It’s tough trying to forecast where Arkansas’ best bass fishing will be this year. It’s tough because Arkansas has so many blue-ribbon bass waters, tough because the term “best” means different things to different anglers and tough because, for the most part, this is just an objective exercise. There are few good yardsticks by which we can measure the indicators of success.
There is one such yardstick, however: the Arkansas Tournament Information Program, a voluntary program initiated in 1990 by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
ATIP is designed to gather statewide bass-tournament weigh-in information to help anglers and fisheries biologists evaluate bass-fishing success in Arkansas lakes and rivers. Information generated from this data has proven useful to bass clubs and tournament organizers in planning future events. Other goals of the program are to develop useful information, such as population trends for fisheries biologists in managing bass populations, and help provide an open line of communication between AGFC biologists and tournament anglers.
How does ATIP work? It’s quite simple, really. A tournament group fills out a postage-paid weigh-in survey card that asks for information such as the body of water being fished, the total number of fish weighed, the number of fish
5 pounds and over, the weight of the largest fish, the number of fish released, the number of anglers who weighed in and the total hours fished during the tournament. These cards are available from AGFC and at several tournament weigh-in facilities throughout the state. An online version of the card is also available on the AGFC Black Bass Program website at www.agfc.com/en/fishing/sportfish/black-bass/atip. A total of 8,062 tournament reports have been received from ATIP anglers since the program’s inception in 1990.
All this information is entered into AGFC’s computer database. Then each year, the Fisheries Division publishes a report that includes totals for all fishing clubs and bodies of water for which reports were received. Reports from 2013 through 2017 can be accessed on the program website listed above.
To rate lakes and rivers around the state, five fishing quality indicators are used: the percentage of successful anglers (number weighing in one or more fish), the average weight per fish, the number of fish per angler day (one angler fishing eight hours), pounds of fish per angler day and the number of hours needed to catch a bass weighing 5 pounds or more.
In 2017, the most recent year for which ATIP results are available, AGFC tallied information submitted by 75 organizations, which held 340 tournaments. There were 14,831 ATIP anglers in those organizations, 75 percent of which were successful in weighing-in at least one bass. Anglers were most successful at Arkansas River Pool 7 (91 percent), followed by Lake Greeson (87 percent) and Lake Chicot (86 percent).
The average weight of a bass weighed in by ATIP anglers was 2.12 pounds. Lake Chicot bass had the highest average weight at 3.05 pounds, followed by Arkansas River Pool 2 (2.64 pounds per bass), Bull Shoals Lake (2.47 pounds per bass) and Lake Millwood (2.47 pounds per bass). This was the second consecutive year that Lake Chicot had the highest average weight.
The number of bass weighed in per eight-hour angler day increased in 2017 from 1.88 to 2.02. Anglers averaged the highest catch rate at Lake Greeson with 2.7 bass per day, followed by Lake Ouachita (2.51 bass per day) and Lake Millwood (2.46 bass per day).
The number of pounds of bass weighed in per eight-hour angler day also increased in 2017, from 4.23 to 4.28 pounds. Anglers averaged the highest total weights at Lake Millwood (6.09 pounds per day), followed by Lake Chicot (6.02 pounds per day) and Arkansas River Pool 2 (5.26 pounds per day). This is the second year in a row that Millwood had the highest pounds of bass weighed in per day.
The average angler hours needed to catch a bass 5 pounds or larger decreased from 425 hours in 2016 to 323 hours in 2017. This is below the 28-year average. The lakes that took the shortest time to catch a 5-pound or larger bass were Columbia (53 hours), Chicot (101 hours) and De Queen (139 hours). The 53 hours it took at Columbia is the lowest ever recorded in the 28-year history of ATIP.
Are you starting to see now just how much valuable information can be gleaned from the program data that’s submitted? An angler who invests some time studying ATIP reports for multiple years can quickly determine top lakes for a bass-fishing trip or an ideal spot to hold a tournament. Having statewide tournament results at your fingertips can help you zero in on waters most likely to produce a lunker or places where multiple hookups are more likely to occur.
If you’re savvy to social media, you’ll find another great source of information and get a chance to show off the hawgs you catch on a Facebook page launched by the Game and Fish Commission last year. On the Arkansas Big Bass page, anglers can submit photos of any bass they catch that exceeds 8 pounds. If they invest some additional time to photograph the fish on a scale and submit it with the date and the name of the body of water where it was caught, they qualify to receive a free inflatable Bass Pro Shops life jacket courtesy of the AGFC Fisheries Division.
You can find the page by typing Arkansas Big Bass in the Facebook search box, or log-in directly at www.facebook.com/ARBigBass.
When submitting information on bass over 8 pounds, AGFC biologists also would like to obtain a fin clip from the bass for genetic analysis when possible. The analysis will determine if the bass is a Florida-strain bass, northern-strain bass or a combination of the two, which can help our fisheries folks better manage our bodies of water for big bruiser bucketmouths.
Fin-clip kits can be obtained at AGFC’s regional offices, which you’ll find listed at www.agfc.com/en/about-agfc/regional-offices. They also are available at tournament weigh-in facilities and several state parks located near waterbodies.
Additional bass-fishing information can be found on AGFC’s Black Bass Management page. There you’ll find updates on management activities statewide, educational tools, research and many other posts relating to black bass in Arkansas.
This page can be found by searching Facebook for AGFC Black Bass Management, or type www.facebook.com/AGFCBassManagement directly into your browser.
Good luck! Here’s hoping all your bass-fishing trips are successful this year.