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With a boost from the Little Red River Foundation, anglers someday will be able to catch Bonneville strain cutthroat trout on the Little Red River.

Lowell Myers, president of the Little Red River Foundation and owner of Sore Lip 'Em Guide Service, said the foundation won approval from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to introduce Bonneville cutthroats in the legendary trout stream near Heber Springs. The stocking will occur through the natural hatching of 50,000 eggs in protective egg boxes that volunteers will plant Saturday in two shoals.

This is the same method volunteers used in the early 1970s to establish brown trout in the Little Red River and the North Fork of the White River. That effort produced naturally spawning populations that eventually produced many line-class world records and two all-tackle world records, including a 40-pound, 4-ounce specimen that set an all-tackle world record that stood for 20 years.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has never stocked brown trout in the Little Red. The Little Red's world-renowned brown trout fishery is the product of that early volunteer effort, and Myers said he hopes the Bonneville 2020 effort also will produce a self-sustaining trophy cutthroat population to augment the river's brown and rainbow trout fisheries.

Allen Gordon, former president of the Little Red River Foundation, said that hatchery-raised cutthroats and cutbows -- a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid -- were stocked in the distant past but were probably all removed by anglers.

"I haven't seen one in a long time," Gordon said.

On May 16, volunteers gathered at the Little Red River to build the nest boxes for Bonneville cutthroat trout eggs. The Little Red River Foundation obtained the roe from Wyoming. On Sunday, volunteers will plant them in a gravel shoal near a section near Cow Shoals known as John's Pocket.

A percentage of the eggs will not hatch, Myers said. A percentage of the hatchlings will be eaten by other fish and birds. The survivors will make it downstream into the protective cover of dense beds of coontail moss and elodea. These aquatic jungles contain a rich diversity of invertebrates to feed the fry and allow them to grow quickly.

Fish that reach adulthood will have the ability to spawn. Reproduction will be low at first and then modest, but like compounding interest, the dividends should produce a significant return.

The same model already has spawned significant returns on the White River and the North Fork of the White River, where Bonneville cutthroats are now a thriving trophy fishing opportunity.

In 2012, again led by Dave Whitlock, volunteers planted nest boxes full of Bonneville cutthroats into various shoals in the White and North Fork rivers. T.L. Lauerman of Mountain Home shepherded the operation, which included volunteers from Trout Unlimited chapters from six states. They planted 50,000 eggs annually for four years.

Fish from the first of those hatchings exceed 20 inches, and many anglers believe the cutthroats have spawned because of spawning beds having been found in the spring. Brown trout spawn in the fall. On the other hand, if the eggs came from domesticated hatchery stock, the fish theoretically might not retain the ability to spawn. Evidence of natural reproduction will be conspicuous because cutthroats were not previously introduced into the Little Red River.

Stocking catchable size cutthroats or even fingerlings is not possible because hatched fish would have to be certified to be disease free. Live fish are expensive to grow and to buy, and also expensive to transport. Eggs are cheaper, and also easier from a disease management standpoint.

Also, wild-hatched trout are not conditioned to associate humans with food. They are more inclined to prefer baits that mimic insects or insect larvae. Stream-hatched trout are also tougher and more vigorous than hatchery-raised fish.

In 2006, I caught a big cutthroat on the White River at Boswell Shoal while fishing with Allan Thomas. Weeks later, I caught a mess of cutthroats downstream from Rim Shoals while fishing with Rusty Pruitt. Those weren't Bonneville cutts, though. When they come of age, I would love to catch one on the Little Red.

Sports on 05/21/2020

Print Headline: Little Red to get Bonneville trout

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