New program creates entry to private waters

Arkansas has more than 600,000 acres of lakes and ponds, but many large reservoirs and oxbow lakes are privately owned and have no public access.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has a new program to incentivize landowners to provide limited fishing access on these areas. The program is called The Public Fishing Access to Private Waters Incentive.

The amount of payment is determined by the number of acres or stream miles being opened to anglers. A lake or pond must be at least 10 acres to qualify. Bodies of water with the means to launch a boat will receive additional funding. In addition to the incentive payments, the AGFC will provide signs and trash pickup to ensure the area remains in good condition. Access to these waters will be granted only through limited public drawings to prevent overuse and keep to traffic at levels that will not interfere with the landowner's enjoyment of their property.

"We're willing to work with landowners however they need to make the experience positive for them as well as the public being allowed to fish," said Tommy Laird, chief of the AGFC's Fisheries Division. "We'll also come out and work with you on a management plan for your body of water, including daily limits and slot limits to fine-tune the fishery to meet your goals."

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by Mississippi State University, 47% of Arkansas anglers fish from the bank. This program can create new possibilities for anglers who don't need a boat or kayak to enjoy a day on the water.

"Landowners with small reservoirs are some of the first folks we were thinking about when we built the parameters for this program, but there are many other options that may increase even more fishing access," Laird said. "Landowners bordering smallmouth streams, trout tailwaters and larger oxbow lakes with little to no public access also would be prime candidates for the incentive program."

The Public Fishing Access to Private Waters Incentive is one of nine practices unveiled earlier in January as part of the AGFC's new Conservation Incentive Program. Through this program, private landowners can apply for and receive reimbursements and payments for certain practices to help promote wildlife and fisheries habitat and access throughout the state. The CIP is a one year pilot program for calendar year 2024 that was funded through the Arkansas General Assembly and approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council.

To efficiently initiate and deliver this pilot program, applications meeting the specific eligibility criteria for each practice are being approved on a first come, first serve basis. Visit for more information on the Conservation Incentive Program and how to apply for the Public Access to Private Waters practice.