MONTICELLO — Hatchery staff and biologists from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to load more than one-quarter of a million forage fish into the rising waters of Lake Monticello in October.
Approximately 180,000 fathead minnows, 111,900 golden shiners, 78,840 bluegill, and 82,056 redear sunfish were stocked. The effort was to re-establish a flourishing forage base in the newly renovated lake before predatory gamefish are introduced.
According to Kris Nault, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Monticello regional office, the water level is still too low to stock directly by truck, so staff had to add an extra step to ensure some of the forage base has the opportunity to become established according to the initial timeline for the lake renovation.
“The fish were placed in a hog trough on a trailer that was pulled by a UTV,” Nault said. “They were transported approximately 220 yards from the boat ramp to the water’s edge. It took several trips back and forth to the hatchery trucks to stock the fish this way.”
Nault says the lower-than-expected water is a result of drought conditions during the lake’s refilling after the lake was drained by the City of Monticello to repair the lake’s levee.
“The water in Lake Monticello currently covers approximately 470 acres, and has only increased about 20 acres since May,” Nault said. “At full pool, the lake covers 1,520 acres. It took about five years to reach that pool level when the lake was originally flooded, and that included two drought years.”
The drought postponed the stocking of shad into the lake, as these fish are much more delicate and susceptible to injury from the added handling the transportation required. With luck and rain, there still may be an opportunity to start this forage base soon.
“We plan on stocking threadfin shad this fall as well, if there is surplus Threadfin Shad available” Nault said. “Florida largemouth bass will be stocked during the summer of 2023. The forage and bream species already mentioned will be stocked again in the fall of 2023, along with black crappie.”
The use of “hog troughs” is hopefully an ironic bit of foreshadowing, as Lake Monticello was once known as one of the top destinations for trophy-size bass in Arkansas. As the lake aged and some undesirable species became established, the potential for memorable-size catches began to wane. With staff having the opportunity to renovate the lake’s habitat and reset the fish population, the hope is that many anglers will begin to see “hog-quality” fish after the lake refills and the soon-to-be-stocked Florida largemouth bass have had at least a few years to grow.
Visit www.agfc.com/en/news/tag/lake-monticello for more information on the rebuilding of the lake’s levee and intensive habitat revitalization.