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Major fish habitat projects continue for large north Arkansas lakes

BY Randy Zellers

ON 11-28-2018


Nov. 28, 2018

Randy Zellers

Assistant Chief of Communications

MOUNTAIN HOME – Frigid temperatures and shorter days may have many people’s eyes focused on the deer stand or duck blind, but Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists and staff have been fighting frozen noses and numb fingers for the last week adding massive amounts of natural cover to Norfork Lake.

“We’re planning to add fresh cover to 87 existing fish attractor locations on Norfork this week and next, but at the rate we’re going, we should be able to exceed that goal and add to even more attractor locations,” said Jeremy Risley, regional fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Mountain Home office. “We have 22 AGFC staff and three people from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working this week and should have as many AGFC staff on the project next week as well.”

The large-scale fish habitat project is the second such project for the Mountain Home region in as many years, with Bull Shoals seeing 125 fish attractors added last December.

“Just like that project, we’re using shoreline trees the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] has given us permission to cut,” Risley said. 

The partnership with the Corps speeds up the habitat placement tremendously, as trees can be cut at the shoreline and dragged directly to the fish attractor location with special habitat barges. In some habitat projects, trees must be cut, transported to the lake, loaded on the barge and then driven to the site where they were needed. The entire process can take many hours to complete only a handful of sites. 

“We can use these modified pontoon boats and drag the trees right from the shore instead of all the loading and unloading,” Risley said.  

Managing fish populations in large impoundments such as Norfork Lake is a matter of fighting Father Time. When the lakes are new, all of the flooded vegetation and woody cover creates a perfect environment for game fish to thrive. Over the next few decades, these materials rot away reducing the deep-water cover anglers search out to locate fish. 

“Most of Arkansas’s game fish species are ‘ambush predators,’” Risley said. “They find a place to hide and wait for smaller fish and crayfish to come close, then burst out of the cover to quickly catch them. These fish attractors give them a place to hide.”

Woody cover and vegetation also concentrates baitfish, which feed on the decaying organic matter and seek shelter from predators in the dense network of branches and stems. Even game fish that are more adaptable to open water, such as walleye, will concentrate near cover because they are following the food. 

“The main goal of the project is to give anglers places where they are more likely to catch fish,” Risley said. “Bass, crappie, walleye, catfish and bream have all been caught from the attractors that were placed last year in Bull Shoals.”

Risley says the locations of all fish attractors will be marked by Global Positioning System coordinates, which will be available on the AGFC’s interactive map at From there, anglers can write down the coordinates and use a handheld or marine GPS unit to go straight to the attractors. 

“You can also download the GPS coordinates straight to your GPS unit if you have the right software and hardware connections,” Risley said. “And in spring, any angler that wants to drop by the AGFC Mountain Home office can come by with their boats and we’ll help load the coordinates to their units ourselves. We’ve done about 200 or so and have all the connections to upload the coordinates to most popular models of Fishfinder/GPS units. The whole project is about getting people out and enjoying some time on the water, so we’ll do whatever we can to help with that.”

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