Yesterday I shared a few of my fish tales about jackfish, walleye and striped bass. Today we take a more scientific look at the story of these three fishes as part of Lake D’Arbonne’s first 50 years from the perspective of fisheries biologist and head of the state’s LDWF fisheries division, Mike Wood.
“Back in the 60’s and early 70’s, there wasn’t a lot of science around fishing and fisheries management,” Wood said. “There was some, but we didn’t have the analysis that we do today. It was basically ‘trial and error. What have other people done. Well, let’s try this’ kind of approach”.
That’s how walleye ended up being stocked in D’Arbonne. In the spring of 1965 an experimental stocking of walleye from Nebraska and striped bass from South Carolina was undertaken by the LDWF. Between 1965 and 1971 a total of 3.6 million walleye fry, 92,000 walleye fingerlings and 365,994 striped bass were stocked in the lake.
“That was one of those things that other people had done in new lakes and so it was tried here,” Wood said. “Frankly, not a lot was known about them. We know now that walleye have to have cold water year around to survive and definitely to reproduce. Other than the deep water in front of the spillway, the fish didn’t have that on D’Arbonne. The nearest place to here that you’ll find them consistently is the big deep lakes in northern Arkansas.”
Nobody ever really knew what happened to the walleye. They just slowly disappeared and were never restocked. Wood recalls that a lady named Nettie Johnson called him up one day and had caught a 2-3 pounder below the spillway one day. That was in the early 1980’s and was the last one he ever remembered hearing of being caught.
Striped bass were another hot item for stocking in new lakes in those days. They had become a trophy fish across the southeast and that is why they were stocked in D’Arbonne. Not that people around here can be opinionated, but frankly, nobody really liked the stripers even when they caught one. And they fight like rip! They were actually expected to reproduce, but none of the data I can find even suggests that might have happened on D’Arbonne.
“That’s funny, but it’s true,” Wood said. “People never really fished for them much and they just didn’t like them. You would hear stories all the time about how the stripers were eating all the little largemouth bass or they were ruining the lake. One time the LDWF funded a study to find out what stripers really were eating. Of 2,000 striped bass sampled, only one little bass fingerling was found in all those stomachs.”
The fishery became quite prolific, but because they weren’t popular, they were not stocked again, either, and they went the way of the walleye…going…going…gone. Wood did say there might be a few giants still swimming around down near the spillway, but he highly doubted it. The lake does have small “striped bass” in it, but those are native fish. They don’t get over about two pounds and are not stripers at all, but are yellow bass.
Chain pickerel, or jackfish, on the other hand, were a native species to the upper D’Arbonne and Corney creeks. Contrary to popular beliefs, they were never stocked. They just grew like wildfire once the lake started flooding.
“People caught jackfish there in the creeks long before the lake was formed,” Wood said. “When we flooded the lake, it made some prime jackfish habitat up the creeks on the flats and in the coves. They like shallow, heavily grassy areas and that’s just what we created up there.”
Believe it or not, there are still a few of the jackfish way up D’Arbonne and Corney. Wood says they hear regular reports of them being caught in the grass in the spring.
“Just tie on a chartreuse spinnerbait and reel it across that heavy grass long enough in the spring and they’ll eat it up,” he said.