Corps, state’s efforts improve Lake Nimrod’s fishery

By James K. Joslin Published August 26, 2012 at 3:06 a.m.
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— When it comes to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes in Arkansas, there’s a handful that steal the headlines and garner the lion’s share of the attention.

Just north of the capital city, anglers can cast their hopes across the waters of the upper or lower portions of Greers Ferry Lake, a huge impoundment separated by the famed stretch known as the Narrows.

Meanwhile, Northwest Arkansas offers Beaver Lake to attract those in the Interstate 540 corridor looking for action ranging from bluegills to big striped bass.

In north-central Arkansas, Bull Shoals is a major attraction. Just ask the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers who weighed in hefty five-fish limits day after day. Brandon Palaniuk won the event earlier this year by totaling 78.6 pounds in only four days of angling.

Then, in southwest Arkansas, the mecca for those in search of giant Florida-strain largemouths and catfish head to Millwood Lake. Many people believe the next state-record largemouth swims here, and flatheads and blues in the 50- to 75-pound range call this home as well.

Those lakes offer some of the finest fishing opportunities of any of The Natural State’s waters. The first chapter to the state’s corps waters story, however, was written in another location. The oldest corps lake in the state was completed in 1942. It is Lake Nimrod, and it is a great location for catching catfish, crappie, bass and bream.

HISTORY LESSON

The 3,550-acre Lake Nimrod is a bit off the beaten path when compared to some of the other corps lakes in our state. The lake and its dam were authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938, with testing for the dam site beginning in September 1939 in the form of core drilling and test trenches.

Site prep began in February 1940, and actual construction followed two months later. At a total coast of $3,773,000, the project was completed in March 1942.

The lake is the product of damming up the Fourche La-Fave River. While the word “Fourche” is French for fork, the word “LaFave” is believed to have been borrowed from a French family who lived in the early 1800s near where the river meets the Arkansas River.

“Nimrod” was taken as the lake’s name because of the abundant wild game surrounding the area. The word has biblical roots and means “mighty hunter,” although modern English has morphed the word into a synonym for a slow-witted person.

Adjacent to the lake is the roughly 2,400-acre Nimrod Lloyd Millwood Wildlife Management Area. The “green-tree” area offers public duck-hunting grounds and is the host site for an annual mobility-impaired deer hunt.

Five campgrounds are found on the lake’s shoreline, just upstream at Sunlight Bay and just below the dam on the Fourche LaFave. These facilities offer everything from primitive tent camping to trailer spaces and are available with amenities such as electricity and water. There are shower/restroom structures, fish-cleaning stations and more.

For more information, call the corps’ Nimrod Project Office at (479) 272-4324.

A BIOLOGIST’S PERSPECTIVE

Bob Limbird is the District 9 fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. While Lake Nimrod is a corps impoundment, the AGFC works in conjunction with the federal agency to govern the fishing and hunting opportunities afforded to outdoorsmen by the lake and its adjacent lands.

As with many lakes that have reached a few decades in age, Lake Nimrod has seen its heyday come and go. That doesn’t mean the lake is not a good fishing spot.

“Nimrod … has a healthy bass, bluegill, redear and crappie population,” Limbird said, noting that the AGFC has utilized draw downs to assist the fishery.

“Crappie responded positively from the draw downs. Longtime fishermen reported catching bigger crappie than ever caught before,” he said, “during the 2010 partial draw down. Draw downs on lakes are the best tool available for fisheries biologists now, since we can no longer use rotenone on partial fish kills.”

The AGFC and corps work does not end there, though. Along the way, efforts to improve the fishery have included minimum length limits, sectional fish kills, seeding the lake bottom with grasses during draw downs and more.

“The last renovation in 2000 cost the commission approximately $30,000, and the Corps of Engineers provided $10,000 in federal funds. Thirty-five brush shelters were constructed and marked by the corps,” Limbird said, adding that “an estimated 12,578 people observed and/or took part in the fish kill during the three-day period.”

More recently, a partial draw down in 2010 included seeding exposed lake bottom with sorghum-sudan grass.

“During the draw down in 2010, fishermen caught a large number of crappie and bass, and some were fearful this catch would hurt the fish population, but once the lake refilled that winter, fishermen continued to tally good catches of crappie that winter and the following spring. Fishing has been very good ever since.”

Also, PVC fish structures were added at 19 sites in 2011.

This summer, the lake experienced two bumps in the road as localized fish kills affected smallish bluegill, crappie and bass. “Shoreline counts revealed less than 2,000 fish inthe largest kill,” Limbird said. “Hot weather and resulting hot water temperatures and low oxygen deeper than 10 feet are the water-quality problems [at Nimrod].” THE HOOKUP

C.A. Douglas Jr. is not your average everyday angler. He has spent many days of his 54 years chasing fish or wild game. In fact, he guesses that he spends about 150 to 200 days each year with a fishing pole in hand.

“I fish over 90 percent of my fishing time on Nimrod,” he said.

Even though Douglas limits his keep of crappie to fish that measure 10 inches long or longer, he has still managed quite a feat this year.

As of Tuesday, Douglas has caught a limit of crappie on 78 of his 81 outings at Lake Nimrod in 2012. So, while the fishing could improve, it’s not that bad.

In fact, I shared his boat with him one 109-degree day earlier this summer. While the bite was slow, his two-fisted approach (he fishes with a crappie jig pole in each hand while using a foot-control trolling motor) yielded another limit of 20 mainly white crappie. Each fish was taken on one of his “Nimrod Specials,” a purple/ chartreuse Southern Pro umbrella tube jig.

As it was that day, the summer crappie bite is often slower than that of other seasons. So, during the hotter months, Douglas supplements his catch by persistently baiting manmade structures in the lake with things like soured sweet feed and grain.

Then, he shares the results of his work with his friends, people he’s met on a statewide hunting and fishing chat site (huntingarkansas.net) and - on most occasions - children.

While some of his favorite fishing memories come from other locations - an 11-poundplus largemouth caught at Wattensaw; a 60-pound flathead catfish snagged at Murry Lock & Dam; and 15 Lake Conway cats that totaled more than 200 pounds, all caught rod-and-reel fishing with his son and grandfather - his tales of Nimrod are readily shared.

“I was fishing with my dad,” he said. “Once, we carried a coworker and went trolling minnows for crappie. Each of us had five or six cane poles set off the boat. Lloyd Millwood was the warden and checked us. He made a comment about how it looked like a durn porcupine.”

Douglas, through the stories of locals such as C.J. Boyce, Ferron Bittle and his father, has gotten a pretty good idea of what the lake was like in its earlier days, and even when the Fourche LaFave was still undammed.

Plus, he’s spent enough days on Nimrod’s water to have a firsthand, intimate knowledge of the fishery.

He believes the lake has “high numbers of crappie, bass and catfish,” but he is not as pleased with the size of the crappie or the fact that the “lake level can fluctuate wildly, as it’s a flood-control [lake].”

While he is pleased with some of the agency efforts to improve fishing at Nimrod, he said he believes that authorities need to “figure a way to reduce crappie numbers to allow more growth, have draw downs every five years like planned and rebuild Corps of Engineers brush piles.”

Furthermore, Douglas said, he thinks a change in the corps’ water-level plan that would keep the lake at a more stable level would promote better growth of shoreline vegetation such as buckbrush and willows.

While he said the Nimrod fishery could be better, Douglas is pretty happy with what the lake yields, particularly the crappie.

In fact, he is so enamored with crappie and Lake Nimrod that he has joined forces with a national website (crappie. com) to hold what they call a Crappie Camp at the lake in September.

The camp, like the website, will offer tips and tactics for everyone from beginning anglers to professionals.

Also, there will be product giveaways, a fish fry, a cookout and a fishing competition. Information on the camp can be found at the website.

Staff writer James K. Joslin can be reached at (501) 399-3693 or jjoslin@arkansasonline.com.

Zoned Editions Editor James K. Joslin can be reached at 501-399-3693 or jjoslin@arkansasonline.com.

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