HEBER SPRINGS - The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Trout Management Program worked with the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery in Heber Springs to clip off a fin on each of 14,300, 9-inch brook trout to be released into the Bull Shoals and Norfork tailwaters later this month.
The loss of a fin may seem counterproductive to fish survival, but the fin-clipping effort is part of a larger project to determine the effectiveness of larger trout being stocked in the tailwater.
Brook trout have been stocked in Arkansas since 1994 at a size of 6 inches (locally referred to as “trout chow” for the big browns). Recently, the AGFC Trout Management Program has worked with the hatchery to grow out the trout to 9 inches before release. According to Christy Graham, supervisor of the Trout Management Program, the tradeoff for fewer, but larger trout being stocked may increase the amount of trout that make it to catchable size.
"Creel and electrofishing surveys conducted over the last 10 years indicate very few of the 6-inch brook trout stocked survive very long after stocking," Graham said. "We hope increasing the size to 9 inches will give anglers a better opportunity to catch these trout."
Graham says the clipped fins pose little harm to the fish, and enable biologists to accurately determine when a fish was stocked. This information is vital to determine the success of stocking as well as the growth rates of the fish.
"Typically some fish would have to be sacrificed to determine age through other means," Graham said. "But this marking enables us to track the growth rates and survival of stocked fish and release it to be caught by anglers."
The current minimum length limit for brook trout is 14 inches and anglers may keep two per day. Arkansas is the only state in the Southeast to stock rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout. Catching one of all four species in a single day is a feat known as the "Ozark Slam."
Graham says anglers who visit the Norfork and Bull Shoals tailwaters should also be on the lookout for public workshops in August to begin the review of the trout management plan for these tailwaters.