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Winter good time to make fish habitat improvements
By Wes Neal
Associate Extension Professor, Fisheries
MSU Extension Service
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As a fisherman, which is more pleasing: casting mindlessly into an open expanse of water, or carefully casting around a sunken log where you feel sure that a lunker is waiting to inhale your bait?
Catching fish is only part of the overall experience; aesthetics play an important role as well.
Basic pond construction recommendations often call for the complete removal of brush, trees and other structures to make fishing and management easy. While this habitat-poor environment can support abundant fish populations, it also makes for a relatively lackluster fishing experience.
In a pond with limited fish-attracting structures, fish are widely dispersed and there are few clues available to guide you to the best fishing spots. Fish will congregate around underwater structures, making them easier to locate and catch.
Pond managers should consider adding fish habitat to existing ponds, and the winter months are a good time to start. In many ponds, water levels have been lowered for the winter for weed control and fish management. Placing fish attractors and habitat is much easier on dry land and in shallow water. Also, if you use deciduous hardwood trees and brush as habitat, there are no leaves that would otherwise decompose and reduce oxygen available to fish.
The simplest way to add structure to a pond is to place brush, trees, rock piles or artificial materials in localized areas within casting distance of the bank. Old Christmas trees set upright in cement blocks work well and are readily available just after the holidays. However, Christmas trees break down very quickly and offer only short-term habitat.
Hardwoods and cedars last much longer, although some may need to be anchored in position. Some people even use tires, PVC structures or old cars -- but drain the oil and other fluids first, please.
The key is to create distinct units of structure. Pile or tie small items together so they are three-dimensional. This provides lots of nooks and crannies for fish to hide.
Another option is to place habitat strategically so that you can find fish easily during the spawning season.
Spreading pea-size gravel in areas that are two to three feet deep near the shore or fishing pier is a great way to attract bedding bream. If you spread the gravel when the water level is down, make a frame to hold it in place. If the frame is made of wood, anchor it firmly in place. Bass don’t spawn in groups like bream, but they like gravel as well, especially when it is near a horizontal cover, such as a pier.
If you can drain the pond and have access to heavy equipment, consider contouring the pond to provide a more diverse topography. The best recreational fishing ponds average about five feet deep with limited areas of water eight to 10 feet deep. All areas of the pond should be at least two to three feet deep to minimize the risk of weed infestation.
While you’re at it, use a tractor to improve the physical landscape of the pond. Build points, humps, saddles, islands and trenches that will attract fish during different times of the year. Make these areas within casting distance from the shore or pier, unless you plan to fish primarily from a boat.
Keep a record of your habitat alterations so that you can find your underwater hot spots when it is time to fish. For the technologically inclined, a handheld GPS works well. You could also sketch a map during the reconstruction. Perhaps the easiest solution is to mark key structures with a buoy, or ensure that some of the structure remains above water.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.