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story.lead_photo.caption John Hunter of Chandler, AZ, fishes of the pier at the Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery hursday, May 16, 2019. (The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen()

This year's Hot Springs Fishing Challenge has nearly matched the previous record number of fish caught in a single year of the eight-year-old competition.

As of Friday, 15 prize fish had been reeled in on lakes Catherine and Hamilton with a total payout so far of $17,000. The record number of fish caught in a single challenge, 16, was in 2014. The challenges are held each summer over a three-month period. This year's challenge began on May 1 and will end at 5 p.m. July 31.

As of Wednesday, nearly 20 percent of the 71 fish that were released into the two lakes had been caught by participants, according to Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison. Visit Hot Springs sponsors the annual challenge in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Arrison said in a news release the two have "never seen this pace for prize fish being caught."

AGFC representatives offered a few explanations this week for the increase in fish caught this year.

Brett Hobbs, District 8 biologist, said AGFC did away with two species of fish that were released in previous challenges.

"We did away with the crappie and walleye because they are both sensitive to the handling, the tagging process," he told The Sentinel-Record. "We've instead added in more species that are a little heartier and can handle that process."

Hobbs said crappie and walleye have not handled the rigorous tagging and stocking process very well in the past, and were replaced this year with white bass and redear sunfish to accompany the other three species.

"We call them the 'big three,' which are the largemouth bass, channel catfish and bluegill," he said, referring to the three species that have done well in the contest. "They have handled the tagging process over the years and by doing away with the other two, we've freed up those tags for fish that can handle it."

Hobbs said AGFC also streamlined its stocking process, which results in less stress and a higher survival rate of the released tagged fish.

In early May, increased rain has kept water flowing through area lakes; however, Hobbs said this likely isn't a contributing factor.

"The rain really hasn't had anything to do with it," he said. "Yes, water flowing through the lakes is a good thing -- we all need water. I don't think that has really made a difference."

Hobbs did say that cooler temperatures extending well into April and early May has extended the bass spawn.

"With those cooler temperatures, bass will spend their time in those shallow areas," he said. "This has made them more accessible."

Visit Hot Springs and AGFC also noted this year's challenge has seen increased attention by the public, which has resulted in busier boat ramps during weekdays. It was also noted that anglers reeling in the prize fish have been bringing other fishermen to the lakes looking for their chance to win.

Arrison said in the release he hasn't seen anything like the 2019 challenge.

"Fishing is so hot on lakes Hamilton and Catherine this spring that if you stick your hand in the lake to test the water temperature you're liable to pull your hand out with a $1,000 prize fish hanging on your pinkie finger," he said.

The Hot Springs Fishing Challenge is free for anyone with a valid Arkansas fishing license.

Local on 05/19/2019

Print Headline: Cooler spring, heartier fish likely factors in successful 2019 Fishing Challenge

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