Canceled hatchery fishing derbies result in bonus Arkansas catfish stockings

LITTLE ROCK — Precautions to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 have forced the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to cancel the annual fishing derbies held at its five fish hatcheries in June, but anglers throughout the state will still be able to enjoy some quality time chasing catfish. AGFC hatcheries are delivering thousands of pounds of catchable-sized catfish to small, publicly accessible ponds throughout Arkansas to prepare for Free Fishing Weekend, June 12-14.

“We didn’t want to cancel our hatchery derbies, but we really didn’t see a way to do them without breaking social distancing precautions,” said Tommy Laird, assistant chief of fisheries for the AGFC. “We host thousands of participants each year on that day, and there just isn’t space for people to spread out properly on the ponds we can designate for the derby.”

Laird says all hatchery staff are disappointed with the cancelations but are working hard to make sure everyone has a good time on Free Fishing Weekend.

“This is the one time of year where we get thousands of visitors to show them all the work we do to produce fish for Arkansans,” Laird said. “The events are just as important to us as they are to the people who come to fish. They even compete for bragging rights on what hatchery has the most visitors and best response from surveys taken during the derbies.”

Each of the AGFC’s four warm-water hatcheries has a surplus of catchable-sized catfish that were raised with these derbies in mind. Those catfish now will be delivered to small ponds throughout the state for anglers everywhere to enjoy. Staff worked hard to distribute the 24,000 pounds of catchable catfish evenly throughout the state.

“We are stocking 6,000 pounds of catfish to each of the four quarters of the state,” Laird said. “The amount stocked per pond will be determined by the size of that pond and the number of people who normally fish it, but we worked hard to divide this surplus evenly.”

These stockings are in addition to the normal stockings the AGFC conducts through its Family and Community Fishing Program.

“Those locations all will receive their normal stockings, these are just some additional locations that normally don’t get these extra stockings,” Laird said.

Anglers are advised to continue practicing social distancing while enjoying all fishing locations. Maintain a 6-foot distance (one fishing rod’s length) from your nearest neighbor who is not in your immediate family and wash your hands thoroughly after touching any surfaces that someone else may have touched.

“It’s always a good idea to have some latex gloves, a hand towel and some hand sanitizer or water with you while catfishing anyway,” Laird said. “Most anglers probably already carry some of these items to clean up after they unhook a fish.”

The following list of ponds will receive extra stockings before June 12:

Southeast Arkansas

Crossett — Crossett City Park

Eudora — Eudora City Lake

Forest City — Forest City Sports Complex Pond

Hazen — Mammoth Pond at Wattensaw

Judsonia — Judsonia City Park Pond

Lake Village — Lake Village Community Lake

Marianna — Ranger Pond

McGhee — McGhee City Lake

Star City — Cane Creek State Park

Warren — Bradley County Lake

Southwest Arkansas

Arkadelphia — Youth Sports Complex Pond

Camden — Camden Fairview High School Pond

Columbus — Grandview Prairie Education Pond

Jesseville — Jesseville Work Center Pond

Mena — Rich Mountain Community College Pond

Mt. Ida — Womble-Mt. Ida Work Center

Nashville — Nashville City Park Lake

Sheridan — Sheridan Community Center Pond

Northwest Arkansas

Berryville — George Pond

Booneville — Booneville City Lake (Veteran’s Park)

Centerton — Centerton Pond

Gentry — Flint Creek Nature Pond

Harrison — Harrison Lake

Jasper — Bradley Park

Lowell — Ward Nail Park

Rogers — Camp War Eagle

Siloam Springs — Sager Creek Park

Van Buren — Lake Lou Emma

Waldron — Sodie Davidson Park Pond

West Fork — Devil’s Den Park

Northeast Arkansas

Batesville — Rowe Lake

Blytheville — Walker Park

Burdette — Burdette Lake

Cave City — Cave City Park Pond

Jonesboro — Caraway Lake

Melbourne — Melbourne City Park

Mt. Home — Amons Lake

Mt. Home — McCabe Park

Mt. View — Stinger Lake

Newport — Newport Lake

Piggott — Heritage Park

Pocahontas — Old Davidsonville State Park

Salem — Salem City Park

Walnut Ridge — Walnut Ridge City Park

Central Arkansas

Beebe — Cypress Bayou

Bryant — Bishop Park Pond

Dardanelle — Merritt Park Pond

Greenbrier — Lake Bennett at Wooly Hollow

Guy — Guy City Lake

Hot Springs — Diamondhead Park

Ward — Ward City Lake