LAKE OUACHITA Between 1946 and 1954, the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers was busily constructing the Blakely Mountain Dam in west-central Arkansas. That concept was realized to fill a need for flood control, hydroelectric power and navigation.
Today, the structure still holds back the flow of the Ouachita River and the more than 40,000 acres we now know as Lake Ouachita - an Arkansas water often heralded as the freshwater-striped-bass capital of the world.
Just a few years before the work on the Blakely dam began, another project was undertaken in South Carolina for similar reasons. The result of the construction done from 1939 to 1942 was a pair of waters - 110,000-acre Lake Marion and 60,000-acre Lake Moultrie. That pair is probably better known collectively as the Santee Cooper lakes.
In the years that followed the completion of these two projects, separated by several hundred miles, the names Ouachita and Santee Cooper would soon roll off the tongue in unison because of their intertwined destinies.
The Arkansas Game andFish Commission sent 825 blue catfish, weighing about 1 pound each, to South Carolina in 1964 and 1965. South Carolina’s wildlife agency, in exchange, sent Arkansas striped bass fingerlings produced at a hatchery in the Palmetto State.
To this day, the big blue catfish - often 50 pounds or more - that are sought at Santee Cooper are referred to as “Arkansas blues” because of their lineage.
While it is those blues that have caught the attention of South Carolina anglers, the striped bass that came to Arkansas have definitely written their own story.
Stripers were found behind the dam on the Santee River whenLake Marion was impounded in 1942. At the time, aquatic experts believed these were saltwater fish.
Since then, opinions have swayed that the fish living year-round in Santee Cooper may be a freshwater version of “Old Linesides.” Whatever the case, the fish have flourished in South Carolina, and here in Arkansas.
Lakes Ouachita and Greeson began receiving stockings of striped bass from the commission in the 1950s. Since then, stripers have been stocked in other lakes, such as Norfork, Beaver and Hamilton, as well as the Arkansas and Red rivers. Stockings in lakes like Bull Shoals were ceasedyears ago, while hybrid stripers (a crossbreed between striped and white bass) are stocked in locations that include Greers Ferry Lake and DeGray Lake.
The allure of these fish is that they offer a deep-sea fishing experience, often being found 30 to 70 feet below the surface, ina freshwater setting. That, explained striper guide Ben Sanders (www.arkansasstripers.com) of Hot Springs, is what is unique about the striped bass’s presence in Arkansas.
Staff writer James K. Joslin can be reached at (501) 399-3693 or email@example.com.
Three Rivers, Pages 133 on 10/09/2011
Print Headline: The unnatural birth of a Natural State fishery