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Bayou Meto WMA is prettied up and ready for the hunting crowds of autumn after George Cochran's annual Bayou Meto cleanup Saturday.

After nearly 10 years, it's not nearly as big a job as it was in the beginning, when the area was rife with washing machines, dryers, remnants of refrigerators, pieces of car bodies and other souvenirs from years of neglect, illegal dumping and stuff floating in with the floods. Last weekend, volunteers picked up about enough to fill a pickup truck. They work as hard as they ever did. There's just not as much stuff to get.

"Word's gotten out that it's not OK to dump here anymore, and it's because of the people that show up for these cleanups," said Cochran, a retired, three-time world bass fishing champion. "All it really takes is for someone to care. The lakes we fish, nobody trashes them up either because the people that use them have pride of ownership."

The Bayou Meto cleanup has become somewhat of a social event. Many of the same people come every year, so everyone is mostly on a first name basis. The core of the group is Cochran and Roger Milligan, the longtime Bayou Meto WMA supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Cochran and Milligan conceived the idea and brought it to fruition. Initially, Milligan supplied crappie for the fish fry that always follows the cleanup. I even accompanied him once on a crappie procurement expedition.

Larry Nixon, a world-champion bass fishing legend, participated in the cleanup, as did B.J. Knowles of Monticello, Talmon Pryor of North Little Rock and Ray Tucker of Little Rock.

Jon Light, whose cabin is next to Cochran's cabin, is sort of a battalion commander for the operation. He always has his own contingent whose members often use boats to clean up trash in the WMA's interior.

Cochran's group generally polices the boat ramps, parking areas and camping areas.

Cleanup activities concluded about noon, when the heat and humidity became oppressive. Everyone gathered at Light's cabin for fried striped bass, crappie and French fries, followed by an afternoon of college football.

A few people fished in Bayou Meto, which runs beside the cabins. One fellow caught a monster grinnel that appeared to weigh about 8-9 pounds. Grinnel are good to eat, and Milligan advised the angler about the best way to clean it to extract the tasty white "backstraps."

"That's the huge grinnel," I said. "I hardly see them anymore."

"Oh, they're all over the place down here," Milligan said. "All of these sloughs and bayous are full of them."

Surprisingly, there are a lot of bass in the bayou, too. Cochran said when the water clears, the bass get active, and the fishing can be very good.

The biggest treat came Saturday night, after most of the volunteers had left. Watching football in Cochran's cabin, Cochran and Nixon shared their insights about professional bass fishing, especially the challenges and sacrifices that are necessary to be competitive at the highest levels.

"My son wanted to do it, but he didn't have the time to travel and practice the way you have to do," Cochran said. "I told him, 'If you only have one day, make it a Sunday and go to church and pray, because that's the only chance you'll have to beat these guys.' "

Cochran and Nixon remember every detail of every tournament they ever won or nearly won. The 1998 Bassmaster Classic at High Rock Lake in North Carolina still sticks in Cochran's craw. He finished second.

They talked extensively about Major League Fishing, a new league with a unique format that lured away almost all of Bassmaster's biggest names and some of FLW's biggest names. Watching a Major League Fishing tournament on TV, I was mesmerized listening to Nixon break down each angler's fishing strategy, boat positioning and presentation. There's no doubt his competitive fire still burns hot.

Sports on 09/05/2019

Print Headline: Bayou Meto cleanup a success

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