• 57°

Workers create fishy history, habitat

At first glance, a visitor might think the scene was a bit strange -- and who could blame them.

Seeing grown men and women using all-terrain vehicles to drag Christmas trees through the woods is not a common sight.

But these were no ordinary Christmas trees and this was no ordinary day. On Saturday, about 20 people helped make a little fishy history at Lake Vesuvius in Wayne National Forest, just north of Ironton.

Workers constructed new fish habitat in the lakebed in preparation for the lake's refilling, expected later this year.

Constructed in 1939, the 143-acre lake recreation area is undergoing a massive improvement project. Creation of new fish habitat became evident once the lake was drained in the winter of 2001.

"When we drained the lake, what we saw was a lot of trees along the shoreline, but if you looked down at the bottom there was almost nothing," said Becky Ewing, a fisheries biologist with the National Forest Service. "All of the lakes in this region of Ohio are man-made. If you were to look at a natural lake, the bottom would have all sorts of features. We're kind of mimicking that. Anything on the bottom is great for fish."

Workers from the National Forest Service, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and a few volunteers spent the afternoon building cribs made of cedar logs, wired together for strength.

Ewing said fish migrate to different parts of the lake depending upon the water temperature and the oxygen levels. Because of this, workers placed the new habitat areas at varying depths.

"Once we get the cribs built, we'll stuff them with Christmas trees," Ewing said, as she twisted wire around two small cedar logs. "These will be good cruising and feeding areas

and great places to fish."

In all, Ewing said workers hope to finish about 25 cribs before the dam is completed and the Little Storms Creek begins to fill the lake again in the fall.

Once the dam is closed and the lake is refilled with water, it will be restocked with thousands of fish, beginning with bass and bluegill.

Eddie Park, a forestry technician at Wayne National Forest who helped prepare the sites and plan the day's work, said fishermen will be pleased with the results.

"The studies have shown the bass like to stay on the edges and the bluegill like the inside," he said.

Saturday's work comes at the perfect time, Ewing said.

"If you think about it, how often does a lake go dry?" she said. "After they drained the lake, we found some similar habitats built back in the 1960s. I would hope that we wouldn't have to redo these for at least that long."

Ewing said although the Christmas trees will decompose rather quickly -- a year or two -- the cedar cribs will remain solid for many, many years. Each year or so, workers can take donated Christmas trees and refill the crib and the surrounding area with fresh habitat.

"When we were planning all of the lake work, we brought in fisherman and said 'what would you guys do,'" Ewing said. "And some of the habitat are being placed in locations they suggested."

The location of the cribs will be mapped out for fishermen who wish to find their exact location.

"The real key to success is if the anglers are happy with them," Ewing said.