|Langston University Aquaculture|
Fish Attractors for the Pond
By Kenneth Williams
Creating structure in the pond can provide the pond manager with a tool, when properly used, to both improve fish stocks and concentrate fish in desired areas. Results depend on knowing what fish attracting structures can do and where and how they should be placed.
In most situations, fish attractors probably do not greatly improve the quality of fish in a pond or the pond’s ability to sustain a greater fish population. However, fish attractors do provide more suitable habitat and surface area for aquatic insect populations and other organisms that attach themselves to objects in the water and serve as food for fish; including zooplankton, algae and other plant life. These organisms can enhance survival and growth of small fish.
Fish attractors concentrate fish and so improve fishing success in the pond. They are most useful as concentrators of fish populations in ponds ˝ acre in size or larger. Smaller ponds usually can be fished completely thus voiding the need of a fish attractor.
Benefits derived from addition of fish attractors to a pond depend upon naturally available pond habitat and existing fish populations. Evaluate your pond and fish population before adding structures. Ponds that will likely not benefit from the addition of fish attractors are ponds with areas of standing timber, brush or areas of aquatic vegetation greater than 20 percent of the pond surface area. Also ponds containing only stunted populations of undesirable fish will not be improved with the addition of fish attracting structures. Fish attractors are just one of the tools to be considered in the development of an overall management plan for the pond.
Smooth bottomed ponds with no vegetation will show the most benefit from the addition of fish attracting structure.
Purpose and uses of a fish attractor
Fish attractors can be used as protective structures for small forage fish. The structures reduce predation when it is likely that a large resident population of predator fish such as largemouth bass might decimate forage fish before their numbers have increased enough to insure survival. Excessive bass predation most often occurs in small ponds without vegetation or other cover or in new ponds that have not been filled long enough to develop aquatic vegetation or forage fish populations.
Forage fish do not require protection from bass in ponds with 10-20 percent of surface area populated with aquatic plants. Forage fish protective structures placed in a well vegetated pond may even contribute to overpopulation and stunting of bluegill, the most common forage fish in ponds, and consequently, reduce bass populations. Ponds overpopulated with stunted forage fish can produce a few trophy bass but will not yield quality panfishing or consistent bass fishing. Large numbers of forage fish consume bass eggs and larval bass to the point that few if any young survive. Over time the result is a few very large, old bass and little or no recruitment to take their place.
Forage fish protective structures can improve survival of bluegill and improve the quality of bass populations when placed in new ponds, ponds without vegetation and when use to protect supplemental stockings of fathead minnows in ponds with existing fish populations.
Cedar trees or Christmas trees are usually the most efficient and economical forage fish structure to use. Anchor the trees horizontally in 2-4 feet of water parallel to the edge of the pond. Concrete blocks or other weighty objects can be tied at each end of the tree with nylon rope or wire to keep them in place. Six to eight medium sized cedar trees per surface acre of pond should provide adequate cover for forage fish.
Old pallets can be used in a similar manner and their use provides good spawning habitat for fathead minnows. These fish spawn on the underneath sides of objects such as stones, branches and other debris. Use about 12-14 pallets per surface acre of pond. Exact numbers are not critical.
Any material that provides access to small fish but prevents access by large fish and is not toxic or dangerous can be used as forage fish protective structure. Avoid using scrap metal objects or other materials that might harm or endanger swimmers if the pond is ever used for swimming activities.
Protective structures also attract larger sportfish. They lurk on the edges and in the larger interstices of the structure. Larger fish use the structure for shade, cover and a feeding ground.
Fish attractors are used for a different purpose than forage fish protective structures, although small fish are protected by the devices to some extent. Fish attractors are best placed in about 4-12 feet of water in areas accessible to deeper water and easily accessible to anglers. Deeper water usually does not contain sufficient dissolved oxygen to allow fish to remain in the area. Fish use the structures for shade, camouflage and protection.
Fish attractors can be constructed from a variety of materials. Economy and durability are the primary concerns when choosing adequate materials. Trees, brush piles or sunken cedar trees or Christmas trees are often used. Hard wood trees can last up to 30 years. Research at Ohio State University has shown that sunken evergreen trees attracted more fish than either brush piles or stake beds. However, research in Oklahoma suggests that oaks may hold larger bass than Cedar trees due to larger interstices between branches. Groups of Cedar trees 6-10 feet in height may be the best all around choice for use as fish attractors. They have plenty of small branches for small fish and large fish can take cover between trees in the group.
Vertical height increases usability of the attractor. For this reason cedar trees and other material should be weighted at the stump end to insure that they will rest upright when sunk to the pond bottom.
Cedars, large tree branches and similar objects can be weighted with concrete blocks, one block per cedar tree is sufficient weight.
Alternatively, an effective anchor can be made from concrete. A 5 gallon plastic bucket or other similar object can be used as a mold. Line the bucket with a plastic kitchen garbage sack or grease the sides and bottom to provide for easy removal of the formed anchor. Fill the mold with 1/3 to 1/2 of a bag of pre-mixed concrete. Enough concrete to fill the bucket about ˝ full is sufficient weight for a 6-8 foot tall cedar. Drive 3-4 large nails partially into the lower 8-10 inches of the tree to help hold the tree in the concrete. Place the butt end of the tree in the wet concrete and allow it to harden in a vertical position. Slip the tree with attached concrete anchor out of the bucket after concrete has hardened.
If enough plastic pails are available, a mold is not necessary and the concrete can be mixed directly in the bucket without a plastic liner or grease.
Attach a large float such as an empty plastic jug to one of the trees in each group to aid in locating the structure for fishing.
Place structure in position with a boat or, in smaller ponds; loop a long, light rope to the middle of the structure and pull it into place. When the structure is positioned, release one end of the looped rope and pull the remainder away from the structure.
Attractors should cover an area about 15- 20 feet in diameter which is roughly equal to 3-6 medium-sized Cedar trees. It is better to group cover such as cedar trees in a concentrated area rather than spreading them out singly.
Largemouth bass are territorial. Seldom will more than 1-2 large bass be caught on any particular structure during any single fishing trip. Chances of catching more of the large bass in a pond may increase with increasing numbers of fish attractors. Attractors for large bass should have large spaces between structural components to accommodate the bulk of the fish and should provide shade. Cedar trees or other evergreens when placed in groups provide larger spaces between trees and branches for large fish while smaller fish use areas between finer branches.
Angling around fish attractors can be frustrating. Hooks and lures easily can become snagged in the trees and brush. “Weedless” hooks and plastic worms are less likely to be lost in these structures than are spinner baits, crank baits or other common fishing lures.
Place one to six fish attractors per surface acre of water. The number is not critical, however, too many may prevent adequate predation by bass and other large fish which could cause poor bass fishing and stunted forage fish populations as noted above.
Periodically dredge up old fish attractors from the bottom and evaluate their condition. Brush piles and trees will eventually decompose and require replacement. Small cedar branches will last only 1-5 years.
Plastic pipe attractors
Various arrangements of plastic pipe can be set in buckets of concrete to serve as fish attractors. The most effective have various sized spaces within the structure to hold different sizes of fish.
Material used to construct fish attractors should provide a large volume structure with many spaces. Piles of used tires have often been tied together in various configurations for use as fish attractors. Culvert pipe, junked cars and other machinery has also been used.
Stake beds can be created by driving metal, wooden or plastic posts into the pond bottom. Post should extend 4-8 feet above the bottom and be placed in 4-12 feet of water.
An advantage of plastic pipe, stakes and other artificial materials is that they are less prone to snagging hooks and lures than are trees and brush piles. Artificial materials also will last for many years in the pond without deterioration. However, artificial attractors do not hold and attract as many small fish as evergreen trees.
Large, bass, channel catfish and other sportfish look for dark, shaded areas to lurk in ambush of prey. This type of habitat is naturally found as undercut banks, root wads or large tree trunks, however, similar artificial structures can be created. Artificial shade covers on the pond bottom are best constructed when the pond is newly constructed and unfilled, dry or when water level is very low. Shade cover can be made from an arrangement of concrete blocks, flat stones or other similar material. Construct shallow caves with the material in 4- 8 feet of water, facing the opening toward deep water. The cavities should be large enough to just conceal a large bass or catfish. Shade covers can be very effective if placed in natural channels running from the shore to deeper water or near fish attractors or forage fish protective structures.
Channel catfish may use constructed shade covers for breeding and egg incubation sites. Too much channel catfish reproduction can change the balance of fish populations in the pond and result in stunted catfish and reduced production of other species. Remove cover and intensify catfishing should this situation occur.
Gravel Spawning Beds
Spawning beds for sunfish and largemouth bass can be constructed from ˝ to 1 inch washed gravel. Build the gravel bed in 2-5 feet of water. It should be about 6 inches deep and placed where it will not be covered by eroding silt and sediments. About 5 cubic yards of gravel will cover an area of approximately 50 square feet.
Fish attractors as erosion control
Pond banks subject to erosion caused by wind and waves can be protected by a row of weighted evergreen trees or brush piles placed parallel to the bank in 4-6 feet of water. The structure acts as a baffle, and protects the bank by slowing and absorbing wave energy.
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