the water when the boat was in position.
“We placed trees — mostly cedar trees, but a few oaks — on 11 different places in the lake,” said team member Fisher Davis. “It only took one day, thanks to all the help we got from the Corps. They provided the barge and materials, we just had to show up and do the work.”
According to Mark Davis, the locations of the brush piles were a mixture of well-known honeyholes and new locations.
“The first one we built we laughed and said this is Community Hole number one,” Mark Davis said. “Everybody on the lake fishes that point, it’s a great hump in front of Mountain Harbor that’s always held fish. So the fish shelter we added is going to help everybody. Many of the places we added cover to have historically held fish, and that’s good because you know fish already use the spot, and we also put out a few in places where there’s never been one before to maybe create a new place for anglers to look.”
Tilly Davis says the funds are very important for the club because they don’t ask for any money from their young members to join.
“We have 14 members from Mt. Ida High School and Oden High School and some of the young anglers don’t have their own tackle or equipment,” Tilly Davis said. “This is a great way to get them the money the team needs and help do something for the lakes they fish.”
The grant money was supplied by the Youth Tournament Organization Habitat Grants Program offered by the AGFC’s Black Bass Program.
“These young men and women are the future of bass fishing,” said Jason Olive, assistant chief of fisheries for the AGFC who proposed the grant idea. “There’s no doubt that they love the competition and camaraderie of the sport, and this grant gives them the opportunity to showcase their commitment to the conservation of our natural resources as well.”
Although the high school fishing team habitat grant program has been available since 2017, Lake Ouachita Youth Fishing Team is only the second team to ever apply for the grant program and is the first to complete a project and collect the grant money.
“As part of the requirements, teams must be affiliated with a high school or other organization to handle the financial end of the grant,” Olive said. “They also need to provide documentation of the work and GPS locations of the fish attractors they place. We then place those coordinates on the AGFC’s interactive map so they are available to the public and may help a future young angler land a few fish.”
Grants ranging from $500 to $1,000 are available, depending on the amount of work done. Some of this money may be used to reimburse the team for any expenses from the project, but a little resourceful thinking can capitalize on donated materials.
“Just like the Corps helped locate and cut trees for this team, there are many companies that may donate old materials to use for structures,” Olive said. “Pallets from feed stores, scrap PVC from plumbing companies, cracked brick from construction companies are just a few examples of how a team can cut their costs to make the grant money stretch for their tournament fishing needs.”
Visit www.agfc.com/bbp for more information on the AGFC’s Black Bass Program and Youth Tournament Organization Habitat Grants.
To learn more about the Lake Ouachita High School Fishing Team visit their Facebook Page.