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The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission toured one of the state's premier trout fishing destinations in the southeast region this month in conjunction with its November meeting.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation operates the popular Lower Mountain Fork River trout fishery that flows through Beaver's Bend State Park north of Broken Bow. The picturesque stream and rugged terrain of the Ouachita Mountains through which it flows are more like what most Oklahomans would expect to see in a western mountain state than Oklahoma. But its cold flowing water, provided by the very deep Broken Bow Lake, are just right for the aggressive year-round trout stocking efforts put forth by Wildlife Department fisheries personnel.
The designated fishery includes a 12-mile portion of the river, along with its tributaries, starting at Broken Bow Lake and flowing downstream to the U.S. 70 bridge. About five miles of it lies within the state park. Stocked every three weeks with rainbow trout and periodically with brown trout, the Lower Mountain Fork River is one of two year-round trout fisheries.
The fishery was the second of the state's two year-round trout fisheries - the first being the Lower Illinois River below Lake Tenkiller. Trout are not native to Oklahoma and cannot generally survive during the warmer months unless a sufficient year-round source of cold water is available. Because Broken Bow Lake is very deep - 180 feet at the dam - it's water is cold enough for year-round trout stocking and fishing in the Lower Mountain Fork River. In 1996, the Water Resources Development Act helped the Wildlife Department obtain water storage in Broken Bow Lake sufficient to maintain the trout fishery. The trout fishery also mitigates for the impacts on native stream fish caused by impounding the lake in 1970.
According to Don Groom, southeast region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department, roughly 100,000 trout are stocked annually in the Lower Mountain Fork River fishery, increasing visitation to the state park.
"Right now they estimate they have between 950,000 and a million people visit the park each year," Groom said.
The trout fishery underwent extensive renovations in recent years to improve trout habitat. Portions of the stream that were too wide and shallow and thus too warm for trout were narrowed to speed up the flow of water. Faster water means cooler, better aerated water, which is better for trout survival. Additionally, structure was added to the stream bed to increase ideal trout habitat. Today anglers have a first class trout fishery nestled in one of the most scenic regions of the state.
There are also six seasonal trout fisheries in Oklahoma that are stocked throughout most of the fall and winter, usually beginning Nov. 1 and continuing into March. They include the Blue River, Robber's Cave, Medicine Creek and Lakes Watonga, Pawhuska and Carl Etling.
Southeast Oklahoma - and particularly McCurtain County where the Lower Mountain Fork River trout fishery flows - also is home to the important Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area, which consists of over 200,000 acres of Weyerhaeuser timberlands. The large landholding is leased to the Wildlife Department for a fee, and users must purchase a $40 Land Access Permit to hunt or fish on the property.
With the Department's current lease on the property set to expire in May 2014, the Commission approved a new three-year cooperative agreement with Weyerhaeuser to begin when the current agreement expires.
"This is an important area to our sportsmen in southeast Oklahoma and we will continue this relationship with Weyerhaeuser," said Alan Peoples, chief of Wildlife for the Wildlife Department.
Some Commissioners did express growing concerns about the continually rising costs of leasing the area, but the new agreement will continue to provide ample hunting and fishing opportunities into 2017.
In other business, the Commission voted to approve several emergency rules that affect noodlers and paddlefish anglers.
The new rules for noodling set a three-fish (3) daily bag limit, which may include any species of catfish, with only one fish over 30 inches allowed. The rules remove the 20-inch minimum requirement on flathead catfish and restrict noodling to daylight hours only.
The emergency paddlefish rules that were approved will help reduce the harvest on the state's sensitive paddlefish populations by allowing the Commission to set annual harvest limits and the number of paddlefish permits according to population trends. The rules make way for a reduced possession limit on paddlefish for non-residents and require online checking of harvested paddlefish, much like for deer or other big game.
Department Director Richard Hatcher also recognized two Oklahoma game wardens - Thor Carlson, District 7 chief stationed in Dewey Co.; and Mike Virgin, District 3 chief stationed in McCurtain Co. - each for 35 years of service to Wildlife Department and sportsmen of the state.
The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The next scheduled Commission meeting is set for, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.