Pass the hush puppies, please. That mess of fresh Lake Conway crappie is hot and ready on the table.
Amid all the verbiage of the Mayflower oil spill, the accusations and finger pointing, the question still being asked is, "Are the fish in Lake Conway safe to eat"?
State and federal agencies involved in the incident have said from the outset that no oil reached the main body of the lake and that the fish are not affected.
Most fishermen on the lake agree. They go after the bream, crappie, bass and catfish as they have in the past. And they enjoy them on the dinner table.
Chuck Johnson at Hi-Way Landing in Mayflower said, "Most folks around here are eating the fish. Some aren’t. It’s an individual choice."
Lake Conway, completed on July 4, 1951, was created as a fishing lake, and that’s all it has been for 62 years. It is not for generating electricity, not for flood control, not for water skiing or swimming. It is for fishing. There have always been some anglers on Lake Conway who catch fish but don’t eat them, just as some deer hunters don’t eat venison and some duck hunters don’t each ducks.
The oil spill that has attracted state, national and international attention and heated debate continues to be linked with Lake Conway and will be far into the future. But the fishermen focus on fish, and there is a bright spot here, according to one long-time lake angler.
Charles Lovell said, "I live on the lake. When we had the spill, they kept the gates at the dam closed instead of opening them like they do in most springs. We have had an excellent (fish) spawn. The bream really have had good spawns. This should give us some really good fishing five years or so in the future."
Lovell added, "They have those monitors all over the lake. We are eating fish like we always have."
Jim Baker, of Conway, is a banker along with a number of other activities in the community. He said, "I have seen no indication of any problem with people eating fish from the lake. Last Wednesday night, I ate bream from the lake at Dee Lawrence’s house," naming a local fish cook of well-established renown.
Baker said, "I have heard no comments from the public about eating fish from the lake. They are not going to get any oil taste in them."
With the arrival of June and its accompanying hot weather, the numbers of fishermen on the lake have dropped. A few weeks ago and after the oil spill incident, traditional crappie fishing areas like the Gold Creek arm were crowded with boats. Now the fishing is more spread out.
Chuck Johnson said, "The bream fishing is still good, but with the warmer weather, the fish are running a little smaller."
David Harding, of Jacksonville, had finished loading his boat on a trailer at the Pierce Creek area of the lake after a morning’s fishing. The catch was just so-so, he said.
"We have no problem with eating the fish from the lake. Oldtimers who have been fishing here a long time tell me they don’t have a problem eating the fish either."
The lake’s fishermen are looking ahead too. Baker said, "It won’t be long until the catalpa worms are ready," mentioning a highly sought-after bait for bream, catfish and other species.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.