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June 19, 2019

Jim Harris

LITTLE ROCK – More than 4,000 children and adults attended the free fishing derbies held at the five Arkansas Game and Fish Commission state fish hatcheries on June 8, part of the three-day Free Fishing Weekend in Arkansas.

The 2,215 kids 15 years old and younger who fished and the 1,819 adults who accompanied them were part of a notable increase in attendance over last year.

“The derbies were outstanding,” said Tommy Laird, AGFC Fisheries Division assistant chief of fish culture. “ Attendance was up 6 percent on average at all the hatcheries. It did not rain as had been projected and the weather turned out beautiful everywhere. On average, 2.2 fish were caught per child who fished.”

The AGFC stocked about 18,000 fish across the five hatcheries – along with the trout at the Hinkle hatchery, catfish were stocked at C.B. “Charlie” Craig Hatchery in Centerton, Andrew H. Hulsey Hatchery in Hot Springs, William H. Donham Hatchery in Corning and the Joe Hogan Hatchery in Lonoke. Centerton, in northwest Arkansas, had the best-attended site with 744 children and 570 adults on hand June 8.

Centerton Hatchery (Bobby Martin).jpg

The 2019 derbies are far from over. The AGFC’s Aquatic Resources Education program lined up nearly 250 derbies for 2019, and half the year still remains, including almost two months before school resumes statewide. A schedule of upcoming events can be found at www.agfc.com/en/get-involved/onthewater/are/fishing-derbies.

“We have 30,000 to 35,000 more pounds of fish still to go out this year,” says J.J. Gladden, the ARE program coordinator, who adds that last year the AGFC stocked a total of 76,450 pounds across the state for ARE and Family and Community Fishing Program events. “Each stocking is based on the expected attendance of an event. We’ll stock as few as 200 fish at a few events, though there aren’t many of those, and we’ll stock up to 2,000 like we’ll bring next week to MacArthur Park. It all varies based on the expected turnout, but we do at least three fish per expected participant.

“Most of these places have fish in them already. I doubt you’d find a place that didn’t have fish before we got there or didn’t have any fish when we left.”

Participants at the ARE derbies, as well as AGFC Family and Community Fishing Program events, can catch a limit of 3 catfish (or trout, if the event is geared toward that colder-water species, though trout stockings won’t resume again until November). Some ARE events are aimed at children under 16, while others are focused toward senior citizens or physically challenged individuals.

“We work with cities, civic groups, state parks, VFWs, churches,” Gladden said. “There’s a bunch of different people and groups that get together and help us host these events – definitely cities and their chambers of commerce, Boys and Girls Clubs, Kiwanis groups, 4-H groups. It’s not anything one of us could do on our own. That’s why we have to have our partners.”

Last year, the ARE program scheduled 240 events that drew a total attendance of 25,000, Gladden said. Upcoming on Thursday, June 27, is annually one of the biggest attended events: a City of Little Rock-sponsored derby at MacArthur Park.

Stockings for the Family and Community Fishing Program events are included in the ARE total stocking numbers for the year. But FCFP also keeps nearly 40 ponds around the state stocked nearly year-round through the AGFC Fisheries Division, either with catfish or trout. Administrators of FCFP were busy stocking ponds earlier this month with catfish, and they have a variety of events also lined up. They’ll also be stocking catfish in September and October before turning to trout in November. A list of FCFP ponds can be found at www.agfc.com/familyfishing.

About a decade ago, ARE was holding up to 350 events a year, Gladden said. That number dropped to about 200 annually but has risen back to the 250 mark now, he noted. “We’re just looking for quality events,” he said. Anyone interested in getting on the ARE schedule can fill out an application online or learn more about the program at https://www.agfc.com/en/get-involved/onthewater/are/fishing-derbies/ or by calling 877-676-6963.