Top Tips to Help with Degrading Habitat
Electrofishing season is highly informative. It permits evaluating not only fish health, but the overall environment. One area that stood out during numerous surveys last fall—degrading habitat.
Habitat management promotes forage production. Newly-hatched fry have more cover to escape early predation. Survival rates increase throughout all size groups; thereby providing more efficient meals for fast-growing bass. Once bass reach 18-inches, 3+-pounds, they need abundant 4 to 5-inch bluegill for development into trophy status. Big bass like big meals. Last fall, many survey reports revealed low bluegill populations in 1 to 2-inch and 4-5-inch categories. That’s a clear sign of weak habitat.
There are four uncompromising principles for successful lake management. You guessed it, the first is–HABITAT. When searching for a home, you seek a dwelling that satisfies comforts. It must be close to work, dining opportunities, have 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 attractors become key features. Strong habitat benefits fish production, a sustainable fish community, and reduces problematic erosion. These important areas favor baitfish like bluegill, plus predatory sport fish such as largemouth bass and black crappie.
The first step in evaluating habitat is creating a map. It helps identify zones void of cover and the type habitat necessary to maximize productivity at those sites. We focus on points adjacent to shallow feeding flats, creek channels, and deep holes. We’re no different from a residential developer. We identify a good location, then build a subdivision of homes for baitfish and sport fish. 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.
Since bluegill are the backbone of the food chain, let’s address their requirements. Bluegill spawn throughout spring and summer on sandy or gravel beds 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 cattails and American pondweed. Adults prefer tight, deeper surroundings around trees or artificial attractors.
We recommend constructing pea gravel beds to promote spawning. Place them along the shoreline in 1.5 to 3-foot depths. Maintain balanced vegetation for rearing and foraging. Vegetation near beds enhances spawning potential and provides refuge for young fish. Dense, artificial structure adjacent to beds provides rearing habitat.
If your lake is a candidate for threadfin shad, stock as many as budgets permit. They are caviar to largemouth bass. Threadfin spawn in shoreline vegetation throughout spring and summer, typically with each new moon. If vegetation is not present, they utilize rip-rap, trees, and docks. Adequate habitat exists in larger water bodies. Shad are pelagic dwellers that feed on planktonic and other microscopic algae. If you stock shad, fertilize to ensure healthy plankton blooms supply abundant food for them to thrive.
Now to the king–largemouth bass. They spawn during spring and prefer gravel substrate in 1 to 5-foot depths. Bass spawn on submerged vegetation or cobble when gravel substrate isn’t available. Juveniles seek refuge among 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 shows 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, use diverse dense and open designs.
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 levy 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.
Fish will 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 yours. We’ll map environments, identify necessary improvements, and design a plan to improve habitat with artificial attractors and/or natural elements. Please call for more details to strengthen the food chain and enjoy better catch rates.