Engbretson Underwater Photography

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News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Creating Great Fish Habitat

A fallen pine tree creates shelter for schools of small bluegill which attract
largemouth bass and other game fish.  (c) Eric Engbretson
When I speak to various organizations or lake associations, one of the questions most often asked is "How can we create good fish habitat?"  One way to do that is actually easier than you might imagine.  One of the best things we can do is... "nothing". 

Every time there's a storm and trees get blown down in our yards, we respond right away by picking up the brush and debris and quickly cutting up the fallen trees and branches with chainsaws to restore our yards to their pre-storm state.  This is fine to do in your yard, but if you have lakefront property, it's one of the worse things you can do near the water.  Trees, large and small that fall onto our beaches or into our lakes due to storms or natural decay are one of the most valuable habitat elements for fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians.  We're tempted to remove the trees to return our shorelines to a state that resembles Waikiki Beach, but when we do, we're robbing the lake and it's inhabitants are critical elements that enhance fish populations.    

Even small trees or branches in shallow water provide critical habitat elements
for a wide variety of fish. (c) Eric Engbretson
I visit many lakes that are ringed with homes and bordered by forest, but in a great many lakes, there’s scarcely any downed trees in the water. Since trees must go down from time to time in storms, falling into the water, I can only assume that lakefront property owners quickly remove them.  This should be avoided because wood and trees that have fallen in the water are a critical habitat element important to a variety of aquatic and terrestrial life. I strongly encourage all lakefront property owners to keep fallen trees in the lake instead of removing them. If they absolutely impede navigation, they should be moved, but not removed.

Trees that fall into lakes are magnets for crappie and
other panfish. (c) Eric Engbretson
I have thousands of underwater pictures that show what great habitat fallen trees provide and how fish utilize them.  Trees of all sizes provide important shade, cover for minnows and juvenile fish, ambush areas for game fish, and protection that's important for successful spawning.  They attract aquatic insects, crayfish and other food sources important to fish.  Studies done in northern Wisconsin show that lakes without coarse woody habitat show declines in fish growth rates and the amount of fish a lake can support. 

So, one of the best ways to actually create terrific fish habitat in our lakes is simply not to destroy or remove the habitat that is naturally made by nature when trees are blown down in storms.