Anglers in Southern West Virginia might think something is odd in a couple of popular fishing lakes.
At places in Mingo County’s Laurel Lake and Logan County’s Chief Logan Lake, it appears that trees are trying to sprout from the water. They aren’t. They’re the tips of Christmas trees sunk into the lakes to attract fish.
The concept of using discarded Christmas trees to create fish habitat isn’t new, but a Division of Natural Resources biologist has come up with a different way to do it.
“The way we do it now, the trees always stand vertically, which is very advantageous because it creates fish cover at all depths, from the bottom of the lake to the surface,” said Jeff Hansbarger, the DNR’s District 5 fisheries biologist.
“This approach, with the trees placed near shore and the tree tops sticking out of the water, also makes it easy for anglers to locate the trees and fish around them.”
Hansbarger said his assistant, Steven Hincks, came up with the idea. When it came time to create some fish-holding structures, Hincks looked around for whatever raw materials were on hand. He found some Christmas trees, some concrete blocks and some wooden pallets.
“He nailed two pallet halves at right angles to one another, threaded two Christmas trees down through the slot at the top, slid concrete blocks up over the trees’ trunks, and nailed a board onto the bottoms of the trunks to hold the trees in place,” Hansbarger said.
The improvised A-frame provided a broad base, one that prevented the trees from tipping over once put in place. Hansbarger and Hincks call them “habittractors.” Laurel Lake received the first batch of 25 structures in September, and Chief Logan received a batch Dec. 9.
“We put them near shorelines, in water just deep enough to allow the tree tops to stick up out of the water a few inches,” Hansbarger said. “The trees range from 6 to 8 feet in height, and we use an electronic depth finder so we can place them in water that’s the correct depth.”
Bass, sunfish and catfish tend to congregate around submerged wood, and Hansbarger expects the standing Christmas trees to attract all three species.
“Our small impoundments get lots of fishing pressure,” he said. “We’re trying to improve angler success by putting in structures that will attract fish.”
Because small lakes’ water levels don’t fall and rise with the seasons, the trees and frames won’t decay rapidly. But even when they eventually decay, Hansbarger said they’ll benefit the lakes’ ecosystems.
“As the wood breaks down, it adds energy into the system,” he explained. “Algae will grow, plankton will grow, insects will grow, baitfish will grow and game fish will grow. If you put out enough attractors, you enhance the habitat as a whole.”
He said locating the trees in shallow water also puts them within easy casting distance of anglers who fish from shore.
The structures cost almost nothing to make. Hansbarger said Chris Rhodes, an avid angler who owns Rhodes Brick and Block in St. Albans, donates the concrete blocks. Point Pleasant Agriculture Services donates the pallets, and the Christmas trees are throwaways.
“This is a very low-cost program, and I think it provides a lot of benefit for anglers,” Hansbarger said.
Laurel Lake and Chief Logan Lake are just two of the impoundments in Hansbarger and Hincks’ district. Hansbarger said they plan to build and place more of the structures in Beech Fork and East Lynn lakes in Wayne County, and possibly in a few other ponds the DNR either owns or manages under agreements with the owners.