Wapanooca National Wildlife Refuge located near Turrell, Arkansas, on old highway 77, is one of more than 560 National Wildlife Refuges, (NWR) found in the United States.

Wapanocca, Big Lake, Cache River and Bald Knob are part of the Central Arkansas Complex of NWRs with headquarters in Augusta, Arkansas.

These refuges were created to protect and enhance the resting and feeding grounds of migratory birds creating a chain of stepping stones along major migration routes.

Wapanocca became a NWR in 1961 when the federal government acquired it from the old, pre 1900 Wapanocca Outing Club. The most famous member was the outdoor writer Nash Buckingham whose book “Da Shootingest Gentleman” can still be found in book stores. A very enjoyable outdoor book to read.

Jared Nance is the 13th manager since the refuge was created and lives with his wife in Jonesboro. He is the past manager of Big Lake NWR. Nance is a graduate of Murray State University in western Kentucky where he received a degree in wildlife biology. He is of the new class of refuge managers that are very people and technology oriented. He knows how to manage the swamps and greet the patrons to the refuge. He feels like an old friend after visiting only a short time.

When the lake first opened to the public it was known for its monster bream. After a couple of years, the fishing just died.

No fish. The lake was dying due to siltation from Big Creek which was it’s only source of water. The fish eggs were simply covered by mud and silt and could not hatch. The lake was drained and the lake bottom was allowed to dry for two years. The lake was then stocked with bream, bass, crappie and catfish. There had not been a stocking since then. The water now used to maintain the lake is natural run off and from a non siltrated source. Wapanocca is not connected to the Mississippi River.

Fishing opens March 1, 2016 and closes October 31, 2016. The free boat ramp that is large and in great shape is located over the railroad track off Hwy.

77, a few miles south of Turrell. A refuge permit is required to be on the refuge and can be obtained from the refuge headquarters or online. There are no permits available at the boat ramp. Fishing is permitted from sunrise to sunset. Of course your boat must be registered. State fishing limits apply but no frog taking is allowed, day or night.

Headquarters are just under the railroad tracks on the way into Turrell and are open 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The headquarters are fun to visit and bring out the kids. They will really enjoy the presentation.

Speaking of kids, congratulations to manager Jared Nance. He will become a daddy to a baby boy in about two months. It won’t be long before he is catching big Waponocca bream.

I fished Wapanocca several times last year and usually had good luck. The bass, crappie and bream are good. I did find a bed of real keeper bream with several in one pound range. I did see several nice catfish at the ramp.

There is plenty of easy parking and the folks I visited with were more than helpful in launching boats.

During the week, the ramp and lake is not crowded.

You need to bring your own bait and drinks as there is not a concession at the ramp.

The opening week appears to be successful with a good crowd of people catching some nice fish. Crappie have been the fish of choice and several nice stringers have been taken along with some bass. Opening Saturday had the boat ramp and parking lot full of fishermen. Fishing should improve as spring brings warm weather and serious spawning.

Thank you and keep the pictures and stories coming.

Take a kid fishing and Wapanocca is a great place to enjoy. Lakeside Taxidermy mounts a great fish at a reasonable price and you will get it back fast.

Papa Duck 870-732-0455 or 901-4823430jhcriner@hotmail.com

By John Criner Outdoors Columnist