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Low water has fisheries benefits

by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission | December 6, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
Fishing on the lake at sunset. Fishing background. fishing tile fish tile / Getty Images

Anglers who arrive at some Arkansas lakes during winter may be surprised to discover that the shoreline has grown since their last trip.

Winter drawdowns are common at many Arkansas lakes, and, although they may be a bit inconvenient at a few boat ramps, their benefits to the fish are unmistakable.

Many large Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs such as Beaver Lake are managed at lower winter levels to make room for spring rain to prevent floods downstream. Flood control and power generation rank among the priorities for most corps reservoirs in Arkansas.

Many smaller lakes also see periodic drawdowns. Some of the drawdowns occur because major repairs are needed on the dams and water-control structures used to maintain the water level. However, other drawdowns are scheduled on a routine basis to offer some added benefits to a lake's aquatic habitat and future fishing experiences.

Vic DiCenzo, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission assistant chief of fisheries, coordinated the latest revision to the agency's Reservoir Black Bass Management Plan. He said fluctuations in water levels can have different effects based on the timing of high and low water.

"Like anything else with fisheries or wildlife management, drawdowns aren't a one-size-fits-all concept," DiCenzo said. "It really depends on the lake being drawn down and the desired conditions we're trying to achieve. Some lakes can benefit greatly from a winter drawdown, and some lakes will only see marginal improvements to habitat at best."

Fisheries biologists also take advantage of many drawdowns as an opportunity to boost aquatic habitat through the use of terrestrial vegetation. Seeding millet, wheat and rye grass offers some winter benefit to wildlife on the shoreline, but its real benefit comes when the water returns. This newly grown vegetation will offer cover for newly hatched baitfish and game fish, which can lead to large year classes of black bass, crappie and bluegill. The vegetation breaks down during the summer, so it does not become a nuisance issue, but it can help juvenile bass avoid predation long enough to get a jump start on growth.


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