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Fish Hangouts

Biologists are experimenting with several types of underwater fish attractors, from sunken Christmas trees to plastic tubes.

By Larry D. Hodge

Largemouth bass are homebodies. Home can be an underwater log, a patch of grass, the pilings of a boat dock or simply a change in bottom elevation. We call these things cover and structure. Bass like to hang out near cover and roam structural elements looking for an easy meal, so anglers try to concentrate their efforts in areas with good cover and structure.

Constructed reservoirs sometimes lack cover. Many of our older reservoirs have lost cover through the years as inundated terrestrial vegetation deteriorated. Anglers have found that adding underwater cover can improve fishing success by concentrating cover-seeking species like largemouth bass, crappie and sunfish. Recycling Christmas trees by weighting them and sinking them in reservoirs has long been a popular method of adding cover to an otherwise featureless bottom.

Canyon Lake (near San Marcos) has old Christmas trees scattered across its bottom, but recently something new sprouted in the depths: about 370 artificial structures made of plastic pipe cemented into concrete blocks. “This was a joint project by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Water Oriented Recreation District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, several local businesses and area bass club members,” says Inland Fisheries district biologist Steven Magnelia. “Some sites have just brush, some have just plastic, and some have a combination of plastic and brush. We scuba-dived on the structures in the summer of 2005 to evaluate which ones had the most fish. We will repeat that again in the summer of 2006 to further evaluate the different attractor materials and combinations.”

The type of cover appears to influence which kinds and sizes of fish use it. “Cedar brush holds a lot of small sunfish, because it has lots of small places for little fish to get into. Bigger fish often roam outside these trees waiting for a smaller fish to make a mistake. Crappie also seem to like cedar trees that are placed upright,” Magnelia explains. “Trees with larger spaces, like oaks, seem to hold bigger fish in the limbs. We are hoping the plastic structures, which have large spaces between the pipes, will hold bigger fish and more bass. A big advantage of plastic is that it has a 20-year life, while an old Christmas tree deteriorates rapidly. Perhaps a combination of both plastic attractors and cedar trees will provide the benefits of both types of materials.”

Placement of the artificial structures is critical. “You shouldn’t put them below the shallowest depth of the summer thermocline, as oxygen won’t be available to the fish. The dog days of summer are a prime time for fishing brushpiles. If you do place attractors below the thermocline, these may be good for attracting fish during the colder months when dissolved oxygen is often available in deeper water,” Magnelia says.

“We try to place them on the edge of some kind of natural structural element near deep water — such as at the end of a long point or the edge of a creek channel or some other fish travel route — so fish might stop by for a snack,” Magnelia explains. “You really never know beforehand if the fish will like the location you have chosen. It’s really trial and error. Some of what I thought were going to be our best attractors haven’t been productive. It pays to experiment with location and to place more attractors than you think you need. Placing them in an area that is fairly devoid of natural cover increases your odds of success. This concentrates the fish on specific spots, which allows anglers to pull up to an area and know where to fish.”

As we cruise around Canyon Lake, Magnelia’s fish finder employs GPS technology to guide us to one structure after another. He’s labeled each structure as to type, so we know whether we’re over brush, plastic or a combination. Once the attractor is found, a marker buoy can be thrown overboard or a shoreline reference can be used to help you cast to the exact location. The use of GPS technology allows controlling authorities the option of using attractors without maintaining buoys. Magnelia explains, “Buoyed attractors are great, but they often become overfished. With GPS coordinates, it is harder to find these spots, but they don’t become overnight community holes.”

“You can use the same fishing rigs and techniques no matter what the type of structure,” Magnelia says. “Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged soft plastics work well, and they snag less on the plastic structures than on the brush. A deep diving crankbait is also often a good choice.” To prove his point, a short time later Magnelia pulls a 7-pound largemouth from a lake not known for producing big bass. Fish attractors work.

Adding structure to a lake is a rewarding activity in more ways than one. It improves fish habitat and also improves fishing. However, care must be taken to place attractors in locations and at depths that will not pose risks to boaters, swimmers or water skiers. In addition, nothing should be placed in a reservoir without the permission of or a permit from the reservoir controlling authority and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has authority over placing materials in all navigable waters in the nation. Information on the controlling authority for each public reservoir in Texas can be found at <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/>. More information can be found at <www.usace.army.mil/howdoi/where.html#states>.

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