‘Tis the season for fish furniture

What kind of sunken brush do crappie prefer? One study indicates they love cedar.

Christmas means many things to many people. But after the holidays are over, it means there’s a pile of fish attractors somewhere waiting to be gathered up by ambitious anglers and “replanted” in a favorite fishing hole.

It’s no secret that fish like wood — laydown logs along shore and sunken logs and brushpiles off shore. Fish woody cover, and you’ll probably find some fish.

While logs and brush are good fish attractors, simply putting wood in the water is not a guarantee that fish will be attracted.

Studies in Oklahoma demonstrated that the kind of trees can be important. Sunken oak trees attracted more bass; cedar trees attracted crappie.

I don’t think it is a preference for a particular type of wood or an effect of chemicals in the wood, as I’ve heard many times, but rather the architecture of the cover the fish call home. Large hardwood trees provide a big shadow to conceal an ambush predator like a largemouth bass, and the open spaces give the bass an unimpeded shot at passing forage.

Cedar trees, on the other hand, provide a tight network of branches that provide crappie and sunfish with good shelter from predators. For bluegills, the extensive surface area of the numerous branches provides a lot of surface area for insect larvae, which means their shelter is also an all-you-can-eat buffet. The tight cover is attractive to small minnows, which makes it a good place for crappie to feed on their preferred foods.

I think these “rules” change as the woody cover ages and a lot of the small branches decompose and fall off. Also, any added woody cover that attracts sunfish and minnows will attract bass.

Orientation of the cover may also be important. Bass appear to prefer horizontal cover — logs lying close to the bottom. Crappie, on the other hand, tend to be associated with more vertical cover, such as standing timber.

Brush can be oriented horizontally by attaching a weight at each end of the log or tree. Vertical cover can be accomplished by tying the base of the tree to the weight.

Whether horizontal or vertical, woody cover floating above the bottom will tend to last longer than cover pinned to the bottom. Although the wood will eventually waterlog and sink to the bottom, starting with the cover floating above the bottom will delay your fish attractor being covered with sediment.

The right location is essential. While fish may find an off-the-beaten-path brushpile, they are more likely to congregate on woody cover at the right depth and on the right structure. The “right” structure varies among sport fish and among lakes, but fish attractors placed near sharp depth changes and creek channels will usually attract and concentrate fish.

Depth is a significant concern in reservoirs that have large fluctuations in water level, like the flood-control reservoirs and in reservoirs that thermally stratify. To deal with both conditions, consider the seasonal locations of the fish and when you plan to fish your attractors.

For example, Mississippi’s reservoirs stratify in the summer, so a brush or log pile in a 25-foot-deep creek channel would probably be below the thermocline and not hold fish in the summer. On the other hand, brushpiles for winter fishing can be at any depth you think the fish will use. You may want to place brushpiles at various depths in reservoirs with water level fluctuations.

As reservoirs age, the woody cover that was initially flooded decomposes and the reservoirs steadily lose cover. Therefore, adding cover, whether done on a large scale by fishery and water management agencies or on a smaller scale by individual anglers or fishing clubs, helps restore the reservoir to a younger condition.

Adding woody cover provides hard, stable substrate that is colonized by a variety of benthic invertebrates — aquatic insect larvae, crawfish, worms and other bottom-dwelling invertebrates — that are important forage for fish.

Because surface area is added, it stands to reason that there is more production of fish food and more production of fish. While increased production is expected, it is extremely difficult to prove whether adding such a relatively small amount of substrate actually increases the abundance of fish.

But that leads to one final point about “planting” brush. A fishery researcher once proclaimed at a fishery meeting that it would take about 10,000 Christmas trees to equal the amount of surface area available for benthic invertebrates as is provided by one acre of aquatic plants. I honestly don’t know whether my colleague actually did some calculations or just pulled a number out of the sky, but aquatic plants provide the same benefits as adding logs and brush — food and concealment — but in greater quantity. Therefore, little is gained by adding fish attractors to lakes with good aquatic vegetation unless you are trying to establish deep-water fishing sites.


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About Hal Schramm 159 Articles
Hal Schramm is an avid angler and veteran fisheries biologist.

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