MDC crews create fish habitat at Smithville Lake

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Smithville, Mo. – Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) crews boosted fish habitat at Smithville Lake on Oct. 6 by felling trees growing near the shoreline into the water. The trees will provide good spawning habitat in spring for fish, especially largemouth bass. They will also be durable shelter for newly hatched sportfish fry hiding from predators.

MDC crews with boats and chainsaws dropped the trees into the water's edge in coves in the Rock Creek, Linn, and Roberts branches of the lake. All sites are north of the Route W Bridge on the lake's upper end.

Three years ago, similar habitat was added near seven miles of shoreline in the lake's Camp Branch arm. Fishery surveys found largemouth bass utilizing the cover, including newly hatched fry that become the population base for future successful bass angling, said Eric Dennis, MDC fisheries management biologist.

"We saw a lot of spawning activity near those trees," Dennis said. "We saw some great success."

Habitat near shore provides hiding places for young sport fish, and it also provides places for insect production, a key food for young fish. However, fluctuating water levels in large reservoirs inhibit the vegetative growth that can provide good habitat. Shorelines with good water depth for spawning and young fish often have bare rock or mud. Downed trees can provide new fish habitat.

MDC crews used chainsaws to hinge cut trees growing near the shoreline. With hinge cutting, the tree is dropped but left attached to the stump. There is enough connection to keep the tree alive for some time and prompt regeneration of sprouts from the stump, Dennis said. The hinge also helps hold the tree in place so it doesn't float away.

Trees have also been placed in brush piles in deeper water as habitat for fish such as crappie. But the hinge-cut trees are in shallow water.

Crews mostly cut softwood trees such as sycamore, cottonwood and locust that were growing near shore. Some were small while others were 20 to 30 feet tall. Most oaks and hickories were left standing as favored trees for wildlife. Dennis estimated that more than 500 trees were felled by MDC teams working in various locations. The cutting sites were located in areas mostly accessible only by boat. Trees will regrow quickly, especially cottonwoods and sycamores.

MDC's Find MO Fish app for digital devices can help anglers find created fish habitat in lakes such as sunken brush piles. To get the app, visit