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AGFC releases the titans at Lake Monticello


MONTICELLO — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is hedging its bets with bringing trophy-class bass fishing back to Lake Monticello with today’s release of roughly 9,000 special fish. These fish are the first segment of a stocking totaling 22,000 Florida largemouth bass from Red Hills Fishery in Georgia that are the offspring of fish that have all the genetic makings of trophy-class bass.
The fingerlings, dubbed TITAN MAXX™ bass by the Red Hills facility, were spawned from bass that were genetically tested and have specific genetic markers of fish that exhibit trophy-class growth potential.
“The AGFC has been stocking Florida bass for decades, which have had the potential to become trophies, but now we’re able to select the Floridas that have the most potential from that pool,” Jeremy Risley, AGFC Black Bass Program coordinator, said. “It’s sort of like we’re switching from stocking college basketball players who are already great athletes to only stocking the elite NBA players of the fish world.”
According to Risley, Lake Monticello’s renovation offered the perfect opportunity to infuse the system with these “thoroughbred” bass.
“When we stock Florida bass, it’s all about getting the genetics of big fish into the system,” Risley said. “We’re not necessarily adding more fish in most established fisheries because the fish we stock essentially outcompete and take the place of a fish that was already there. With Monticello’s renovation, we’re able to work with a cleaner slate and have a larger percentage of Florida and TITAN MAXX genetics from the beginning.”
Josh Sakmar, director of Biology and Infrastructure at Red Hills, stressed that the fish are not genetically engineered or modified, but are naturally occurring bass bloodlines found in the wild.
“All of the broodstock we used came out of the wild in the state of Florida, and all the broodstock were tested according to the state of Florida’s new standards to be Floridas,” Sakmar said. “Over the past six years we’ve done a large study where we’ve looked at fish over 8 pounds and looked for genetic markers associated with those fish. What we’ve found was extremely high statistical values for the markers we use. We’ve gone back and looked at all the broodstock we have and tested them to identify which ones have those genetic markers and intentionally spawned those fish together.”
Although bass from Red Hills Fishery have been used in private ponds to help produce trophy-class black bass, this is their first stocking into a public body of water.
Monticello Mayor Jason Akers was excited about the added attention to the southeast Arkansas fishery and family destination.
“Lake Monticello and the amenities it possesses are one of the most overlooked fun spots in our state,” Akers said. “Be it fishing, our state of the art bike trail or our disc golf course, we have everything here and we encourage everyone to explore what Monticello has to offer. Our partnership with Arkansas Game and Fish shows that we are only going to get better and we even have better things to come in the near future.”

Sakmar and Risley both stress that genetics are only one part of the big bass equation, but they’re hopeful that Lake Monticello’s revamp will produce the right habitat needed to let these fish reach their full potential.
“Phenotype is a combination of genotype and environment,” Sakmar said. “We can’t guarantee these fish will get to trophy size, but we can guarantee they have the genetic potential.”
When Lake Monticello is completely refilled it will be 1,520 acres. The lake is owned by the City of Monticello and was drawn down in 2019 to repair the lake’s levee after a previous repair attempt using a partial drawdown failed. The lake’s renovation has enabled vegetation and nutrients to be refreshed in the fishery, creating a “new lake effect” boom to fish as it comes back online, which should play well with these fish.
Kris Nault, fisheries supervisor in the AGFC’s Monticello regional office explained that in addition to the genetics added through stockings of Florida bass and TITAN MAXX fish, growing trophy largemouth bass requires the right combination of fish habitat and forage. The AGFC has been hard at work on those pieces of the puzzle.
“During the Lake Monticello Renovation, AGFC fisheries personnel created 87 fish habitat sites consisting of brush piles, pallet structures, Georgia cubes, and porcupine fish cribs,” Nault said. “We also hinge-cut 1,653 trees along the shoreline. These habitat structures in addition to the hundreds of willow and pine trees that have grown in the lakebed are now flooded and provide excellent habitat for largemouth bass to ambush their prey and minimize the calories it takes to do so.”
Forage for the fishery also has been boosted.
“Typically, the bream-to-bass stocking ratio is 10:1. We stocked at a ratio of 30 bream for each bass,” Nault said. “The threadfin shad, golden shiners and fathead minnows we stocked in addition to bream brought the prey-to-bass ratio up to 55:1. This combination of the high forage population in the lake combined with great habitat and Florida Bass genetics has resulted in Lake Monticello largemouth bass exhibiting excellent growth and condition.”
With the table set, the TITAN MAXX bass will have the best opportunity to thrive the AGFC and City of Monticello can offer.
“We know Monticello was once one of the best lakes in the state to chase double-digit bass,” Tommy Laird, AGFC chief of fisheries, said. “With the combination of excellent habitat and these heavyweight bloodlines, maybe we can catch lightning in a bottle again.”