Small Mouth Bass stocking in Lake Ouachita started in 1996 at the request of anglers, the AGFC first began its effort to establish a smallmouth bass fishery in Lake Ouachita with native Ouachita Mountain strain smallmouth. Adult smallmouth bass were collected from the Ouachita River, Big Mazarn Creek, Saline River and the Caddo River. These fish were held at the Hulsey Hatchery as brood stock for spawning. Approximately 63,000 young smallmouth bass averaging four to 10 inches in length were produced from these fish and stocked into Lake Ouachita near the spillway in the lower end of the lake between 1997 and 1999. Suitable habitat sites were selected with the help of biologists from north Arkansas who had experience with smallmouth bass populations in their lakes. Subsequent monitoring of these initial stockings has shown very little success of the native, river-strain fish naturally reproducing in the lake.
In the summer of 2002, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Andrew Hulsey Hatchery in Hot Springs received 1,700 fingerling smallmouth bass from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. These fish were spawned from brood stock at Tennessee's Norris Lake and raised at TWRA's Eagle Bend Hatchery. This particular strain of smallmouth bass is well known for its ability to thrive in reservoir habitat conditions.
The AGFC received the fish from TWRA as an ongoing cooperation between the two agencies, according to the AGFC's warmwater hatchery coordinator Don Brader. "In years of poor fish production, the Commission has received thousands of various fish species from TWRA, who have in turn received various species from the AGFC when their Tennessee hatcheries have failed to produce adequate numbers of young fish," Brader explained.
In 2003, the AGFC began a second effort at establishing a smallmouth bass fishery in Lake Ouachita by growing out the fingerling fish received from Tennessee to an average size of six to 12 inches, Brader said. "This summer 700 of those were stocked by boat into suitable habitat sites in the lower reaches of the lake between Blakely Dam and lake marker number one," he added. The remaining reservoir-strain smallmouth from Tennessee are currently being held at the Hulsey Hatchery and will be used as brood stock for spawning purposes next spring.
The AGFC plans to produce and stock approximately 100,000 fingerling smallmouth bass into Lake Ouachita each year for the next five years. The Commission hopes this introduction of the reservoir-strain smallmouth from Tennessee will produce a viable, self-sustaining smallmouth bass fishery in Lake Ouachita in the near future. At the same time, the Commission is continuing its efforts to improve the largemouth bass fishery in Lake Ouachita.
The largemouth bass population on Lake Ouachita continues to be monitored through seining, electrofishing and fish population sampling by local fisheries biologists Stuart Wooldridge and Brett Hobbs. "Sampling results have shown the current 13 to 16 inch protected slot limit for largemouth bass on Lake Ouachita to be an effective management tool in increasing the percentage of fish within the slot, while at the same time protecting those fish from harvest and ensuring a good population of brood fish for spawning purposes," Wooldridge said.
Although the Commission does not stock Florida-strain largemouth bass into the lake, Lake Ouachita currently receives a supplemental stocking of approximately 30,000, four to five inch largemouth bass every third year from the nursery pond located on the west end of the lake. "Sampling results over the last several years have shown good, consistent recruitment of young largemouth in Lake Ouachita," Wooldridge explained. Additionally, biologists this fall will be evaluating the overall status of the Lake Ouachita largemouth bass fishery, according to AGFC black bass biologist Colton Dennis. "This will be done by conducting comprehensive health assessments, age and growth analysis, and largemouth bass virus and genetic testing in an effort to address concerns of poor bass fishing by anglers," he said.
The Commission also continues to be an active partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local marina operators in an effort to resolve issues concerning problematic aquatic vegetation throughout the lake consisting primarily of two exotic species, Hydrilla and Eurasian milfoil.