LONOKE, Ark. (Arkansas Game & Fish Commission) – The Arkansas Derby may have ended Saturday with Angel of Empire’s win, but the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has plenty of derby fun left for families throughout The Natural State this year. AGFC hatcheries will deliver hundreds of thousands of catchable catfish to ponds across Arkansas throughout spring and summer.
J.J. Gladden, AGFC assistant chief of education who oversees the agency’s fishing education efforts, said many people know about fishing derbies at the AGFC’s hatcheries during Free Fishing Weekend in June, but the agency partners with communities all over Arkansas to offer dozens of other fishing derbies using AGFC-raised fish and local support.
“The hatcheries, Family and Community Fishing Program and some of our AGFC nature centers and educators host some great events each year, but there’s likely a fishing derby scheduled some time in the next year that’s within a short drive of your home no matter where you are in Arkansas,” Gladden said.
Gladden says that although the Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery spawns the catfish that are caught in these derbies, all AGFC hatcheries play a part in growing them to catchable size for derbies.
“Growing catfish to this size takes up a considerable portion of our hatchery ponds and net pen operation on Lake Ouachita, but it’s an important component of the agency’s recruitment efforts to get more people outdoors and fishing,” Gladden said. “Just about everyone you know who fishes remembers some time when they were at a fishing derby pond or trout tank as a kid. We’d love every Arkansan to have that memory.”
Instead of trying to staff derbies in every town across Arkansas, Gladden works with community leaders to organize and promote the events with local help. People can apply to host a derby each fall, listing the location, need and available resources to make the derby a reality. If selected, they participate in a workshop to avoid common mistakes and receive a package of items they will find useful in coordinating a successful fishing event. Gladden also will work with hatchery staff and derby organizers to let them know when fish will be stocked for the big day.
Each derby may be a little different in terms of what to expect. Some organizers add special prizes to the event; some add music, food and games, and others keep it a straightforward fishing event.
No matter who is holding the derby, Gladden offers a few tips to remember before heading to the water to make the day more enjoyable.
“The biggest thing is to prepare to be comfortable,” Gladden said. “Bring enough chairs for everyone who will be fishing to have a place to sit during the day. Wear comfortable clothes, and make sure to bring a cooler with ice and enough water and snacks to have a great time. We can guarantee the fish will be in the pond, but can’t guarantee that they’ll bite your bait, but this is as close as we can make it.”
As far as baiting up, Gladden says channel catfish aren’t too picky, and even a pack of hotdogs or a block of cheese cubes will work well.
“I always joke that if the fish aren’t biting, at least you can have a snack,” Gladden said. “The other bait choice I like is plain old earthworms. Most of these ponds have bream and bass in them already, and pretty much every fish that swims will eat a worm.”
Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/education/onthewater/fe/fishing-derbies/ for a list of fishing derbies the AGFC coordinates.