Arkansas game and fish report – April 29, 2009

Scotland, Ark. (AP) – If someone called for a miniature of the
Ozark Mountains, Gulf Mountain Wildlife Management Area could
answer.

It has characteristics of the entire upland region. It’s got
history, the remains of early settlers who struggled to make a
living from the thin, rocky soil. And it’s got an abundance of
wildlife benefiting from man’s manipulation of the habitat over
several decades.

Gulf Mountain WMA is far from the bustle of city life or even
small towns, yet it’s not difficult to reach. Travel inside the
area, though, is at a slower pace. Gravel roads take visitors into
many of the corners of the WMA, but some are narrow and visitors
have to pull over if another vehicle is met.

One attraction of Gulf Mountain is that it’s a place for
walking. Park the car or truck, take some water and get out and
roam. Yes, it is mountainous but not to the extent of the more
rugged areas of the Ozarks. Move around, and you’ll find scenic
views, particularly along the corridor of the South Fork of the
Little Red River that runs through the management area west to east
en route to Greers Ferry Lake.

The river has been used for generations as a fun spot with
wading, swimming, day-camping and some fishing except in dry parts
of the year.

Covering 11,571 acres, Gulf Mountain is mostly forested, but it
is a variety of wooded areas. It’s second-growth timber, and much
is low quality for lumber, but this doesn’t lessen its value to
wildlife. They don’t make saw logs out of dogwood, but the small
tree’s berries are eagerly used by animals and birds.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologist Eddie Linebarger
said about 1,500 acres of the WMA is classified as oak savannah,
meaning trees are spread out and intersperses with undergrowth.
There are areas of quality pine trees with wildlife food plants
underneath. And the old fields where small farms once were are
managed with plantings, disking and burning. Linebarger said mixed
grains are planted in the spring and wheat, rye, orchard grass and
clover in the fall. About a hundred miles of fire lanes are kept
open for controlled burning, and most are planted in attractive
forage for wildlife.

Hardwoods on the southern sides of hills are predominantly post
oak and blackjack oak.The northern slope hardwoods are
predominantly red oak and white oak.Gulf Mountain’s terrain ranges
from 700 feet above sea level along the river to 1500 feet at its
highest points.

In the early days, cotton was grown on the small farms, and a
gin operated at Scotland, just outside the WMA’s southeast
corner.

Name a species of upland wildlife, and Gulf Mountain has it,
mostly in good numbers. Hunting is a highly popular activity during
the fall and winter seasons in addition to spring for turkeys and
squirrels.

Gulf Mountain WMA, established in 1970, was one of five areas
chosen for quail restoration work some years back, and it’s the
only one with permit quail hunts today. The area is divided into
five compartments, and one hunting party, up to three persons, is
allowed on a compartment each day. The permits are issued through
an application process, and current AGFC hunting regulations guides
give the details.

The quail are sufficient in number so the WMA is used for
training of dogs. Other dogs are brought in for rabbit hunting, and
this is a popular pastime for area residents. Still others work at
night with dogs for raccoons.

Archery hunters use Gulf Mountain for both deer and bear, with
deer bowhunting open October through February 15 and bear
bowhunting October and November. Muzzle-loader and modern gun
hunting for deer is by permit. Bear can be hunted with
muzzle-loaders and modern guns also but only by permit holders
during the deer hunts.

Gulf Mountain is one of the Ozarks’ better turkey areas. Birds
are scattered throughout the area, but there also are plenty of
hunters pursuing them during season.

Squirrels rise and fall with the availability of food,
especially acorns and hickory nuts.

Resident and migrating songbirds are numerous on the area
because of its diverse habitat, Linebarger said. “Schools come out
for field trips,” he said, “and really, it’s underutilized for
birding.”

Gulf Mountain WMA adjoins the Ozark National Forest to the west.
It is reached off Arkansas Highway 95 between Morrilton and Clinton
at Scotland. Gravel county roads also run south from Arkansas
Highway 16 near Alread to the wildlife management area.Camping is
restricted to six designated primitive camping areas.

HAZEN, Ark. (AP) _ So popular among Arkansas archery enthusiasts
has been Mike Freeze Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area that the
general impression is “bowhunting” and “Wattensaw” are
synonymous.

This is understandable, but it shortchanges the diversity and
varied recreational opportunities for the easily accessed major
management area in east-central Arkansas.

Wattensaw, 19,184 acres, has woods for deer and turkey hunting,
open areas for dog training, quail, doves and rabbits, lakes and
ponds for fishing and gentle terrain for walking or just roaming by
foot or by vehicle. Some spots along the White River on the eastern
edge are especially scenic, in addition.

The management are is in the midst of one of Arkansas’s richest
agricultural areas, yet it was mediocre farming prospects that led
to its creation, not the need for more wildlife habitat.

Early settlers cleared trees and plowed the native prairie of
the Wattensaw area for cotton growing then for pasture and hay
production. Rice growing arrive in the early 1900s, with soybeans a
later development.

But Wattensaw farm families struggled, mostly with small farming
operations. Several decades ago, the Federal Housing Authority
bought the farms of about a hundred families at Wattensaw then
turned the land over to the Soil Conservation Service and the U.S.
Forest Service.

After some looking, study and head-scratching, these agencies
beckoned the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and 15,304 acres
were sold by the Forest Service to AGFC in 1959 for use as a
wildlife management area. Later additions added to the area, and a
1995 transaction brought in land on the northern edge that was once
planned for a electricity generating plant of Arkansas Power and
Light company, now Entergy. This area, Robinwood, was bought by the
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, mostly with funds generated by
its annual Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame banquet coupled with
federal aid through the Pittman-Robertson Act, which is federal
excise taxes paid for hunting and shooting equipment.

Mike Freeze’s name was added to the management area when the
England resident completed his seven-year term as an AGFC
commissioner.

Wattensaw’s neighbor on the east side of White River is Cache
River National Wildlife Refuge. Wattensaw is one of multiple public
lands in the wildlife-rich bottomlands of Arkansas stretching from
the Missouri border in the northeast corner of the state in an arc
to the mouths of the Arkansas and White rivers at the Mississippi
River in southeast Arkansas.

From its early days at a wildlife management area, Wattensaw has
appealed to bowhunters seeking deer. The Wattensaw Bowhunters
Association has been one of the more active sportsmen’s
organizations in Arkansas and has helped many times to improvement
work on the area. The Wattensaw Beagle Club has been active also
and helped with building a clubhouse on the area that is used for
many activities hunter education classes, family reunions and
assorted meetings.

Construction of the clubhouse was a cooperative and volunteer
project. Skilled and unskilled workers donated services, and area
businesses donated materials.

Arkansas developed along and liberal bow season for deer in the
early 1970s, and so much did Arkansas bowhunters use Wattensaw that
many regarded it as “our area.” The area paid off them then in
consistently good deer hunting, sometimes resulting in trophy
bucks. Wattensaw was one of the first Arkansas management areas to
have antler restrictions on bucks, with a 3-point-minimum rule
installed in 1982 and increased to a 4-point minimum more
recently.

Modern gun deer hunters, along with those using black powder
weapons, have not hesitated to take interest in this bowhunting
hotspot. But because of its desirability, gun deer hunting is by
permit. Archery hunting is open.

Wattensaw is popular for quail hunting as well, and again its
popularity has necessitation restrictions. Quail hunting is open
only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Intensive and diverse management work has added to the richness
of wildlife habitat on land once marginal for raising cotton, rice
of soybeans.

Game and Fish Commission crews work a system of wildlife
openings and food plots with bushhogging, controlled burning,
discing and planting of cover and wildlife food crops. Ponds are
assets too, with several sizable ones on the middle portion of the
management area the results of the building of Interstate 40 that
used earth dug out to create the highway base. Oxbow lakes off the
White River and along Wattensaw Bayou are also used by
wildlife.

When ducks an geese migrate to Arkansas each fall, they use
traditional corridors along the White River and spreading out in
the northern portion of the Grand Prairie. This puts the mallards
and many other species right over Wattensaw. Waterfowlers work
mostly near the White River and the bayou, but ducks are also found
on some of the lakes and ponds.

The Robinwood Tract that was never used for its original
purposes as a power plant site has had many thousands of young
hardwood seedlings planted.

The management area has a 28-station archery range for
bowhunters to sharpen their skills. Field trials are frequent for
the training and competition of birddogs, beagles and other
breeds.

Trappers work the steams and lowlands of Wattensaw for raccoon,
foxes, bobcats and other furbearers. Not only are cottontail
rabbits found in the more open areas, swamp rabbits are hunted in
the lowlands.

MANILA, Ark. (AP) _ Nowhere has Arkansas’s face been changed by
man more than in the northeast section of the state.

Massive clearing of forested land coupled with enormous drainage
projects for more than a century have resulted in a completely
different complexion.

But the ducks still come.

Big Lake Wildlife Management Area in northern Mississippi County
covers 12,320 acres and provides attraction for wintering waterfowl
plus good hunting opportunities in the 21st Century as the tract
did in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Big Lake WMA’s next-door twin is Big Lake National Wildlife
Refuge. Both trace their origins to the New Madrid Earthquakes of a
three-month period in the winter of 1811-1812. Few people lived in
the area then, but the earth sank along Little River, along the St.
Francis River, along the Mississippi River and dramatically changed
to the environment. Northwest Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake was one
result. Big Lake is another.

Unlike Reelfoot, Big Lake is a series of connected waters, some
seasonally dry. This is on the federal refuge. Water on the state
WMA is maintained by impoundments.

Ducks are the top attraction but not the only one at Big Lake
WMA, and they have used the area since prehistoric times. Northeast
Arkansas was the state’s top duck region before Stuttgart, before
the Grand Prairie turned to rice growing early in the 20th
Century.

When railroads developed extensively after the Civil War, with
the invention of ice making following, market hunting of ducks,
geese, deer and other game was a major activity in the Big Lake
area. Meat went to St. Louis, Chicago and other northern
cities.

Wealthy sportsmen, most of them from out of state, bought and
leased land for hunting clubs and conflict with the market hunters
arose. The “Big Lake War” lasted off and on for about 40 years,
with shootings, some fatal, along with beatings, burnings and
threats. Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1915
by President Woodrow Wilson, and gradually the violence
subsided.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was also established in
1915, but the prospect of federal troops arriving on railroads that
hauled out ducks and other game was much more a factor than the
half-dozen state game wardens in Little Rock.

Conflict garnered headlines, but drainage work was more of a
wildlife habitat factor. With much work by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers and local drainage districts, land was cleared and
planted and flooded by nature nearly each year.

The timbered wetlands adjoining the federal refuge were not
suitable for farming, and the creation of Bayou Meto WMA between
Stuttgart and Pine Bluff was soon followed by Big Lake WMA. About
7,000 acres were bought by the AGFC from a drainage district in
1950, and several other purchases in the years that followed
brought the total acreage to 12,320.

Big Lake WMA lies in the throat of a funnel of lowlands draining
from the Missouri Bootheel south to the St. Francis River. AGFC
biologist Robert Zachary said, “We don’t have a flowage easement,
so this is used as a sump area. The water comes from Missouri.”

Ditches and cross levees help with the water flowing on Big Lake
WMA. Three-fourths of the area is flooded in late fall and winter
on te ducks like. There is water, there is food from hardwoods and
from easy-to-reach farmlands. Squirrels and raccoons also are
numerous on the WMA, with squirrel populations rising and falling
with the acorn crops. Big Lake WMA is popular with coon hunters
wanting to train dogs.

Deer are not plentiful on the area, and modern gun hunters are
limited to shotguns or handguns only.

Primitive camping is permitted at several sites and at Mallard
Lake at the southern end of the WMA. Fishing is popular at 300-acre
Mallard Lake, the home of Arkansas’s state record largemouth bass.
This 16-pound, 4-ounce eye-opening fish was caught in 1976 by Aaron
Mardis of Memphis.

Area anglers know, too, that some excellent catches of crappie,
bass, bream and catfish are made sometimes on the borrow ditches
and other waterways in the management area to the north of Mallard
Lake. The area is a cross-hatch of ditches, most accessible by boat
and most fishable.

Heavily timbered Big Lake WMA has large stands of cypress and
tupelo in the wetter areas and much oak, ash and hackberry on the
low ridges and less-moist sections.

Birding is popular on the management area and on the refuge next
door. Eagles and ospreys have nested on both. Well over a hundred
species of songbirds have been counted on the management area
alone.

Big Lake WMA is reached off Arkansas Highway 18 east of Manila
and west of Blytheville. The northern portion of the WMA can be
reached by turning on Arkansas Highway 181 at Dell then taking a
gravel county road west to the AGFC’s Bois d’Arc Access with its
boat launching ramp.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Jigs are tried and true utensils for
catching fish of many species in Arkansas, from trout requiring
tiny jigs to lead-heavy ones used for striped bass.

In crappie fishing, many of Arkansas’s better crappie anglers
use only jigs. They wouldn’t touch a live minnow with the
proverbial 10-foot pole. These folks catch a heck of a lot of
crappie, often when others strike out. Still, don’t interpret these
comments as meaning jigs are superior to minnows for crappie
fishing. But jigs are effective for many crappie chasers.

One form of jigs, whether using plastic skirts or trailers or
using hair or feathers, is the micro jig. These are the little
ones. Very little.

Micro jigs in most fishermen’s understanding means those
weighing 1/16th of an ounce or less. That includes 1/32nd-ounce,
1/64th-ounce, and apparently 1/128th-ounce jigs have been
created.

The very small jigs, the micro type. tend to be associated with
trout fishing, but they will work at times on crappie, bream and
other species, even largemouth bass.

Professional bass fishermen, at least many of them, usually have
a handful of small jigs in one of their tackle boxes. These tend to
be 1/8th-ounce in weight, but sometimes the pros will work with
1/16th-ounce. Trouble with them is they are difficult to cast with
standard bass fishing reels.

For those fishermen not in the professional bass ranks, micro
jigs can be fished with ultralight spinning rigs, including 2-pound
or 4-pound line. They also do well with fly rods.

There isn’t a discernible time when these tiny jigs should be
brought into action unless it falls into the “match the hatch”
technique fly fishermen use with trout.

The same game plan can work with bream. Find them dimpling the
surface, feeding on small insects, and a micro jig might be just
the ticket to get bream hitting for you.

It won’t work all the time, but it’s a technique worth keeping
in mind and gearing up for.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Kids are a always a big part of
the season at Dickey-Stephens Park and on May the Arkansas
Travelers will feature one of their most unique promotions of the
baseball season. It will be a night to remember as kids will be
allowed to camp on the field after the Travs game with Tulsa.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is a co-sponsor of the
event, along with Quapaw Area Boy Scouts, and will be giving
special gifts to the first 1,000 kids through the gate that
evening. Although the promotion is being called Scout Night,
camping is not limited to Scouts. Any child or family can
participate. Sign your child up to be one of the lucky kids who get
to camp out on the field after the game. Call (501) 664-1555 or go
to www.travs.com for more
information. Deadline for registration is May 7.

The AGFC will have a display table set up just inside the
entrance to the baseball park and will be passing out assorted
information. Visitors to the game may want to come earlier in the
day and visit the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center
in the Little Rock River Market District.

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