Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
LITTLE ROCK – Here’s a reason to get excited about leftovers: The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Fisheries Division has some summer leftovers that will mean more opportunities for Arkansans to catch catfish.
In a typical year, the AGFC sets aside 80,000 catchable catfish to stock during kids’ fishing derbies around the state, according to Tommy Laird, assistant chief in the Fisheries Division. However, 2020 has been anything but typical.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions surrounding it since March – for example, a limit on people attending group events – many fishing derbies were canceled. Laird said this left an excess of table fare-size channel catfish in the AGFC’s hatchery system.
“We stocked about 24,000 to 30,000 catfish back in early June in many ponds around Arkansas,” Laird said. “We’re going to stock about that same amount in conjunction with National Hunting and Fishing Day this month.” National Hunting and Fishing Day, always the fourth Saturday in September, is scheduled for Sept. 26 this year.
“We’re going to try to spread them around the whole state, with an emphasis on community ponds. We want to provide as many fishing opportunities as possible for all Arkansas anglers across the state,” Laird said. This stocking is separate from the fish that would be stocked for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, and will be going to 40 to 50 community ponds that are not part of that program.
Anglers that visit FCFP ponds will also benefit from these surplus catfish, according to Laird, as each location will be increased in numbers by 50 percent for the September stockings.
Laird said it takes about 14 to 16 months to grow a catfish from fry to “catchable” size. Once catfish reach this target size, they need to be moved to ponds around the state so the process can continue at the hatcheries. “The bigger they are, the more food and money it takes to maintain the fish, so they have to move on,” he said. The surplus fish are about 1 pound each, the perfect size for someone to catch and have a family cookout, he said.
Limits for catfish can vary from pond to pond. Anglers over age 15 will need a fishing license to fish for catfish and should follow the guidelines and limits established for their community pond when fishing.