Smithville, Mo. – You could call the second annual FISH Day at Smithville Lake a big splash for anglers. Actually, it was about 130 splashes as big trees were anchored down with concrete weights and shoved off barges into the lake on April 13. Each tree sinking to the bottom became new habitat for fish and improved chances for angler success.
“A lot of people give me calls saying they’re targeting the new brush piles for fishing, and we’re getting good reports,” said Eric Dennis, a fisheries management biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
The 7,200-acre lake opened for public use in the early 1980s. Over three decades, shrubs and trees standing when the lake was impounded have decayed and disappeared. The brush needed a boost because brushy cover in shallow water provides havens for newly hatched sport fish and bait fish. Brush in the deeper waters also helps young fish. And brush piles can attract larger fish targeted by anglers such as crappie and bass.
Efforts to improve fish habitat by sinking brush or planting vegetation occurred in past years. But FISH Day is designed to put larger trees and more of them at the lake bottom. Better habitat creates better fishing.
“We’re putting in a couple of hundred trees at a time now instead of 10 to 20 trees,” Dennis said.
FISH stands for “Friends Involved with Smithville Habitat. “ The project is a partnership between volunteers, MDC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Clay County Parks and Recreation Department. About 30 volunteers helped agency staffers on Saturday.
Trees are cut at the lake, loaded onto barges and sunk at areas with good water depth. Usually they are along shorelines or off points or islands. Most trees cut are less desirable species such as honey locust or Osage orange. But they make good fish homes. Often they are hardwoods that will last for years underwater.
Locations where the brush piles are created are marked with a GPS system and eventually will be added to updated maps available to anglers. Fisheries biologists also use the maps during studies where they sample for fish near the new brush piles. Indications are that the added brush is going to improve fishing.
“Our catch rates during sampling for bass, bluegill and crappie have gone up,” Dennis said.