New Generation of Habitat

Fisheries in West Virginia and New Mexico are showcasing a new generation of manmade habitat, thanks to innovative state conservation directors in the B.A.S.S. Nation (BN).

Both Jerod Harman and Earl Conway saw the need for effective and long-lasting habitat in reservoirs that endure huge water fluctuations on a regular basis.

“Climate change is already impacting the Southwest,” said New Mexico’s Conway. “Over-allocation of water rights and drought have drained many reservoirs in New Mexico and west Texas. Shoreline and aquatic vegetation is gone and replanting is futile when lake levels fluctuate 20 feet or so every year.

“That’s where floating islands come to the rescue.”

In West Virginia, meanwhile, the West Virginia BN has teamed with a company that makes fish habitat from recycled vinyl and reclaimed PVC to build an “oasis for bass” in Sutton Lake, according to Jerod Harman.

It consists of pea gravel, spider blocks, artificial structures from Fishiding, and vegetation growing in a 5,000-square-foot cage on a mud flat, with a creek channel nearby.

“The artificial structures attract the bass looking for a place to spawn,” Harman explained. “The pea gravel provides the correct bottom structure for bedding.

“When the young bass hatch, the artificial structures help provide a protective environment. The periphyton (mixture of algae, microbes, and bacteria that forms the base of food chain) will provide nutrients for growth, and, later on, the small bass fry can relocate to inside of the vegetation cage for protection from predators.

“This is something that I am really excited about!”

Harman added that he believes the habitat made by Dave Ewald’s Illinois company, which features vinyl strips attached to a heavy base, will greatly enhance periphyton growth, as well as provide better cover for survival of young bass than will the spider blocks alone.

“The structures are ready for installation right out of the box, and David was great to work with,” the conservation director said. “I would definitely recommend these, especially for a small group of volunteers who need to complete a larger-scale project in a limited amount of time.”

Conway and the New Mexico BN also are growing periphyton, but on floating islands instead of vinyl strips. One of those islands, complete with spawning platform, won the 2010 Berkley Conservation Award and was the first step in what the conservation director hopes will be a major habitat restoration project for Elephant Butte.

Bruce Kania’s Floating Island International, a Montana company, has provided the New Mexico BN with prototypes and expertise.

“Floating islands aren’t new,” Conway said. “They occur in nature and have a proven track record for improving water quality and enhancing fish production, but I think that we are just beginning to realize how they can add an entirely new dimension to habitat restoration options.

“My experience is that the shade and food they provide makes them better fish attractors than boat docks or tire water breaks. They are being used more often in public waters and it is just a matter of time until someone wins a major tournament or catches a monster bass off a floating island.”

B.A.S.S. Times

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