LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Intended to educate, motivate, and foster better communication among anglers and biologists, the first Arkansas Bass Fishing Forum was deemed an enthusiastic success by attendees Elite Series angler Harvey Horne and B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland.
"The biggest thing that I took away was that our biologists are actively trying to help us understand their job and how they're trying to make bass fishing better in Arkansas for us," said Horne, one of 28 who attended the Sept. 7 meeting at the invitation of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC).
"They're actively working to make Arkansas a premiere fishing destination, like Texas," he continued.
Gilliland added, "I'm very hopeful that this effort is successful in opening lines of communication between the agency and bass anglers and becomes a model that we can take to other states to help build positive relations.
"The group assembled for this meeting will be tasked with taking the information they receive from AGFC and spreading it through their personal communication networks."
The B.A.S.S. conservation director pointed out that attendees included not only professional anglers, including Horne and Rick Pierce, but guides, tournament organizers, marina operators and tackle shop owners.
"I think the broad cross-section of constituents has created a good base to build on," he said, adding this will assist Arkansas bass anglers in making their voices heard "when there is a call-to-action, a write-your-congressman type of issue."
The agenda included an overview of AGFC's Fisheries Division, a look at revenue sources and budgeted expenditures, and a presentation on reservoir biology and management principles by Assistant Chief of Fisheries Jason Olive.
"The majority of the presentation was about the things that affect fishing quality in a reservoir, with most of them having to do with where the reservoir is located on the landscape," said Fisheries Chief Ben Batten. "Also covered were some facts about bass reproduction and fishing regulations."
Lunch was sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, which provided an overview of its work and showed a video of the Commissioners' Cup High School Bass Fishing Tournament.
"This was the first year for the Cup," Horne said, adding that the event was won by Beau Browning, the son of pro angler Stephen, with next year's two-day event set for Hot Springs.
In the afternoon, AGFC staff detailed how its agency compares with those in others states in managing bass fisheries and assisting bass tournaments.
Throughout the day, time was allotted for attendees to ask questions, make suggestions, and address what they perceived as agency shortcomings. In fact, there was so much interaction that one presentation was cancelled.
One of the most lengthy discussions concerned reservoir habitat enhancement. Most felt aquatic vegetation is preferable to brush or artificial materials. But Gilliland pointed out that few efforts to establish vegetation in reservoirs across the country have been successful in the long term.
"He cautioned the group not to put all their eggs in that basket," AGFC said in its forum summary. "Everyone knows sinking brush is doable and does provide benefits to localized areas of reservoirs and increases angler catch rates."
The day ended with AGFC staff and Gilliland taking questions, including after the meeting was officially adjourned at 3 p.m.
"In general, the forum was a very positive and constructive exchange of information, ideas, and suggestions between AGFC staff and forum attendees," Batten said.
"It was a very powerful show of the passion and commitment of these individuals to the sport of bass fishing, and their desire to see it improved in Arkansas, as well as their willingness to trust that AGFC would listen to what they had to say," he added.
"It will be up to AGFC to follow up on the things that were discussed and to continue to show our commitment to making bass fishing as good as it can possibly be in our state."
Anglers can keep informed and become more active in the Arkansas bass community by following the AGFC Black Bass Management Facebook page and signing up to receive e-mail updates about all 10 state fisheries districts, as well as the Black Bass Management Fishing Program and the Family and Community Fishing Program.