LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission added more than 2,220 acres of access for hunters and anglers in 2017. Land for waterfowl hunting, upland game and bat conservation highlight the improvements for wildlife. A state-of-the-art weigh-in facility in Northwest Arkansas, new access for paddlers on Crooked Creek and additional bank fishing opportunity on one of the AGFC’s oldest lakes round out some of the improvements for 2017 for anglers.

Frog Bayou Jumps to Three Times its Size

Frog Bayou Wildlife Management Area in Crawford County has quickly become one of the most popular public lands for waterfowl hunting in the western half of the state. Popularity can lead to crowded conditions in small WMAs, but thanks to a partnership with the Trust for Public Land and Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grants, the AGFC nearly tripled the size of this popular waterfowl-hunting and wildlife-viewing destination in June 2017. The purchase of 1,390 acres adjacent to Frog Bayou WMA has been pursued by the AGFC for many years, and thanks to a recent sale of the property, this land is now available for the public.

“Expanding Frog Bayou has been a high priority,” said Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator. “But many complications with multiple ownerships surrounding the property had made it difficult to pursue until recently.”

The Trust for Public Land facilitated adding the property to the WMA by securing a purchase agreement with the landowner, acquiring the property and conveying to AGFC as grant funding became available. This enabled the AGFC to go through the proper channels to secure Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds. The total purchase price of the property was $4.54 million, 75 percent of which was brought in through Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds. Visit the WMA’s web page at www.agfc.com/frogbayou.

Public Quail Habitat a Stone’s Throw from Central Arkansas

The Commission reinforced its commitment to northern bobwhite management at its March 2017 meeting when it purchased 989 acres of fields and upland habitat bordering a portion of the Camp Robinson Special Use Area in Faulkner County. The new area is named Stone Prairie WMA, and will be managed separately from the Special Use Area.

“Stone Prairie has an ideal mix of open lands that lend well to our northern bobwhite initiative,” said Steven Fowler, assistant chief of the AGFC’s Wildlife Management Division. “It’s proximity to Camp Robinson (special use area) makes it a good fit to expand hunting opportunities in that area.”

Bat Restoration Leads to Gulf Mountain WMA expansion

Although the Diamond Pipeline was surrounded by controversy in 2017, hunters will see some new land on Scott Henderson Gulf Mountain WMA thanks to mitigation requirements derived from its path. A 240-acre tract of land bordering the WMA in Van Buren County was added in an effort to offset the impacts the project may have on habitat available for the threatened northern long-eared bat. Diamond Pipeline LLC, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arkansas Field Office, contributed $5.1 million to work with state and federal agencies, non-profits and private landowners to acquire, restore and protect an estimated 3,000 acres of forested northern long-eared bat habitat in perpetuity. The species has been documented on the 240-acres added to Gulf Mountain, but recreational activities will not conflict with the habitat requirements of the species. Visit www.agfc.com/gulfmountain for more information on the WMA.

Anglers and AGFC Partner at Prairie Creek

Teamwork with local anglers was the key to a major improvement for Beaver Lake bass anglers this year with the addition of an impressive weigh-in facility at Prairie Creek. “Prairie Creek is the most utilized access on Beaver Lake,” said Jon Stein, AGFC fisheries biologist for northwest Arkansas. “It has a six-lane boat ramp and a parking lot that can handle tournaments as large as 190 boats.”

Stein says the project began after local anglers spoke to him and Colton Dennis, the AGFC’s Black Bass Program coordinator, explaining their need and willingness to help in the project. He was able to secure a grant through the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

“Anglers came forward to pledge their commitment to the project,” Stein said.

In all, anglers contributed $32,500 worth of in-kind donations to the project and the AGFC contributed $41,250 of funding. This was enough matching money to secure $221,250 from federal grants to bring the total project cost to $295,000.

The facility has a 24-foot-by-36-foot pavilion and 42-foot laminated wood amphitheater. Two holding tanks are for anglers to keep their fish in while they wait to weigh-in. Water from the lake will be pumped into the tanks and an air blower will aerate them to ensure fish stay as healthy as possible during weigh-ins.

George’s Creek Access Makes Crooked Creek a Faster Float

The section of Crooked Creek between Snow and Kelly’s Slab not only harbors huge smallmouth, but also is one of the most picturesque stretches of stream in the state. A new access on Old U.S. Highway 62 west of Yellville will make it possible to enjoy without investing an entire day.

“If you want to fish that stretch, you are looking at a good 8 to 10 hours from put-in to take-out,” Mike Cantrell, AGFC regional maintenance contract coordinator, said. “Our new access on George’s Creek splits that float almost in half, making it much easier to get out for an afternoon or morning float when you don’t have a full day to fish.”

According to Cantrell, people parked along the Old U.S. Highway 62 just upstream and dragged their canoes and kayaks a few hundred yards downstream to meet up with Crooked Creek.

“At the new access, people can pull right down to the water on the concrete ramp and unload their canoes instead of dragging,” Cantrell said. “We even built a canoe loading ramp and handicapped access.”

Users can unload canoes at the ramp, put in all their gear and walk the canoe down the sidewalk before driving their car back up to the parking area. The added feature makes getting into the water much easier and helps keep things moving when a few groups are trying to get in the water at the same time.

In addition to the ramp, there’s roughly 6,000 square feet of parking and a 1,000-foot section of road connecting the access to Old Highway 62.

The project, funded by marine fuel tax dollars and Sport Fish Restoration Funds, was dedicated in May to Mark Oliver, the recently retired chief of the AGFC Fisheries Division, who pursued this access for many years to make it a reality.

Lake Conway Access Adds Reach for Bank Anglers

Anyone who has driven over the Arkansas Highway 89 Bridge at Lake Conway has likely seen a boat or bank fisherman nearby searching for crappie. During fall and winter, this area can become extremely crowded with cars, as many people have learned that the deep water of the channel congregates slab-sized crappie during cold weather. Unfortunately, this means many cars parked along the highway, creating a dangerous situation. But the Commission’s purchase of 1.3 acres near the bridge in March 2017 may improve things dramatically for shorebound anglers looking to enjoy a day on the bank.

Tom Bly, AGFC district fisheries biologist in Mayflower, says anglers have always parked along the bridge’s right-of-way established by the Arkansas Department of Transportation and walked to the water to fish, but a small piece of land adjacent to that area became available a few years back, and was finally able to be purchased last year.

“Right now it’s just a cleared and bushhogged piece of land,” Bly said. “But we plan to put a parking lot in there that can hold 10 to 15 cars. The bank will be accessible from the location as well, and we hope to include a handicapped-accessible fishing pier in the future with an intensive habitat project around it.”

Although boat launching will not be possible from the new access, Bly says there may be enough space to launch a canoe or kayak at the area, but his main goal in the access is to increase bank-fishing opportunities and safety for anglers looking for a quick trip to the water. For more information on Lake Conway, visit www.agfc.com/lakeconway