Angling for All
A plethora of AGFC programs, including the Family and Community Fishing Program, are connecting more Arkansans to new fishing opportunities
By Maurice Jackson
Photos Courtesy Of Arkansas Game And Fish Commission
Arkansas has an abundance of water and therefore plentiful fishing opportunities. From small farm ponds and big upland lakes to crystal-clear mountain streams and slow-moving bayous and major rivers, The Natural State’s rural landscape affords many opportunities to wet a line.
But not everyone can travel across the state to take advantage of Arkansas’ popular fishing spots. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Family and Community Fishing Program is attempting to fill a void by creating additional fishing opportunities in the state’s more populated areas.
The AGFC Family and Community Fishing Program’s primary goal is to provide high-quality angling experiences that are within easy reach of population centers. To that end, the program partners with cities of 25,000 or more people to provide angling opportunities to citizens who normally would have to travel to rural locations to fish. AGFC fish hatcheries produce channel catfish and rainbow trout that are trucked to more than three-dozen urban locations around the state, creating a community fishing hole that’s easily accessible for many Arkansans.
Over the past year, the Family and Community Fishing Program has stocked more than 135,000 fish at 39 community fishing ponds. Research shows that people who are introduced to fishing at a young age and allowed to fish multiple times a year are likely to take on fishing as a lifelong hobby. The program seeks to offer Arkansans a fun family activity that can be enjoyed by people from all ages and all walks of life, while also reversing recent national trends that show a decline in fishing license sales and fishing participation.
Many of us often talk about the “good old days,” a time before mobile phones and social media and video games and, well, so many other devices of modern technology. There were no X-Boxes and hover boards in those days, so children had to be more creative in finding fun activities. The most popular “toys” for many children were creepy, crawly bugs and other wonders of nature found in the best playground ever created—the good old outdoors. Children explored nature and very likely got a little dirty in the process, but they rarely ran out of interesting activities. Today, some people refer to these types of activities as “free-range play.”
These days, however, many young Americans rarely encounter the adrenaline-charged feeling of free-range play with peers or the joy of spending quality time outdoors on a family fishing trip. There was a noticeable shift in the 1990s. Fewer people actively engaged in nature, resulting in a decrease in sales of hunting and fishing licenses across the country. With fewer dollars generated through license sales, many states enacted budget cuts, which meant fewer dollars for management, enhancement and protection projects for state parks and wildlife.
The Natural State has always valued its unique natural resources, and in 1997 the state’s voters displayed their commitment to those resources by approving Amendment 75, the one-eighth of one-percent conservation sales tax dedicated to funding the AGFC, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Department of Arkansas Heritage and Keep Arkansas Beautiful.
Amendment 75 has increased funding for these state agencies and made it possible to better manage and enhance Arkansas’ natural resources. It also enabled AGFC to create programs designed to introduce more Arkansans to the joys of fishing. Today, AGFC opens the door to fishing for many Arkansans through programs such as Aquatic Resources Education, Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs and Family and Community Fishing.
Working with researchers from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the AGFC launched its Family and Community Fishing Program in 2002. More than a decade later, the program now stocks 39 sites across the state. Currently, rainbow trout are stocked during the winter months, with the first stocking the week before Thanksgiving and a final stocking in February. Channel catfish are stocked during warmer months, beginning in April and ending in June. Following a hiatus during the hottest part of summer, catfish stockings resume in September and October.
Aquatic Resources Education is another successful AGFC program that has helped connect Arkansas residents with fishing opportunities. The national Aquatic Resources Education Association was incorporated in 1994 with a goal to expand aquatic education across the country. In Arkansas, ARE is known for its large mobile aquariums that often are seen at large festivals, schools and other community events. The program also loans out fishing tackle and hosts fishing clinics and fishing derbies throughout the state. The AGFC’s Aquatic Resources Education program started with only a handful of requests for fishing derbies, but in 2015 the program sponsored 353 derbies, stocking more than 100,000 fish for the one-day events.
Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs is another popular AGFC program that is steering young Arkansans toward fishing. Introduced in 1997, HOFNOD, as it’s commonly known, works with schools to provide students the opportunity to study aquatic life, the value of clean waterways and conservation and stewardship. HOFNOD curricula are aligned with Arkansas Department of Education standards, and students in the program also get to go fishing.
In 2015, HOFNOD reported a total of 180 schools using the program. The program has been correlated with preventing kids from using drugs, with a national study showing that youth who participated in HOFNOD were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Together, these AGFC programs are exposing many Arkansans to the joys of fishing and the outdoor lifestyle. Although The Natural State offers many fishing opportunities, AGFC programs such as Family and Community Fishing, Aquatic Resources Education and Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs are making fishing even more accessible to Arkansans.
To learn more about these and other programs from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, visit www.agfc.com.