The small dock jutting into the neighborhood lake behind my mother’s house has produced some fun fishing over the years and accounted for each of my kids’ first fish caught, including a nice largemouth hauled in by my oldest when she was just three years old. But in more recent times, I have noticed that the fishing has fallen off a bit. We’re seeing fewer bass and catfish and catches between bluegills and perch have more downtime between them.
While at first guess it would seem the number of fish in the small lake have dropped, I can sit on the dock with rod and reel in hand and watch the rare boat-borne angler cruise into the opposite corner of the lake across from me and begin pulling fish from the water. After some thought, I realized the biggest difference over the years has been the removal of much of the brush along the shoreline both by my stepfather and particularly by his neighbors on either side. In fact, in an effort to “neaten” their shoreline and improve their view of the water, both of my mother’s neighbors have completely stripped their shorelines of every bush and tree that once grew there-bushes and trees that once hung over and fell into the water providing the type of cover-providing structure that draws fish in.
Jumping into a set of chest waders and grabbing a long stick, I waded into and walked the area as far out as the depth would allow. My goal, determine the slope of the submerged bank and what if any structure was there. I found none. Using both my feet and the stick, I realized that both time and probably the original construction of the lake had left the bottom completely devoid of cover.
The fish we caught were simply nomadically swimming about the lake. There was very little to draw them into the area. I was going to change that.
For fishermen looking to improve the odds at their favorite fishing holes, they can do the same. Best of all, the effort is easy and inexpensive, whether you’re looking to set up an area of structure in a small private pond or as a joint effort among fellow anglers or a fishing club in larger lakes and reservoirs.
A number of items have been used to create structure including wood frames, sunken boats (cleared of oil and gas of course), old tires, rocks, chunks of cement, brush piles and trees. To ensure organic compatibility with the lake and keep costs and necessary effort to a manageable level, cut brush and trees-particularly evergreens-are the best option. In fact, in a study conducted by Ohio State University’s School of Natural Resources, they found evergreens worked the best over brush piles and stake beds. Discarded Christmas trees following the holidays are the best time to get your hands on a large number of free evergreens. Large projects can be coordinated with your local public works department to obtain some of the many trees they collect or in my case, I merely jumped in the truck and drove the streets of my neighborhood a week after Christmas loading ones left by the curb for pickup. Structure can be created with as few as three or four.
Additional items include cinder blocks (generally one per tree) to hold the trees at the bottom of the water, rope or wire to secure the two together, a knife or wire cutters to cut the rope or wire to appropriate lengths and depending on your method of securing the trees to the blocks, a cordless drill with a ¼-inch drill bit.
Where to Put It
Before beginning any such effort, obtain permission from the landowner or in the case of public lakes, the appropriate city, county or state natural resources authority. In ponds, Ohio State researchers found evergreens attract the most fish and serve the angler best when placed in 6 to 10 feet of water. Deeper water in ponds is generally devoid of oxygen, which fish will not inhabit. In reservoirs or larger lakes, structure can be placed between 12 to 21 feet given the higher oxygen content at depth due to more water circulation.
They note that angling for bluegills is found to be best along structure in 12 feet of water, and crappie at 21 feet, particularly in spring and fall. Shallower structure in these large bodies of water will result in catching fish worth keeping only in the spring.
For safety, do not to place structure in areas where people will be swimming. Also, when setting it up to benefit those fishing from a pier or particular stretch of bank, be sure to submerge the trees within a reasonable casting distance.
As noted, a single line of three or four trees can create fishable structure in a small body of water, while in a reservoir, creating longer lines of trees-three or four trees wide-and extending from the 12 to 21 feet of water range work best. Lines of trees that descend with the slope of the bank are easier for anglers to find and fish and also allow various depths to be fished depending on where the fish are found according to the time of year.
The Ohio State study recommended drilling two holes in the trunk of the tree, sliding the trunk through the construction or cinder block and running a piece of wire through both holes and around the block in order to secure it. For my part, I merely tied the block securely around the trunk of the tree near its base and farther toward the top in order to allow the trees to lie in a line after I released them.
Depending on the depth and angle of the slope, a boat is the best option for safely moving trees to where you want to submerge them, tying block and tree together and then letting them drop. Because the submerged slope where I planned to drop my trees angled gently to a depth of almost five feet before creating a shelf where the water suddenly deepened by several more feet, I was able to walk them out wearing chest waders and then float them into position before letting them sink. The entire effort took less than an hour and within weeks, my family was already enjoying the benefits of more concentrated fish within easy casting distance of our favorite pier. The effort has resulted in more caught fish than the changing of any rig or lure could have ever done.