July 14, 2021
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
HOT SPRINGS — Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists, aided by Chuck Emrick, a Lake Catherine shoreline resident, stocked nearly 48,000 smallmouth bass fingerlings into the smallest of Arkansas’s diamond lakes in early July. This was the third year of an introduction attempt to establish smallmouth bass in Lake Catherine.
During the last three years, fisheries biologists from Hot Springs have collected native smallmouth from the upper Ouachita River west of Mt. Ida to use as broodstock for the project.
“Smallmouth bass are native to the Ouachita River and were present in the area that forms lakes Ouachita, Hamilton and Catherine,” Brett Hobbs, district fisheries supervisor for the Hot Springs area, said. “This effort is to see if we can get the native strain of smallmouth back into Catherine.”
A previous smallmouth introduction attempt occurred on Lake Ouachita with little success, but Hobbs is hopeful that the smaller, more riverlike Catherine offers the species the habitat it needs.
“Catherine also flows cooler during the heat of summer, similar to many smallmouth streams in Arkansas,” Hobbs said.
The brood fish were taken to the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery in Hot Springs and placed in a spawning pond that had been prepared for the species. The mud and silt pond bottom doesn’t match the smallmouth’s need for rocky areas to successfully produce nests and offspring. Wooden boxes filled with river rock are placed along the edges of the pond at the right depth as surrogate spawning surfaces for the fish.
“The smallmouth lay their eggs and hatch them in those boxes in the hatchery pond, free from other predator species of fish,” Hobbs said. “When the young smallmouth bass produced reach fingerling size, the ponds are harvested and the offspring are transported to stocking areas.”
The fingerlings from the smallmouth project were stocked near aquatic vegetation from the Diamondhead area downstream to Lake Catherine State Park this year. Chuck Emrick, a resident and avid angler on Lake Catherine helped with the stocking effort.
“I drove the boat with an AGFC biologist and we put the fingerlings in where we could find vegetation in 8 to 10 feet of water,” Emrick said. “The water temperature also needed to be at 75 degrees or below.”
Emrick said he’s excited to see if the smallmouth will take to the lake.
“It’s a cool water lake and there’s a good bit of food in it for them,” Emrick said. “I live right on the lake and fish almost every day, weather permitting. It’s going to take a couple of years for them to mature provided they don’t get eaten.”
Hobbs says Dennis Mitchell, another avid Lake Catherine angler helped with fish distribution last year and would have again this year but his boat was being repaired.
“Both of these anglers are pretty excited about the introduction effort,” Hobbs said. “And we’re really excited to get their help stocking and spreading the word about this project.”
All smallmouth bass caught from Lake Catherine must be released immediately back into the water to help protect the fish until they are large enough to reproduce and give the introduction a better chance of success.
“In addition to stocking Catherine, we also returned all of the broodstock we collected to near their capture site,” Hobbs said. “We even stocked roughly 8,000 fingerlings back into the upper Ouachita River with the adults. Emrick says he’s caught a few little smallmouth, but nothing of any size has appeared on the end of his hook yet.
Hobbs is hopeful future sampling efforts show more of the species swimming in the lake.
“We did collect one smallmouth during last year’s electrofishing samples,” Hobbs said. “And we have heard some anecdotal reports from anglers who caught smallmouth in the lake. We’re really hoping that these fish take hold and offer Lake Catherine anglers another opportunity to enjoy.”