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Add a Pencil to Your Vest
(Or TAG-You're It)

by Judy Boston, MSFF Conservation Director

Feb. 28, 2003 - You have an opportunity to assist the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) trout biologists gather important data over time concerning the effectiveness of catch-&-release (C&R) areas on Arkansas trout waters. The AGFC trout biologists in the AGFC Trout Program, headed by Darrell Bowman, have begun new tagging studies in the Arkansas tailwaters (the part of a river below a dam) for all the C&R areas. The information below will tell you what to do if you catch a trout with what looks like a piece of colored spaghetti attached to its back at the base of its dorsal fin. The tag may or may not have a coating of algae growth. Hint: Do not remove the tag from trout you release but do call the Trout Program with information from all tagged trout you catch.

From time-to-time electrofishing sampling is done in an area to provide a "snap-shot" view of the trout population at the time of the sample. This type of sampling was done in February at Winkley Shoals (Little Red River) in order to compare data (size, diversity, and abundance) before and after the habitat restoration there. While this data is valuable, and especially so when there is a variable factor-such as habitat restoration-"snap-shot" types of electrofishing sampling do not always tell the biologists why the trout populations look the way they do at the time.

Fish tagging studies are a better way for the biologists to understand the dynamics of trout populations. Tagging studies to gather data on trout growth rates, mortality rates, trout migration, and angler exploitation rates will shed a better light on the trout populations and how regulations affect them. Tagging studies require more effort on the part of AGFC personnel because individual trout within the trout population at the time of tagging are being tracked rather than a nebulous and changing picture of an area's trout population.

An analogy of the differences in "snap-shot" electrofishing sampling versus ongoing tagging studies would be the differences in assessing a school's senior class population at yearly intervals versus assessing one year's senior class population and then determining what happened to each individual student throughout the year and in subsequent years. Both give useful information, but determining the fate of individuals within a population over time gives a different set of information than simply the makeup of a changing population at the same location.

AGFC personnel use nighttime electrofishing to catch, identify the species, measure to the nearest millimeter, weigh to the nearest gram, tag, and release 1,000 trout from each C&R area. The tags used in this study are colored (tan, yellow, orange, etc.) spaghetti type tags about 1.5 or 2-inches long and are inserted into the trout's back just below the dorsal fin. The tags each have an individual tracking number as well as the phone number of the Trout Program office. Once all the C&R areas each have their 1,000 trout tagged, AGFC can periodically recapture them to record the ongoing species/length/weight data and then re-release the tagged trout. Anglers can report where and when these trout are caught. Over time, meaningful growth rates, migration and mortality rates can be determined for these tagged trout because each trout will have an individual number.

During the last quarter of 2002, tagging was completed for 1,000 trout from the Beaver Tailwater, 1,000 trout from the Dunham/Mossy Shoals (Little Red River), and 1,000 trout from the Sylamore (White River) C&R areas. Work was suspended during the spawn to avoid any negative impacts to spawning trout. However, this spring tagging work will resume on the Bull Shoals Tailwater (White River) for the Bull Shoals, Rim Shoals, and Monkey Island (downstream from Red's Landing) C&R areas, as well as the Norfork Tailwaters C&R area. Additionally, and in order to collect initial baseline information, trout tagging will be done in the Spring River between Dam 3 downstream to Bayou Access (not currently a C&R area).

TAG-"You're It"-What to Do
The AGFC Trout Program's Trout Biologist, Darrell Bowman, and his assistant trout biologists, Stan Todd and Jeff Williams, ask that you assist as anglers by treating any tagged trout you catch the same way you would treat any other trout you catch, within AGFC regulations for trout. It is expected that most of the tagged trout will be caught and then released in the C&R areas. However, some to many trout will migrate out of the C&R areas and then may be either harvested or released. The tags will appear as if a colored piece of spaghetti (tan, yellow, orange, etc.) is coming from the base of the dorsal fin on top of the trout's back and may or may not be covered in algae.

Please do not remove the tag from a released trout. If you catch a tagged trout in a C&R area, release the trout with the tag in place. If you catch a tagged trout outside a C&R area, leave the tag in place if you release it. Never cut the tag off a released trout. However, if possible, write down the tag's tracking number and the Trout Program's phone number to call. It is OK to keep (harvest) a tagged trout if done within the context of fishing regulations (i.e. from unregulated water within the creel limits).

Then at your convenience, please call the phone number on the tag to report the tag number, when you caught it, where you caught it, and whether it was kept or released. You may also be asked to report what it was caught on as that is interesting info but not necessarily a part of the study.
It is better to release a tagged trout without reporting the information than to cut the tag off just to retain the tag's number to report. Again, please do not remove the tag from a trout you release. Just carry a pencil and paper to record tag information.

This is not a "reward" program. There is no bounty placed on the tags. The only reward you will receive is the knowledge that you are a responsible angler helping the AGFC Trout Program. The data from the tagging studies will provide the Trout Program information to evaluate the effectiveness of C&R areas in providing increased catch rates and/or larger trout.

Add a pencil and paper to your fishing gear.
Record the tag's tracking number if you catch a tagged trout.
Leave the tag in a released trout.
If you keep a trout (outside the C&R areas and within the regulations, of course), retain the tag's information.

Call the Trout Program (phone number on the tag) to report:
1. Tracking number of the tag
2. Date the trout was caught
3. Where caught
4. Whether released or kept
5. (Optional) What caught it-fly, jig, spinner, etc.


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