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.
Locally that means there will be catfish in Booneville Creek at Veteran’s Park.
Robbie Strother stocked the creek with 350 fish Monday.
“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.”