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Storm damage becomes prime habitat for Norfork Lake

BY Randy Zellers

ON 02-05-2020


Feb. 5, 2020

Randy Zellers

Assistant Chief of Communications

Loading trees onto barge
MOUNTAIN HOME — More than 40 mature trees that fell victim to a freak January windstorm now have a second life providing cover for crappie, bass and other fish, thanks to the efforts of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a volunteer student from Calico Rock High School.

Cody Wyatt, fisheries habitat biologist for the AGFC, says the Corps originally called the AGFC to see if they would be interested in the project. They had checked on some docks after a strong storm and discovered many uprooted trees, some of which were blocking access to docks and roads.

“We’ve worked together on many habitat projects in the past, so they gave us a call to see if we could make the best out of a bad situation,” Wyatt said. “The trees could be used to help anglers and fish instead of them going to waste being drug into the woods or burned. It was a no brainer.”

The AGFC and Corps gathered last Thursday, three staff from the AGFC’s Mountain Home office and eight from the Corps. A student from Calico Rock High School joined in to make the workforce an even dozen. Three people from the Corps worked with chainsaws to clear the trees, and two others hauled the trees to the shore with tractors. The rest of the men and women tied concrete blocks to the trees to sink them and dragged them into position by boat.

Thanks to an ample supply of materials at the AGFC’s Mountain Home office, and the teamwork of the dozen workers, the project only took two and a half days, including preparation.

“We are always sinking cover of some sort in our lakes to help anglers have locations to fish, so rounding up the concrete blocks and our special habitat barge was pretty simple,” Wyatt said.

Habitat barge. Click for full size image.
The habitat barge, a specialized boat designed and manufactured by Tracker Boats in Springfield, has a rearward-facing outboard that enables it to pull heavier loads than most boats while remaining level in the water.

“We had quite a few cedars that were 10 to 14 inches in diameter, and even one that reached 17 inches; that’s a pretty good chunk of a tree,” Wyatt said. “Without that barge, there’s no way we could have pulled some of those trees into place without cutting them into smaller pieces.”

All of the trees were placed in eight new fish attractor locations. GPS coordinates will be added to the 193 other Norfork Lake attractors on the AGFC’s interactive map at

“This brings us to more than 200 fish attractor locations in Norfork Lake alone,” Wyatt said. “The attractors are placed from 15 to 35 deep when Norfork is at conservation pool, so they will be used by bass, crappie, bream, catfish and other sportfish throughout different times of the year.”

Jeremy Risley, district fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Mountain Home office, says all new fish attractors were placed in the lower section of the lake near the dam.

“With the water being clearer in this area, sportfish should begin to relate to the new cover very quickly,” Risley said. “Anglers should begin to see some fish using the cover quickly if they haven’t already.”

Wyatt credits the excellent working relationship between the AGFC and Corps in Arkansas for the ability to capitalize on the situation.

“When we talk to colleagues in other states about projects like this, people are always impressed with how well we communicate with each other and work together to help the resource and the anglers,” Wyatt said. “Not only do they offer opportunities like this on lakes they own, but they roll up their sleeves with us and help get the job done.”

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