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Nursery pond a key feature of Lake Conway

Posted: June 6, 2014 - 4:25pm
JOE MOSBY PHOTO   James H. Flanagin Nursery Pond at Lake Conway is used to give a boost to selected species of fish.
JOE MOSBY PHOTO James H. Flanagin Nursery Pond at Lake Conway is used to give a boost to selected species of fish.

The destructive and tragic tornado of April 27 wrecked homes and businesses, took lives and caused recovery and rebuilding that will go on for not days but years in our area.

One facility the tornado missed, barely, was the nursery pond at Lake Conway.

All right, this is no comparison to the other areas, but it gives an opportunity to look at a topic few of us pay attention to. Where do our fish come from?

This quick answer is nature produces fish for us to catch, and this nursery pond is a helping hand to nature. It augments the reproduction that takes place naturally in the lake. The nursery pond lets biologists and other managers fine tune or tweak the lake’s fish populations.

Well off traveled paths, the James H. Flanagin Nursery Pond is on the lake’s east side and is in the Camp Robinson Special Use Area. Most folks call this the field trail area.

The system of nursery ponds operated in Arkansas is envied by many other states.

The concept is relatively simple. Build a pond adjacent to a lake and connect the two by a ditch or a pipe. Put some fish nesting structures in the bottom of the pond. Fill it. Put in brood fish of a chosen species. Feed the fish regularly. The fish breed and hatch baby fish. When the young ones are big enough to fend for themselves, open the drain into the lake, releasing both the young fish and the parent fish.

The alternative route for boosting a lake’s fish is growing fish in a hatchery then trucking them to the chosen lake and releasing them by a chute mounted on the truck.

Both methods are used regularly in Arkansas. It is easy to see that the hatchery and transporting method costs more than the nursery pond method. There can be some mortality with the truck-hauled fish too.

The recent tornado tore just a short distance south and east of the Lake Conway nursery pond, fisheries biologist Matt Schroeder said. It did extensive damage to trees and to the buildings of the field trial grounds, including the clubhouse that was nearly 60 years old and held many mementos and memories.

Schroeder said the nursery pond had a crop of red-ear sunfish, a familiar species on the lake and a favorite with many bream anglers. The storm and its debris did not harm the fish in the pond.

The Lake Conway nursery pond bears the name of the Conway dentist who has been called the father of Lake Conway and for good reason.

Ardent outdoorsman Flanagin and some hunting and fishing friends around campfires in the 1930s hashed over the idea of a lake in the dense and swampy Palarm Creek bottoms southeast of Conway and east of Mayflower. Some sources credit B.F. Stermer of Conway, for years the Faulkner County surveyor, for the concept of such a lake.

Flanagin and others appeared before the Game and Fish Commission in October 1946 with the lake idea. It took some convincing. The agency had never built a lake, and it was focused at the time on the acquisition of land between Stuttgart and Pine Bluff for a public hunting place — today’s Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area.

Potholes were navigated by Flanagin, Walter Dunaway and others, but the lake idea eventually blossomed to acceptance then languished in courts for a while. Contracts for the lake’s dam were let in October 1950, and the lake was officially put into operation on July 4, 1951.

(Outdoor writer Joe Mosby can be contacted by email at jhmosby@cyberback.com.)

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