HUGHES – Horseshoe Lake, an oxbow once part of the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas, has long been noted for good crappie production, but recent studies have shown a mostly smaller, younger fish population. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is in the second year of a tagged crappie study to determine the cause of crappie mortality, and anglers can help.

The AGFC has placed reward tags on many crappie, with each tag being worth anywhere from $5 to $100, according to Justin Homan, an AGFC district supervisor in Brinkley. Anglers who catch a tagged crappie can report the tag to the AGFC claim the reward value. After removing the tag, they may keep the fish or release it, whichever they would normally do.

Results from the tag returns will help fisheries biologists determine if the low numbers of large, older crappie in the lake are the result of angler harvest or natural causes, Homan said.

“The sampling we’ve done the last two years, what we’ve seen is, we’re having good catch rates, catching a lot of fish from Horseshoe Lake, but we’re not seeing the bigger fish in our samples,” Homan said. “There appears to be very few fish age 3 and over, of the ones we’ve sampled. There are a lot of smaller fish. Most of the fish are 1 or 2 years old. We think they are just not surviving long enough to grow into a larger fish.

“Through the crappie management plan and our sampling, it’s led us to look at angler harvest,” Homan said.

Determining catch rates by anglers will help determine what the AGFC does next at Horseshoe Lake in terms of crappie management. Currently, the daily creel limit on Horseshoe Lake is 50 crappie, a figure that has been in effect for several years at Horseshoe Lake and between the levees of the Mississippi River. When that limit was established at Horseshoe Lake, crappie were considered overcrowded.

Numbers from sampling have indicated 60 percent of the lake’s crappie will die before age 2, and 60 percent of those surviving fish will not reach age 3.

“We want the anglers to report the tags and send them in,” Homan said. “We’ll want to know, did you harvest it or throw it back? Answers to these questions will help us plan a course of action to improve the crappie size in the fishery.”

Similar angler sampling programs have been used on such lakes as Harris Brake and at Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir, he said.

The AGFC provides a public ramp access to Horseshoe Lake on its western end. Horseshoe Lake is accessible off U.S. Highway 79 at Hughes by taking Arkansas Highway 38 east to Arkansas 147, which runs alongside the west and northwest portion of the lake. Highway 147 also runs due north to Interstate 40, just west of West Memphis.