A fleet of habitat barges and support boats led a cooperative effort between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers to place a literal “ton” of new habitat in Greers Ferry Lake earlier this month.
Five of the AGFC’s habitat barges, one habitat barge from the Corps, backhoes, skidders, excavators and support boats all converged on Choctaw Recreation Area to create and place extra-large brush piles in the west end of the lake. The brush piles were constructed of large cedars removed from the campground at Choctaw as part of a wildlife enhancement project. In all, 300 cedars were removed, bundled and placed in key points of the lake to serve as fish attractors and aquatic habitat.
“We were able to enhance 18 sites,” said Tom Bly, AGFC fisheries supervisor in Mayflower. “Six were existing fish attractors that were freshened up, but 12 were entirely new places where we sank these large piles of cedars. All were within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation Area.”
Most brush piles were placed in 20 to 25 feet of water, where they can be the most benefit to fish and anglers on a year-round basis. While the attractors make it easier for anglers to locate fish, they’re also important additions to the lake for fish.
“Any fish that relates to natural shoreline cover can use these attractors,” Bly said. The structures will be coated with algae, which attracts small insects and minnows, which are food for larger fish. The complex cover also offers shelter from larger predators, so you will see forage fish hiding within the maze of branches. Larger predator fish, like bass, crappie and walleye will stay close by to ambush those smaller fish.”
The locations of all habitat sites were recorded with GPS units and will be available through the AGFC’s interactive map at http://gis.agfc.com/ soon.
According to Bly, the habitat enhancement was a pilot project for a new approach fisheries managers will use in enhancing the state’s waters for fish and anglers. One or two large-scale habitat projects will be selected each year, and the AGFC’s entire Fisheries Management Team will work together and work with partners to benefit the resource like never before.
“We had 25 AGFC employees and a half a dozen Corps employees working together over two days to get the job done,” Bly said. “The area had been prepped and some cedars removed two weeks prior, but nearly all the aquatic habitat work was done in two days without injury or equipment malfunction.”
Bly says sinking brush for habitat is a regular job for fisheries biologists, and anglers will continue seeing smaller-scale habitat projects continue throughout the state, but these large-scale, all-hands-on-deck habitat improvements should enable fisheries managers to make an even larger impact for the benefit of fish and anglers in some of Arkansas’s larger reservoirs.