Building Jim Swanson’s Lake

By Bob Lusk with Mike Otto


This is the third of a three part series about a private lake-building project in Texas. Check out the photo gallery at the bottom of the post.

Designing, building and managing an excellent lake is no accident. Jim Swanson’s brand-spanking new, sparkling ten acre lake on his sixty acre parcel in north Texas is a living testimony.

Ask him the most important part of this journey and he’ll tell you it was the original planning sessions. The most fun for him? Adding the amenities as the project developed. though, in the beginning, it wasn’t easy to visualize a beautiful lake in place of overgrown fallow farm land, Mr. Swanson’s vision wasn’t impaired in getting to his destination.

Planning took place over a span of three months. Building the lake took about eight weeks. With timely rains and a boost from a water well, that site went from an eroded, useless wash, densely grown over with gangly cedar trees, elms and brush to a beautiful, clear lake surrounded by all kinds of cool stuff…and well stocked with fish, we might add.

Swanson is a project guy.

He loves to tackle a project, see it in his mind, design it and get it done. He’s built his business that way, he’s built his life that way…and he built his lake with a similar mindset. As a matter of fact, building the lake ended up being a series of projects, molded firmly from his disciplined thought pattern with methodical process.

When someone is thinking about building a lake, there are lots of things to consider. There’s math, engineering, soil sciences, heavy equipment, budget, water flow, chemistry, budget, compaction, habitat, boathouse, budget, docks, rip-rap, fish habitat and dirt…lots of dirt.

None of the earliest discussions focused on amenities, other than compulsory, ideological stuff like a dock, maybe a boathouse. Those concepts came to life and morphed as the lake did.

One fall evening, the ladies were sharing a bottle of wine and the guys were enjoying a beer as a batch of red meat seared on the grill there on the Swanson’s veranda. One of the ladies was asking Jim and his bride about the lake. The smell of grilling meat set the mood. By this time, the dam was about 75% finished and the lake was taking shape. Mr. Swanson was explaining where he and his wife were planning to build a pavilion, off a point, across the lake. One of the ladies chimed in, “It’s a long way around the lake to get to the pavilion. on him. They expected a bathroom, or no party at the pavilion.

He submitted, just to keep the mood lightly focused on that night’s cookout. He was thinking outhouse. They weren’t.

Mike Otto, the contractor, and his crew had put surveyor flags all the way around the lake bed to delineate the shoreline.

An important part of the process for the family was fish stocking. As the lake was built, we added just the right amount of fish habitat. We added gravel spawning beds for bass and sunfish. Near the shoreline, we kept some of the better trees with wide canopies and placed them perpendicular to shore, off underwater dirt shelves, with root balls nearest the shore. They sit submerged, but close enough to the shore for anglers to cast, but also in spots where fishermen can toss their favorite baits toward shore from a boat. Those will be fish magnets. That lake has plenty of elements to grow and yield big bass, plentiful sunfish and a few hybrid stripers, where open water is their friend.

When the lake had enough water, that is at least eight feet deep, half the surface area covered and rising, in cool weather, we stocked forage fish. We added fathead minnows, bluegill sunfish from two different hatcheries (and two different fish sizes) with redear sunfish in the first stocking. With feeders in place, the first goal with the fishery was to establish the forage fish. Knowing it takes ten pounds of baitfish to grow a pound of game fish, we zeroed in on that part of the fishery first. After we knew the fish were feeding well, we stocked small hybrid striped bass. Then, several weeks later, we added largemouth bass. With the fishery, we wait. Next spring, we’ll pay attention to the water and do what we need to do to expedite growth rates of those lucky fish.

As all these things came together, Mr. Swanson was finishing his pavilion, complete with tables, ceiling fans, a grill and shelf…and nice lighting. He had been persuaded… ‘er cajoled, into building that aforementioned bathroom. But, in Swansonesque style, that little bathroom ended up with its own nice amenities. It has a nice sink and, oh yes, a bedroom. He calls it his “doghouse”. First time I saw it, as it was being built, I had to chuckle. It was a little bit more than that outhouse idea he begrudgingly had that night on the porch. Next was an aeration system for the lake and then a floating boathouse, a few steps away from the pavilion, near the outdoor fire pit.

Here it is, an exceptional ten acre lake, well-planned, well built and given lots of thought. How much did he spend? I don’t want to know, but I know this. He had a blast doing it, added all the amenities he wanted in order to create an environment that will attract his family and friends for years to come…and grow some nice fish. What’s that worth? Oh, and it has the coolest bathroom of any lake I’ve seen.

Bob Lusk is a 35 year veteran private fisheries biologist and Lake Consultant, traveling the nation helping people design, build, stock and manage private fishing waters. He is also editor of Pond Boss magazine, the nation’s leading journal on pond management. He can be reached at [email protected].  


Mike Otto has almost 40 years’ experience as a professional earthmover, with a primary focus building outstanding fishing lakes. He can be reached at [email protected]