KW Morrow, White River

July 4th, 2005

Hoping for a Hatchery
By Ken Morrow

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is currently soliciting public comment on proposed changes to the trout management plan for the Beaver Lake tailwater trout fishery. The Commission will act on these recommendations this coming Fall. Beaver Lake is the first lake in the White River chain of lakes that were created when a series of hydro-electric and flood control dams were constructed along the White River in the middle of the twentieth century. With the construction of these lakes came the destruction of one of the world's finest Smallmouth Bass fisheries due to the cold water being pumped from the bottom of these deep mountain lakes. In response, the USFWS, USACE, AGFC, and MDC built a series of trout hatcheries in the region and began stocking trout in the tailwater sections of the White River below each dam and in Lake Taneycomo. The Beaver Dam tailwater lies completely within the state of Arkansas and is located in Northwest Arkansas near the famous tourist town of Eureka Springs and within an hour of the booming greater Fayetteville area. The tailwater consists of 8 miles of riparian habitat.

The Beaver tailwater has long been considered unsuited for the natural reproduction of trout. As such, it has been managed by the AGFC as a put-and-take trout fishery. During the past two decades, AGFC has heavily stocked the tailwater with Rainbow, Brook, Cutthroat, and Brown trout; with the bulk of the stocking consisting of Rainbows. But recent studies by AGFC coupled with a series of public input meetings with Beaver tailwater stakeholders have led Darrell Bowman, the head trout biologist for AGFC, to submit a series of regulation changes and management recommendations to the commissioners. These recommendations are as follows:

    1. Reduce rainbow trout stocking rate to 96,000 eleven-inch catchables, annually.

    2. Reduce brown trout stocking to 5,000, six-inch fingerlings.

    3. Skip stock brown trout every other year. Skip 2005.

    4. Eliminate current 16-inch minimum length limit on brown trout.

    5. Regulate entire tailwater with 13 to 16 inch slot limit for all trout from Beaver Dam to Houseman Access. 5 trout per day (only 1 over 16 inches). Bait fishing allowed only with single barbless hooks.

    6. No bait-fishing zone replaces the present catch-and-release area.

Furthermore, the US Congress has allocated land and water to build a trout hatchery along the shores of the Beaver tailwater more in hopes of enriching the biomass of the tailwater with the nutrient-rich effluent from the hatchery than because of the need for the fish. The trout for Beaver currently come from AGFC and USFWS hatcheries in the Ozarks and, if adopted, these new management practices would curtail the number of trout currently being stocked there. But is this hatchery an impending reality, or just a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream? About the hatchery, one local angler and outdoor writer recently wrote, "A hatchery? Hell yes I'd like a hatchery! But you show me the money...Congress allocated the water and the land, not the cash. We will not have a hatchery on the ground inside the next 5 years..."

"Congress has allocated sufficient water to operate a trout hatchery," said Stan Todd, assistant trout biologist for the AGFC, "but construction funding has not been authorized." "A big problem below Beaver Dam," Todd added, "is low minimum flow, which limits the number of invertebrates and small fish that trout eat. Effluent from a hatchery would increase minimum flow and provide a ready source of trout." And there you have the rub. According to the Beaver fishermen that I've talked to, it seems unlikely that the hatchery will be built anytime soon. However, one local fly shop employee who attended both public meetings reports, "As a former Commissioner said at the first meeting, the AGFC has the money NOW. It's just a matter of priorities."

So the obvious question is: Is AGFC proposing these changes in management practices for Beaver because the hatchery is coming, or are they proposing the changes and hoping that a hatchery might follow? Right now, no one knows, or...if they do...they aren't talking.

In the end, it seems to me that the changes in management at Beaver could have a positive impact either way. But they would obviously be far more successful with the hatchery in place. It also seems to this author that with the Beaver tailwater less than an hour's drive from one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, namely the Fayetteville-Rogers-Springdale area of Northwest Arkansas, the possibility of getting the hatchery funded is pretty good. Giants in Arkansas politics such as Wal-Mart (who has a strong vested interest in fishing) are headquartered in the region, and will certainly be in favor of improving the quality of recreational opportunities for their employees and vendors. The same could be said for the University of Arkansas, transportation giant, JB Hunt, and Tyson Foods, Inc. It seems that everyone stands to gain from the proposed hatchery except possibly SWPA, the regional energy conglomerate that operates the dams.

If money is indeed short for the project, it seems to me that private stakeholders and the state government should join forces to seek financial assistance from these huge companies. I'm almost certain one or more of them would contribute to the project, providing matching grants to make up any shortfall in the state budget. I just don't see how such a project could fail if structured properly and presented well. Finally, local members of organizations like Trout Unlimited, the Federation of Fly Fishers, and other sporting and conservation groups need to petition their organizations to become proactively involved. And anglers who would like to see a much-improved Beaver tailwater should write their national and state representatives to voice support for the hatchery project. ~ Ken

About Ken:

Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1988, and spent the next several years serving in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the nation's service in 1993.

Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian, having penned articles and stories that have appeared in several national hunting publications like North American Hunter magazine, on, in regional and local newspapers, and historical and literary journals. He has also provided hunting and dog training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods retailers nationwide. He volunteers his time to Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, as well as several local charitable organizations. He is also a REALTOR with Coldwell Banker in Branson, Missouri; where he lives with his wife, Wilma, and their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe.

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