HOT SPRINGS – The Black Bass Program and the Family and Community Fishing Program from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will be helping behind the scenes this week as Fishing League Worldwide’s 2019 FLW Cup returns to the Hot Springs area.
The tournament will be staged Friday through Sunday, Aug. 9-11 on Lake Hamilton, with anglers departing each morning from the boat launch at the Andrew H. Hulsey State Fish Hatchery, returning there at the end of each day. Anglers will haul their boats via caravan from the hatchery to Bank OZK Arena in downtown Hot Springs for the 5 p.m. daily weigh-in. Fifty-two of the world’s best anglers will compete for the $300,000 top prize. The event features the Top 42 pros from the 2019 FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings. The field is cut to the top 10 from the first two rounds for Sunday’s final round and weigh-in.
The AGFC’s focus will be helping those anglers keep their catch alive during that time frame before being returned to Lake Hamilton. That role will be handled by Colton Dennis and Jeff Buckingham from the Black Bass Program.
“We’ll be using the Andrew Hulsey Hatchery fish hauling truck and returning the fish from the arena back to Lake Hamilton each day of the tournament,” Dennis said. “Fish will have additional opportunity to recover in cool, oxygenated water on the truck and treated for barotrauma by fizzing if needed before being released back into Lake Hamilton.”
Other than that, Dennis said, the FLW Tour is a self-contained operation that in the past has proven to be smooth-running and makes bass conservation and reducing tournament mortality a priority. Anglers in the tournament have the added incentive to make sure the bass they catch each day make it to the weigh-in alive, or they are docked valuable weight that can cost them in the standings, and money, when the final results are totaled.
The AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program will be supporting an annual event held in conjunction with the FLW Foundation. The FLW Special Olympics Fishing Derby will be held Saturday from 8-11 a.m. at Hot Springs Family Park, off Airport Road. The event is organized by Arkansan and professional angler Cody Kelley.
“Cody came to me years ago wanting to do this, especially holding it in a location near the tournament or in one of our community ponds,” Clint Coleman, assistant FCFP coordinator, said. “The main gist is, the participants of Special Olympics have a chance to go fishing. A lot of times, it might be the only chance they have. So this is catered especially for them, but everyone in the community is welcome. They have many other sponsors, and we’ll have fishing and food.”
The family event is free, though anyone 16 or older that fishes will need an Arkansas fishing license. The Special Olympians will vie for prizes awarded at the park, but later in the day they will travel to Bank OZK Arena to receive more prizes and meet the pro anglers, before the pros weigh-in after their second-round of tourney fishing.
“I know these professionals are here and fishing for big money and all, but we’re having just as much fun at Family Park with the Special Olympic athletes and their families. They really enjoy this every year. They are so appreciative of it. About 200 Special Olympic athletes attend. And one of the neat things about it is, they will utilize the location for fishing after the event is over.” The pond will be stocked with catchable-size catfish Friday and already holds catfish, bream and bass, Coleman said.
Meanwhile, the access at Andrew Hulsey Hatchery on the south side of Lake Hamilton, which is reached by Arkansas Highways 128/290, is already bustling this week with FLW activity. Dennis said some areas are roped off for the sponsors’ repair trailers that accompany the tour.
FLW will have ice available at the ramp to cool the water down in the anglers live-wells before they take off each morning to help with fish survival. Dennis said warm water holds less oxygen than cold water and additionally bass in warm water require more oxygen to survive. Cooling the water down in the live-well increases the amount of oxygen in the water and reduces the fish’s metabolism, requiring fish to use less oxygen and also reduces the amount of stress on the fish.
Anglers are scheduled to return each afternoon after competition in flights to limit congestion on the way to the arena for weigh-in. The five-bass-maximum per angler for the weigh-in will be contained in a plastic tote bag with cool water provided by FLW’s live-release boat that will be onsite at the arena when the anglers arrive from the hatchery.
“Helping fish survive a tournament and released alive to be caught another day is the responsibility of tournament organizers and anglers,” Dennis said. The Black Bass Program focuses on helping tournament anglers in Arkansas understand and practice good handling, live-well, weigh-in, and fizzing techniques through the development and distribution of numerous education materials, videos, and Facebook posts. One of the most important steps to help survival of tournament caught bass is the live-well treatment, Dennis said. “Numerous studies on live-well treatments have found that a few simple and inexpensive procedures can maximize bass survival following release of the fish.”
Another important step in fish care that is inexpensive but effective in helping to increase survival rates in addition to adding ice and cooling water in the live-well is the addition of non-iodized salt. The AGFC and most commercial fish producers when transporting fish for stocking use non-iodized salt. Dennis said non-iodized salt has several physiological benefits to bass when added to the live-well including stimulating production of the mucous (slime) coat that was lost during handling, reducing stress, assisting in healing injuries, and helping fish maintain osmoregulation (water balance). Non-iodized salt should be applied at a rate of 1/3 cup per 5 gallons of live-well water and is relatively inexpensive to purchase at local feed stores. A number of commercially made live-well treatment products containing non-iodized salt are also readily available to tournament anglers such as Rejuvenade, Please Release Me, and G-Juice. Additional Information on keeping fish alive is available on the AGFC’s Black Bass Program website at https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/sportfish/black-bass/bbp/
While the FLW pros are taking on Hamilton, Lake Ouachita will be hosting a two-day (Friday-Saturday) tournament with more than 200 kayak anglers expected from around the nation, fishing for the Dee Zee FLW/KBF Kayak Cup and a total prize package of $18,000. “The popularity of kayak fishing has really taken off in leaps and bounds over the last few years,” Dennis said.
Also, many youth anglers from across the country will be using the landing next to North Little Rock’s Hastings Pavilion to fish the Arkansas River in the The Bass Federation Junior World Championship running Thursday through Saturday. Junior weigh-ins are at Hastings Pavilion and the Junior World Champion will be crowned at Bank OZK Arena on Saturday at 4:55 p.m.
“The AGFC recognizes FLW as a partner in bass conservation and their efforts in recruiting young anglers to the sport of fishing, so we try to roll out the red carpet in those years they visit Arkansas,” Dennis said. “You know, every state is competing to have the Super Bowl of bass tournaments come to their state and for Arkansas to be the host state two years in a row is pretty special.”
The 2019 FLW Cup and events are being hosted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Visit Hot Springs. Bank OZK Arena is open each day at 10 a.m. for the FLW Expo. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.hotsprings.org/events/event/3540.