LITTLE ROCK – Applications for the 2016 Arkansas alligator season are now available at www.agfc.com. The deadline to apply is midnight, June 30.

Alligator hunting isn’t for the timid or faint of heart. It also is an important management strategy for wildlife biologists and game managers because it helps keep populations of alligators within desired numbers. The hunting is on both public and private lands in south Arkansas, and permits specify where the hunter can seek a gator.

Only Arkansas residents or holders of an Arkansas Lifetime Sportsman’s Permit may apply to hunt alligators in Arkansas. Applicants must be at least 16 years of age the day the hunt begins. Anyone with 12 or more AGFC violation points are ineligible to apply. Each applicant must provide a working email address for permit draw notification.

Each permit authorizes the taking of one alligator, which must be at least 4 feet long. Alligator hunting is allowed 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise from Sept. 16-19 and Sept. 23-26. Both hunts are Fridays through Mondays.

Successful applicants will be contacted by email and must attend a hunter orientation class at one of the following locations before the hunt: AGFC Hope Regional Office, AGFC Monticello Regional Office or AGFC Little Rock Headquarters.

Visit http://www.agfc.com/licenses/Pages/PermitsSpecialAlligator.aspx for more information and to apply.

Commission discusses CWD proposals

EL DORADO – Commissioners with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will discuss proposals for hunting regulations changes concerning chronic wasting disease at their June meeting at the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce Building, June 16.

AGFC staff have held public meetings throughout the state, a live call-in show on Arkansas Educational Television Network and posted an online survey to gather public comments during the last month to gauge public acceptance of possible regulations changes. Commissioners also have been briefed by many authorities and biologists from outside the AGFC on chronic wasting disease during previous Commission meetings.

AGFC staff continue to monitor the possible spread of CWD in the state by testing road-killed animals and sick deer reported with the public’s assistance. The AGFC has received CWD-positive results on 90 deer and 4 elk since it first was discovered in February. The most recent positive result came from a road-killed deer found near Hilltop in Boone County.

Commissioners will make a final official vote on CWD-related proposals June 24, during a special Commission meeting.

Urban deer hunt application open

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, in cooperation with the Arkansas Bowhunters Association and Bull Shoals Urban Bowhunters Association, has opened the registration for 2016-17 urban deer hunts held across the state. The deadline to register for each hunt is July 31.

Arkansas has produced record or near-record deer harvests during the last decade, which indicates an excellent deer population. High deer densities near urban areas often lead to conflicts with landowners and motorists because of deer/vehicle collisions and deer destroying ornamental landscaping.

Ralph Meeker, assistant deer program coordinator for the AGFC, says urban hunts have been effective tools to allow a city to reduce unwanted deer numbers without spending thousands on other methods of control.

"Fencing, sterilization and professional sharpshooters all are extremely expensive and produce inconsistent results," Meeker said. "Urban hunts reduce deer numbers effectively, and offer Arkansas hunters one more chance to get into the woods and do what they love."

All urban hunts follow stringent guidelines to ensure that the safety of hunters and local landowners is maintained.

"Hunting is a very safe sport," Meeker said. "But when you open up a season so close to people’s homes you want to make sure everyone participating is responsible and ethical."

The exact regulations for each hunt may vary slightly, depending on the wishes of that community, but many rules, including mandatory shooting proficiency tests and maintaining a safe distance from homes and trails on common areas and obtaining landowner permission on private property, remain constant.

Hunters wishing to apply for urban hunts must attend an orientation day and pass a shooting proficiency test. All hunters also must have passed the International Bowhunters Education Program course to participate.

Hunters interested in participating in the Cherokee Village, Russellville, Fairfield Bay, Horseshoe Bend, Heber Springs and Hot Springs Village hunts should visit www.arkansasbowhunters.org/urbanhunt to register online or contact J.D. Crawford at jd@arkansasbowhunters.org.

Hunters wishing to participate in the Bull Shoals or Lakeview hunts should contact the Bull Shoals Urban Bowhunters Association’s President Bill Craker at bsurbanbowhunt@yahoo.com.

All deer harvested during urban hunts are considered bonus deer, and do not count toward a hunter’s seasonal limit. There are no limits to the number of deer that can be harvested in urban hunts and all antler restrictions are lifted. All deer harvested must still be checked to the appropriate urban deer zone either online at www.agfc.com, by telephone at 866-305-0808, or by using the AGFC smartphone app.

Biologists boost White Lake food chain

CHIDESTER – A dingy green lake in the spring, colored that way by fertilization, does not mean fishing will be poor. In fact, that may be one of the biggest misconceptions about spring and early summer fishing.

"I hear that on a very regular basis," said Andy Yung, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fisheries management biologist. "It is a common myth."

Being a regular angler himself, Yung said, it might just be a matter of changing the color of bait if the fish aren’t biting what’s being thrown. Big fish are still hungry, he said.

Yung, who works out of Camden, oversees the annual fertilization project at White Oak lakes, both the upper and lower sections, which usually takes place in April and May. The upper section totals 600 acres, while the lower is 1,100 acres.

Lake fertilization leads to the development of phytoplankton, or algae bloom. The phytoplankton serves as food for the tiny baitfish and bream, which the bigger fish then feed upon.

Fertilization and the algae bloom also temporarily reduce sunlight reaching the deeper vegetation, which can take over a lake and ruin the fishing.

Some lakes are fertilized by crop duster, but the AGFC employs a barge carrying a water tank for Upper and Lower White Oak Lake. Yung and the staff slurry the fertilizer in the tank with water drawn from the lake, then pump it out as the boat moves across the water.

"It’s a real slow process, but it’s pretty simple" Yung said. "We try to cover most of the lake. We place 5 pounds per acre. It takes us about a day to get it done, and then we come back about a month later and do it again."

Lakes like the upper White Oak are considered lower productivity lakes that require more food to handle many hungry mouths, hence the annual fertilization work.

"The project increases the carrying capacity of the area," Yung said, but adds that, "it changes the water color. You get a bloom, it gets a little greener. People notice that."

And, some of those people believe it’s better to just stay off the lake until it clears. "People who fish a lot know that when water conditions change like that, you may need to change baits or change colors."

In fact, Yung said, a peer-reviewed study done on Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir showed how fertilization and in the immediate days following it showed a slight increase in fish caught.

"Maybe the opposite is true as far as shutting off the bite," Yung said. "Personally I think a lot of the issue is the change of water conditions and folks being stubborn like myself, but if something’s not working you’ve got to change it up."

It’s not the big fish that are being fed by the fertilizer, he added, it’s the "little guys" who wouldn’t bite a hook. They’re dinner for the bigger fish later. Those bigger fish still need to nibble on something. "We may stimulate the feeding by helping those little guys survive," Yung said. "It’s all for the base production of the lake and it trickles down from there."

Yung said that White Oak Lakes had an excellent spawn last year, where higher water last spring may have been a boost.

"The environmental conditions in general were good for the lakes," he said. Small fish tend to hide out in the weeds during high water, he said, and the fertilization was the boost they needed in April and May. Meanwhile, electrofishing in the lake revealed several bass in the 5-pound range, he said.

"There is some pretty good fishing going on right now," Yung said. "We’re seeing some good fishing in the lower lake." Yung expects the fishing in the lower lake to be even better. The lower area was drained a couple of years back, he said, but it’s refilled and "the fish are back and looking really good. It’s a bass fishing destination for sure in the next couple of years." Crappie also are prevalent, but the lake is catch-and-release only for crappie until the population bounces back.