White River

Slot Limits

Posted by John Berry on December 1st, 2011
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A few years ago, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission developed a Trout Management Plan for all of the trout waters in Arkansas. The plan was based on public input. I participated in the input for the White and Norfork River and was included in the advisory committee. The central theme for most participants was a desire for more large fish. One of the outcomes of the process was to change the slot limit for brown trout from where more than one brown over sixteen inches could be harvested to only one brown over twenty four inches could be harvested. The idea was to have more fish in the sixteen to twenty three inch slot in the river, which is a good fish anywhere.

The anglers want bigger fish because they are more challenging and definitely more exciting to catch. Guides and Outfitters want big fish because that is what their clients want. A trout stream does not achieve a national or international reputation by the number of trout stocked. It is judged on its ability to produce large fish.

Now, a few years later, I am catching more brown trout in the sixteen to twenty three inch slot. Is this an aberration? I don’t think so. When I talk to my fellow guides and anglers, they are also catching more good browns in that slot. I have to say that this is based on personal observation by me and others and not on creel surveys. My friend Bill Pettit does creel surveys for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. He goes to various public accesses and surveys the numbers, sizes and species caught by anglers. I always seem to fish too late to participate.

I also made a similar observation, when I was at the Shawnee fishing tournament. While I did not participate in the tournament, I did observe the weigh in and talked to many of the participants. I noted one thing. All of the big fish were browns. It did not matter which method (bait, lures or flies) was used. In fact, most of the anglers said that they were targeting browns because they thought they had a better chance of catching big fish by doing so.

It is all too obvious to me that the slot limit on brown trout is working as an effective management tool for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. There are slot limits on cutthroat (one over sixteen inches) and brook trout (one over fourteen inches). I have not observed much impact on the cutthroats and brooks because of the small numbers of them that are stocked.

While we stock many more rainbows, they are promptly harvested and are not allowed to grow as large as they are not protected by slot limits. I have noted that big rainbows are hard to come by. The only places that I consistently see them are the Catch and Release section below Bull Shoals Dam and Dry Run Creek.

It seems to me that the logical thing to do would be to establish a slot limit for rainbow trout. The key would be to allow the harvest of any rainbow that is less fourteen inches and one that is over twenty four. We could keep the limit at five trout one of which could be a trophy brown, cutthroat, brook or rainbow. You could still have the ability to harvest plenty of trout for dinner and keep a trophy if you land one. The big boost is that you would also be able to fight and catch some really nice fish on a more regular basis.

We are not scheduled to review the Trout management Plan for several years. I think that, in the meantime, we should think about the success of slot limits for brown trout and consider establishing them for rainbows.

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