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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Proposed plan emphasizes access

by Bryan Hendricks | September 22, 2022 at 2:15 a.m.

Improving access to bass fishing is a vital part of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s proposed black bass management plan.

Access is the third of seven key areas that the Game and Fish Commission addresses in its proposed plan. To access bass fishing, anglers need boat ramps that are usable at different water levels and which are compliant with American Disabilities Act guidelines. Adequate parking must be available. Outdoor lighting is necessary. Restrooms and trashcans are important, as are informative signs and kiosks.

Goals, according to the Game and Fish Commission, are to improve access for all anglers in boats, in non-motor boats and for those that don’t fish from boats.

Tournament anglers are the largest and most avid and most economically active bass fishing culture. To facilitate tournaments, and also to facilitate safe fish handling and maximize live release rates, the Game and Fish Commission has proposed building seven mega-tournament facilities at major bass fisheries around the state by Dec. 31, 2031. These will include high-quality, dark-sky approved lighting, parking for at least 200 vehicles and trailers, and courtesy docks.

These facilities will feature a minimum of six lanes of ramp.

For non-tournament angling, the plan proposes increasing or improving access at 75 locations for black bass anglers by Dec. 31, 2031. This includes bringing all existing AGFC boating access areas up to agency standards, improving lighting and other amenities, and adding or improving 50 bank fishing sites.

Another proposal involves installing 20 kayak ramps adjacent to existing boat ramps and to build 10 new kayak access areas where boating access is limited.

Vic DiCenzo, the commission’s black bass program coordinator, said that improving access for tournament anglers would alleviate some of the problems that are endemic to tournament activity at boat ramps in their current condition.

Because of work and family schedules, many recreational anglers can only fish on weekends, which is when tournaments are held. They go to a boat ramp and find a 200-boat tournament in progress. Because of the traffic, they can’t launch their boats or are treated rudely by the tournament boaters, especially if they take too long on the ramp. A fleet of bass boats at a ramp might discourage recreational anglers from fishing because of the difficulty in launching or because of the perception that the lake will be overcrowded that day.

High volume ramps at mega-tournament facilities should alleviate congestion and reduce the potential for conflicts among different types of boaters.

Even though kayaks are small and require little space to launch, many boat ramps are too small to accommodate powerboats and kayaks at the same time. This can also create conflicts among different types of users which might also discourage licensed anglers from fishing waters to which they have a right to fish.

Kayaks are a rapidly growing segment of the boating industry, and kayak fishing is a major segment of that trend. Kayak bass fishing tournaments is a rapidly growing sub-segment of that trend. Every boater has an equal right to access public waters, and the Game and Fish Commission is progressive and foresightful to recognize these trends and address them on the upward sweep of the trend line.

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated these trends and amplified the need to address them. When businesses shut down during the pandemic, thousands of people that suddenly had a lot of free time turned to the state’s waters. They bought boats, kayaks, and paddleboards, and many of them took up fishing. Even though many people have returned to work, they continue to boat and fish.

Finally, the commission is very responsive to improve bank fishing access. Boating anglers are the most conspicuous and most vocal segment of the angling public, but an awful lot of people fish from the shoreline. Safe shoreline access to quality fishing is in very short supply in Arkansas, but it is essential for anglers that don’t have boats or access to boats.

And, frankly, a lot of people don’t want boats or the hassle that comes with owning one. This proposal recognizes the desires of people that just want to fish.

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