Free Fishing Weekend at Hand

Thursday, June 11, 2020
Although the fishing derbies at Heritage Park, and the William H. Donham State Fish Hatchery at Corning have been canceled due to the pandemic anglers still have a chance to catch some of the catfish raised for the events. Monday morning Erik Jordan, of the hatchery at Corning, dumped some 800 pounds of young catfish into the lake at Heritage Park—just in time for “Free Fishing Weekend” which begins at noon Friday.
TD photo/Tim Blair

Precautions to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 have forced the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to cancel the annual fishing derbies held at its five fish hatcheries in June, but anglers throughout the state will still be able to enjoy some quality time chasing catfish. AGFC hatcheries are delivering thousands of pounds of catchable-sized catfish to small, publicly accessible ponds throughout Arkansas to prepare for Free Fishing Weekend, June 12 to 14. Among them is the lake at Piggott's Heritage Park.

“We didn’t want to cancel our hatchery derbies, but we really didn’t see a way to do them without breaking social distancing precautions,” said Tommy Laird, assistant chief of fisheries for the AGFC. “We host thousands of participants each year on that day, and there just isn’t space for people to spread out properly on the ponds we can designate for the derby.”

Laird says all hatchery staff are disappointed with the cancellations but are working hard to make sure everyone has a good time on Free Fishing Weekend.

“This is the one time of year where we get thousands of visitors to show them all the work we do to produce fish for Arkansans,” Laird said. “The events are just as important to us as they are to the people who come to fish. They even compete for bragging rights on what hatchery has the most visitors and best response from surveys taken during the derbies.”

Each of the AGFC’s four warm-water hatcheries has a surplus of catchable-sized catfish that were raised with these derbies in mind. The regional hatchery at Corning was also slated to stock the lake at Heritage Park last month in preparation for the facility's annual fishing derby. Instead, they were scheduled to deliver the local share of some three tons of fish earmarked for Northeast Arkansas, as some 24,000 pounds were shared evenly throughout the state.

“We are stocking 6,000 pounds of catfish to each of the four quarters of the state,” Laird said. “The amount stocked per pond will be determined by the size of that pond and the number of people who normally fish it, but we worked hard to divide this surplus evenly.”

These stockings are in addition to the normal stockings the AGFC conducts through its Family and Community Fishing Program.

“Those locations all will receive their normal stockings, these are just some additional locations that normally don’t get these extra stockings,” Laird said.

In addition to Heritage Park in Piggott, other regional locations include Old Davidsonville State Park; Walker Park in Blytheville; Burdette Lake; Rowe Lake in Batesville; Amons Lake and McCabe Park in Mt. Home; Stinger Lake in Mt. View; Caraway Lake in Jonesboro; and city park lakes in Melbourne, Newport, Salem and Walnut Ridge.

Of course, the AGFC is also urging those taking part in free fishing weekend to continue to take precautions. Anglers are advised to continue practicing social distancing while enjoying all fishing locations.

“Maintain a six-foot distance (one fishing rod’s length) from your nearest neighbor who is not in your immediate family and wash your hands thoroughly after touching any surfaces that someone else may have touched,” he offered.

“It’s always a good idea to have some latex gloves, a hand towel and some hand sanitizer or water with you while catfishing anyway,” Laird said. “Most anglers probably already carry some of these items to clean up after they unhook a fish.”

The free fishing weekend begins at noon on Friday, June 12, and continues until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 14. More information may be found online at

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