Chuck Kaminski, president of the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is proud of the work his organization and the Wildlife Department have done together to enhance trout fishing in the state.
“We’ve put a lot of time, money and effort in establishing these trout waters,” Kaminski said.
But he worries that someday he might be standing by a stream “with a bunch of good-looking water with no fish.”
That’s because much of the trout swimming in Oklahoma’s three best trout fishing streams — the Lower Illinois, the Lower Mountain Fork and the Blue rivers — are provided by two federal fish hatcheries in Arkansas that could be closed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Almost all of the trout in the Lower Illinois come from the Norfork and Greers Ferry National Fish Hatcheries in Arkansas, as well as two-thirds of the rainbows that are stocked in the Blue River in the winter. More than one-third of the Lower Mountain Fork’s rainbows are also raised in Arkansas.
Norfork and Greers Ferry also supply all of the trout for the White River system in Arkansas, a trout fishing mecca that attracts hundreds of thousands of anglers each year from many states, including Oklahoma.
“If we shut down, basically the trout fishing in Oklahoma shuts down,” said Leon Alexander, president of the Friends of the Norfork National Fish Hatchery.
Alexander and his advocacy group are working hard to try and keep the Norfork National Fish Hatchery open.
“I retired here,” said Alexander, who moved to Norfork nine years ago from Memphis, Tenn. “The reason I retired here is basically because of the fishing, along with thousands of other people who retired up here for the same reason.”
Alexander said he’s been assured by Arkansas’ congressional delegation that the federal fish hatcheries will be funded at least for the next fiscal year, but “I haven’t seen a document or bill that puts that in writing. I am very cautious what is going to happen next.”
The national fish hatcheries at Norfork and Greers Ferry raise trout as “mitigation” or compensation for the damage or destruction caused to the stream and its native species by the damming of rivers.
When a dam is built for the purpose of providing hydroelectric power and flood control — such as what happened on the Lower Illinois and Lower Mountain Fork rivers in Oklahoma when Lake Tenkiller and Broken Bow Lake were created — then the stream and the species living in it are permanently altered.