Artificial structures

Texas Parks and Wildlife Fisheries Division is using a variety of artificial structures to create habitat in aging lakes. These tree top structures were placed in Lake O’the Pines.

The truth is Texas’ lakes are aging. That is not such a bad thing for water production, but it can definitely have an impact on the fishing.

Unfortunately, unlike older homes or cars, upgrades for fisheries are not as simple as slapping on a new coat of paint or an engine swap.

Of course, the key to any good fishery is habitat. It impacts water quality as well as providing a place for young fish to hide, older fish a spot to wait in ambush and fishermen a place to find them. The problem is, on East Texas lakes that are mostly constant level reservoirs, habitat improvement is difficult. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has attempted shallow water vegetation replacement programs, and while they have shown some promise, the plantings actually have not spread like weeds.

What is working, albeit on a small scale as well, is artificial fish attractors TPWD Fisheries biologists have been sinking in lakes. Funded with revenue from the state’s fishing conservation license plate along with other sources, the attractors are being built with everything from bamboo or Christmas trees to PVC pipe.

“Improving fish habitat in our aging reservoirs is one of the most important projects we can do to benefit fish populations and maintain the quality of fishing,” said biologist Tim Bister, who is about to undertake an attractor project on Lake Wright Patman. “While artificial habitat is not intended to take the place of native aquatic vegetation, some reservoirs like Lake Wright Patman can be too turbid and receive too much wave action to allow plants to grow in many areas. The artificial structures are the next best thing.”

Bister, district biologist out of the department’s Marshall office, has already installed attractors on Cypress Springs, Lake o’ the Pines and Murvaul in recent years. The Wright Patman project is getting a funding boost from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will also help with construction and installation. In other cases reservoir controlling authorities often participate in the projects. The projects using PVC are more expensive, but longer lasting than those made of natural materials like bamboo or Christmas trees. And there is reasoning to the design and placement. Some districts are buying commercially made attractors, others are building their own to mimic designs that have proven successful elsewhere.

“Our project at Lake Wright Patman will use a variety of artificial structures to improve fish habitat. The plan is to use several types of structures within an area to create different habitats for a wide range of fish from smaller prey species to larger predators. Structures will include PVC cubes similar to those originally designed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Our cubes consist of a 4-foot square frame made from 1 1/2-inch PVC pipe. We add 100 feet of 4-inch corrugated pipe to the cubes to increase the complexity of the cube. They are weighted by putting pea gravel in the bottom pipes of the cube. Each cube costs a little over $100 in materials to build,” Bister explained.

The project will also include some commercially built structures.

“One will have tight spaces to create areas for fry and prey species, while the other will have a more open structure more suited to larger fish like largemouth bass and crappie. Each of these structures costs more than a PVC cube, but they provide more surface area for algae growth and a different configuration of materials to add to the complexity and variety of structures available to fish,” Bister said.

There will also be plastic tree tops created with donated fiber optic cable and plastic pots that will be used to fill space between the other structures.

Department biologists out of the Jasper office monitored attractors installed in Lake Sam Rayburn for a two-year period, observing them both with underwater cameras and scuba divers. What they found was the structures were used by a variety of fish including bluegill, spotted bass, black crappie, longear sunfish, largemouth bass and redear sunfish.

Each Fisheries district in East Texas has completed artificial structures and more are on the drawing board at lakes of all sizes. That includes one coming soon to Purtis Creek State Park Lake.

Others have been done at lakes Athens, Tyler, Palestine, Holbrook, Cooper, Hawkins, Striker, Somerville, Conroe, Raven, Houston County, Nacogdoches, Naconiche and Toledo Bend among others.

For a complete list of lakes with TPWD placed structures and coordinates of their location go online to https://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fish_attractors.phtml.

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