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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Lake Wilhelmina anglers encouraged to catch and keep all they can eat 

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By Randy Zellers

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has lifted all daily limits and size limits on all fish species at Lake Wilhelmina in Polk County. The action, approved at the Commission’s May 16 meeting, is in preparation for extensive repairs to failing infrastructure this summer.

The repairs to be made require the lake to be drawn down, so the AGFC is letting anglers catch and keep as many fish as they like to make the most use of the resource before the lake is temporarily drained.

Tommy Laird, AGFC fisheries chief, said repairs are expected to be complete by the end of summer 2025, and the lake should fill quickly post-renovation.

“Local anglers are going to be without this lake for a little while, so we want to make sure the fish are used by anglers instead of being trapped in shallow pools or pulled through the dam and into Powell Creek,” Laird said. “The watershed is very large, and we may see times when the lake fills substantially even when the renovation is taking place, but it will drain quickly, too. Once we’re finished with work, the lake will refill and we’ll stock forage species, followed by game fish like bluegill, catfish and bass.”

In 2019, uncontrollable falling water levels indicated a failure somewhere in the dam or water control tower. The lake level dropped so much that launching a boat became impossible. After a thorough inspection using side-scan sonar, AGFC staff discovered two holes in the lake bed between the water control tower and the dam. In 2020, AGFC contractors dropped a dozen 1,800-pound sandbags over the two holes to slow the leak for inspection.

The sandbags slowed the leak, but were never intended to be a final solution. Contractors inspected the leak from the downstream end of the discharge pipe once the flow had slowed and discovered the source of the problem.

“This structure has been underwater since 1958 and has gone well past its expected lifespan,” Laird said. “Holes in the 30-inch outflow pipe have formed, letting water flow through the structure between the control tower gates and the dam. We’ve been able to secure funding and develop a plan for a renovation, and we’re ready to implement a more permanent fix.”

In addition to the dam repair, AGFC staff plan to improve and extend the boat ramp on the lake, renovate the parking area, add a courtesy dock and complete many habitat enhancement projects to take advantage of the low water.

“Several road improvements are planned to provide more locations to pull alongside the lake and fish,” Laird said. “We’re working with (Polk) County Judge Brandon Ellison to try and get those road improvements, and he’s been great to work with.”

The project is expected to cost roughly $1.4 million, with $1 million of that coming from a special transfer from the Restricted Reserve Fund Game and Fish Grants Set-Aside authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly in 2023. AGFC Director Austin Booth said this authorization was critical in moving forward with the project.

“Lake Wilhelmina is a legacy fishery for the people of Polk County, an area of the state where infrastructure dollars can be tight,” Booth said. “We are extremely grateful to the General Assembly for helping us provide this much needed improvement for the people of Mena and the surrounding area.”

Lake Wilhelmina is a 200-acre reservoir built on Powell Creek six miles west of Mena. The lake’s dam was constructed in 1958. The lake is well known for good populations of bluegill as well as largemouth bass and channel catfish. The lake also is home to Arkansas’s state record black crappie, a 5-pound giant caught in 2011 by then 11-year-old Donivan Echols of Mena.

Visit https://www.agfc.com/resources/habitat-and-access-improvement/lake-wilhelmina-renovation-project/ for more information about the Lake Wilhelmina Renovation Project.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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