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Give Me Shelter:
Fish Habit Improvement Means New Use For Old Christmas Trees

By James Walker

Jim Walker, left, and Eric MauzyHabitat improvement is an important part of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) lake management program.   The DNR recycles over 1,000 Christmas trees after the holidays for use as fish-attracting structures in area lakes.   

The fish attractors are beneficial because most lakes in the state have little natural cover in them.   When some of West Virginia's lakes were constructed, most or all timber was cut and removed before it was filled with water, leaving little structure to serve as cover for fish.   What little cover was left has deteriorated over the years.

Fish-attracting structures enhance habitat by providing shelter, food and sometimes spawning habitat, all of which are essential for fish survival.   They also concentrate gamefish and provide excellent fishing opportunities for anglers.   

DNR Wildlife Resources Section personnel construct and place fish attractors annually January through March in lakes.   During this time of year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reservoirs in the state are at winter pool.   Winter pool indicates that the lake level is lowered for flood control to collect water from spring rains.  

At this time, work can be conducted on the exposed area of the lake.   When the water returns to summer pool, the lake level maintained April through October, the structures will be submerged.    Pallets, lumber, masonry block and rock have all been used, but the most popular and economical fish attractors are the recycled Christmas trees.   The trees are tied to concrete blocks with rope and placed at a depth of 10-15 feet.

Fish attractors are also constructed   in West Virginia's small impoundments   (lakes less than 300 acres).   They are placed by boat and sunk in designated areas.   Occasionally a lake has to be drawn down or drained for repairs, giving DNR personnel the opportunity to design more elaborate attractors or enhance existing attractors on the lake bed.  

The structures attract species of gamefish such as crappie, bluegill, catfish, bass, and an occasional musky looking for a meal.   Anglers' favorite bait to use in these areas are lightweight jig heads tipped with a curlytail grub or live minnows.   Fishing over these attractors is usually very productive because of high concentrations of gamefish .   Most can be fished from boat and shore.

The construction of fish attractors is labor intensive.   It takes a team effort on most of the lakes to complete them.   Boats, tractors, four wheelers and manual labor are what get the job done.   Donations from local businesses, volunteer help from fishing clubs and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel all play a major role in accomplishing the job.   This cooperation is necessary to accomplish lake habitat improvement projects.  

Whether you have been fishing for years or are new to the sport,   the fish attractors are a great place to try your luck.   Fishing a large body of   water can be intimidating, but with the help of the specifically marked buoys and signs which read “Fish Attractors ”   everyone can be successful!  

So what are you   waiting for?   Get outside and enjoy yourself.   You never know what you'll catch.   Just don't forget your camera to take some pictures of your prized catches/releases and a cooler to keep them cold for dinner.  

James Walker is the assistant district fisheries biologist stationed at the District III French Creek office .

 

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