July 26, 2005 by Brett Carlson
Arkansas' Lake Hamilton is one of the most popular sport-fishing lakes in the state. The lake's bass population includes largemouth, spotted bass and even a few smallmouths. Hamilton is so popular, in fact, that it hosts roughly 100 bass fishing tournaments per year. According to the Arkansas Tournament Information Program, a program that collects and analyzes bass tournament data, Hamilton consistently places among the top-five bass fisheries in the state. Pressure to produce With so much fishing pressure on the 7,000-acre lake, improved conservation practices are necessary. The state of Arkansas recently upgraded the Hulsey Access, the most heavily utilized boat ramp on Lake Hamilton, and completed construction of a concrete, 100-space parking lot. With these issues in mind, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission recently unveiled a plan to build a sport-fishing support station located adjacently to the newly renovated access. When completed, the station will be a 1,600-square-foot building that will include a tournament weigh-in stage, aerated holding tanks, a weigh-in table, a live-release trailer, an information center and restrooms. According to Colton Dennis, black-bass biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the multiuse station will be instrumental in bass conservation efforts on Lake Hamilton. "This is a project that we've batted around for a couple years," said Dennis. "We will now be able to educate these anglers on how to better recycle their fish." The information center will provide materials on proper fish handling-and-release techniques in an effort to better educate the public regarding Lake Hamilton as a sustainable fishing resource. Dennis was particularly animated about the live-release trailer, which will be used to redistribute fish around the lake. The use of the trailer, which can hold up to 400 pounds of fish, will minimize the stockpiling of tournament-caught fish near the weigh-in site and consequently decrease fish mortality. "We really like the idea of a live-release trailer," he said. "If you move these fish around, they'll recover faster. On the other hand, if you continue to stockpile fish, you put them in an area where forage is limited." New approach Dennis also noted that this is the first project of its kind that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has managed. He hopes to use this project as a springboard for similar projects on heavily fished lakes. "We anticipate comparable projects in the future on some of our larger lakes such as Bull Shoals and Beaver Lake," Dennis said. Coinage for conservation The estimated total cost of the project is $100,000, which is funded by a number of organizations. In addition to the FLW Outdoors donation, the city of Hot Springs has committed funds, and local tournament directors have pledged to hold a number of benefit tournaments to raise extra money. Dennis estimates the facility will be completed within a year. In addition to FLW Outdoors' standard $5,000 donation, the Forrest L. Wood Championship yielded another $1,332 for the sport-fishing support-station project through fans and competitors who purchased special wristbands. New in 2005, FLW Outdoors, FishAmerica Foundation and BP-Castrol are administering a conservation program through which the wristbands, which signify support for the preservation and restoration of America's great fisheries, are sold for a minimum of $1 each. Proceeds are donated to a local fisheries-enhancement project. To date, more than $5,200 has been raised through the wristband program alone. The conservation wristbands will continue to be sold through the FishAmerica Foundation Web site at www.fishamerica.org. As it has in the past, FLW Outdoors donated a minimum of $5,000 at each of its seven FLW Tour events in 2005 as well as at a variety of its other tournaments. In 2000, FLW Outdoors announced its partnership with the FishAmerica Foundation, the conservation arm of the American Sportfishing Association. Since then, FLW Outdoors has directly donated nearly $250,000 and helped to generate more than $1 million for local conservation projects.