How Important Is HABITAT?
Thanks for joining another issue of the Bob Lusk Outdoors newsletter. I’m Biologist Zach Petersen. While conducting fisheries management projects, I also analyze habitat and design needed improvements. My post graduate studies were in this field. I’ve spent countless hours observing, documenting, and patterning fish behavior. Climb into the boat. I’d enjoy giving you a tour of valuable features we offer to benefit your lake.
When you’re around fish every day, they speak to you if you listen. We learn where they live. We learn their diet. We learn what type ecosystem they require to thrive. Some clients call us fish whisperers. You can have the same relationship with your fish.
There are four uncompromising principles for successful lake management. You guessed it, the first is–HABITAT. When you seek a home, you seek a dwelling that satisfies your creature comforts. It must be close to work, dining opportunities, within a favorable climate, and provide personal security. Fish are no different. When you’re a small fish in a big pond and might be someone’s next meal, security is very important. Balanced vegetation, brush piles, and artificial fish attractors become key habitat features for a home.
Goals for habitat enhancement include increasing fish production, creating a sustainable fish community, and preventing problematic erosion. These important programs benefit baitfish like bluegill or threadfin shad and predatory sportfish such as largemouth bass and black crappie. In this article, we will describe spawning, rearing, and foraging habitat requirements for each species.
The first step in evaluating habitat is to create bathymetric / habitat maps that assess existing conditions and identify missing features. After thorough analysis, we offer a plan describing types of habitat needed and locations where it will be most effective. We focus on points near creek channels or shallow flats near deep holes. We’re no different from a residential developer in your town. We identify a good location, then build a subdivision of homes for baitfish and sportfish. Remember the old saying, “build it and they will come”. It’s true! If you observe an electrofishing survey, closely notice where you find most fish. I’ll bet you a steak dinner at the upcoming Pond Boss conference where you see them. If you haven’t heard, the next famous event is October 12-14, 2017, at La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa in Montgomery, TX, north of Houston. Call the office (800) 687-6075 to register. To show you I’m a humble winner, I’ll buy dessert.
Since bluegill are what Bob calls the backbone of the food chain, let’s address their requirements. Bluegill spawn throughout spring and summer in sandy or gravel beds at one to ten feet. They are most abundant along shorelines. Desired cover is vegetation, logs, and dense structure. These areas provide excellent zones to feed on invertebrates and escape predation. Juvenile and intermediate bluegill like areas near bulrush, cattails, and American pondweed. Adults prefer dense surroundings around trees or artificial attractors.
I recommend constructing cobble beds (pea gravel) for spawning. Maintain balanced vegetation for rearing and foraging. Develop dense cover for adults to feed and avoid predation. Cobble beds should be placed along the shoreline in depths preferably 1.5 to three-feet. Pockets of vegetation (bulrush and American pondweed) should be near cobble beds to enhance spawning potential and provide refuge areas for young fish. Dense, artificial structures (Mossback attractors) should be placed adjacent to cobble piles. We use four Mossback Root Wads here to enhance rearing habitat. Slightly larger Mossback Safe Havens are set nearby in deeper zones for adults.
If your lake is a candidate for threadfin shad, stock as many as budgets permit. They are caviar to largemouth bass. Threadfin spawn throughout spring and summer in vegetation. If vegetation is not present, they resort to areas with rip-rap, trees, and docks. Adequate habitat exists in most larger water bodies. Shad are pelagic dwellers that feed on planktonic and other microscopic algae. If you stock shad, fertilize the lake to ensure a healthy plankton bloom supplies abundant food for them to thrive.
Now to the king–largemouth bass. They spawn in spring and prefer gravel substrate in one to 25-foot depths. Bass use submerged vegetation or cobble to spawn when gravel substrates aren’t available. Juveniles seek refuge in vegetation and bottom irregularities (boulders or rip-rap). Adults feed near vegetation and related cover such as fallen trees, artificial attractors, or debris. Deep structure (brush piles or big rocks) can be particularly important when there is limited shoreline cover. Habitat modeling showed largemouth bass most often use 7 to 22-foot depths within 80-feet of the shoreline. Consequently, complex structure near shorelines is paramount for successful bass habitat. When constructing fish communities, we place Mossback Trophy Trees and Mossback Trophy Tree Kits near Mossback Root Wads and Mossback Safe Havens to improve bass feeding efficiency.
Shoreline erosion is a natural process instigated by fluctuating water levels and wave action. If not managed, it can decrease water quality, alter important fish habitat, and in worst case scenarios, lead to levee failure. Establishing vegetation, installing rocky material, and using artificial barriers (shoreline socks) are effective methods to prevent erosion. These techniques stabilize banks and add beneficial fish habitat.
Hope you enjoyed the habitat tour. We can map existing environments, identify necessary improvements, and design a plan to improve your lake with artificial fish attractors or natural elements. Please call for more details. Look forward to seeing you at the Pond Boss conference.
Photos courtesy of Texas Extension Service, Aquaplant.