Those not in Arkansas probably haven’t heard much about what is going on with Lake Conway. But as of Sep. 1, 2023, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has began drawing down this popular fishery and are taking it to the lake bed. Completely emptying it to rebuild dam and spillage/drainage areas as well as allow muck and sediment to pack and harden to clear the lake out and add back more than a foot of depth to the lake bed. They will also be cleaning out old structures and trash and the like while also adding in more than 3,000 fish attractors to the popular fishing destination.
That probably all sounds great on paper, unless you live on the lake. Lake Conway is 75 years old and the second largest AGFC lake in the state at 6,700 acres. The hundreds of folks who live on the lake are not nearly as happy about the situation, many of whom bought or built their home on the lake to fish from their backyard. Popular Youtube anglers Cole and Jay Harken and their children consider Lake Conway the perfect place to live, and it has been heartbreaking for them to watch the lake being emptied. I’ve chatted with Cole Harken a time or two on fishing, as they fish a lot of the same haunts I’ve fished in Arkansas growing up and since. He and his wife shared a video on their thoughts on it here:
Folks on the lake are in a tough spot where they now have a 5 to 8-year or maybe even 10-year wait until Lake Conway is a great fishery again. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a resident, let alone a die-hard angling family. While the renovations are said to only take 5 years, it will be a lot longer for a sustainable population of fish to get a foothold in the lake after that. So it might be a decade before fishing is really good on Lake Conway again.
But many anglers who have fished the lake for decades have said that it declined over the years from silt and sediment and the lack of access as well as it being completely covered in stumps made it a difficult fishery at best. That deterred a lot of anglers from frequenting the lake.
But the Harkens proved the lake had a lot of fishing life in it. In fact, I was set to come over next spring and fish Conway for red ear sunfish after watching one of Cole’s videos, and now I’m bummed it will be a decade probably before I get that chance. While the 75-year-old fishery certainly needs the TLC, it’s hard to imagine what those folks who moved to the lake to fish are thinking now. Those properties are pretty much unsellable at this point, and they have no lake to enjoy anymore. My heart aches for them.
But I am interested to see the progress made over there over the next several years and will be making a point to go walk the lake or fly my drone over it to see how building a world-class fishery could be done. The AGFC is putting $8-12 million into the renovations of the dam and spillway as well as the shoreline and lake bed clean up and also adding more accesses and fish habitat as well. It could be a very cool story a decade from now and certainly one of the most massive undertakings by a Game and Fish agency anywhere. But I still hurt for the anglers that called that lake home and their long wait for her to come back.
Check out these resources about the drawdown and build back here: