By Tim Beimal
A fish habitat program is underway at the Cloverleaf Lakes and the results will benefit pan fish, game fish, and anglers alike.
The program, dubbed “Fish Sticks” by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), involves dragging downed trees onto the ice near the shoreline, binding them together with wire at perpendicular angles and then anchoring them down when spring comes and the ice melts.
Members of the newly-formed Belle Plaine Sportsman’s Club (BPSC) recently contacted the DNR to gather input on potential fisheries projects for the Cloverleaf Lakes. Representatives of the DNR met with the BPSC and representatives from Cloverleaf Lakes Protective Association (CLPA) to discuss potential options. Fish sticks—large wood habitats—were identified as a potential need and a good project for the Cloverleaf Lakes.
“The Cloverleaf Lakes support a diverse fishery consisting of northern pike, largemouth bass, walleye, and muskellunge as well as bluegill, black crappie, rock bass, pumpkinseed, and assorted minnow species,” commented DNR Fisheries Biologist Al Niebur in the Fish Sticks Habitat Proposal prepared in November 2014. “Recent DNR surveys indicate moderate densities of game fish and pan fish species that exhibit average size structure. Carp are present but appear to be at low density and not causing any problems. The lakes receive moderate to high fishing pressure, including one or two fishing tournaments per year.
“The goal of the Fish Sticks project is to increase the places in the lakes where fish can take cover and spawn, thus improving the fishery for anglers,” added Niebur. “Studies have shown that trees in the water are sought-after by many species of fish.
“Gibson Island serves as a great picnic area. Large wood habitat is lacking in the littoral zone. Placement of large submerged trees in these areas would create complex habitat that serves a variety of fish and wildlife life history needs including: erosion control, spawning cover and/or substrate,
hiding/resting cover for adult and juvenile fish, and substrate for periphyton and invertebrates (important food items for a variety of fish species),” continued Niebur. “In addition, fish sticks serve as important cover and food items for fur bearers and all bird species. This will also enhance the natural undeveloped beauty of Gibson Island.”
The project calls for five years of Fish Stick placement, beginning with 10 sites on Grass Lake this year. In year two, 10-12 sites on Grass Lake will be added, while year three calls for two to four more sites on Grass Lake and eight sites on Pine Lake. Year four includes plans for two or three sites on Round Lake and other sites to be determined. Year five has plans for sites yet to be determined.
The Town of Belle Plaine has been granted a DNR permit for the project, with the CLPA and BPSC splitting the cost of the permit. A grant application has been filed to cover costs in future years, with volunteer labor counting for much of the local share.
Over the next several years, more than 30 of these “fish sticks” will be anchored along the large, undeveloped island in Grass Lake known as Gibson Island, as well as a few other select locations on the Cloverleaf Lakes.
The majority of the funding for the Fish Sticks project will be covered by the BPSC and/or CLPA. Cost estimates include $10,000 for 75-100 trees (greater than 8-inch diameter) and $4,800 for tree cutting/staging labor. The total cost is estimated at $14,800.
Looking to the future
A second step of the project involves identifying and assisting lakeshore properties that could use native plantings to prevent storm water pollutants from entering the lakes. The CLPA has experience in assisting with these projects, as they have completed a lakeshore habitat assessment. About 10 properties were included in a shore land restoration program from 2008-10 under a DNR Lakes Planning Grants. NES Ecological Services of Hobart developed the plans and assisted in the implementation, including providing native plants and some labor. The CLPA supported the project with matching grants to property owners up to $1,000 for plants and labor. In addition, the CLPA funded and volunteers provided the labor for a demonstration rain garden that was constructed on Town of Belle Plaine property on Round Lake in 2012. That project prevents runoff into Round Lake and is an educational example for residents who wish to do similar work on their properties.
The CLPA will assist the Town of Belle Plaine in selecting appropriate sites for shore land work or rain gardens to prevent storm water runoff into the lakes. Besides NES Ecological Services, planning for these sites will be provided by Lisa Reas of Green Lake, who is an expert on native plants and shore land restoration. Educational materials from the DNR and CLPA will be distributed to property owners via face-to-face meetings, encouraging them to join the Healthy Lakes program. Additional educational efforts will be made through the town/lake association quarterly newsletter that goes to all town residents.
The CLPA continues to offer matching grants up to $1,000 to property owners who want to do shore land restoration with native plants. That will be supplemented by the DNR Healthy Lakes grant money. The CLPA has established a Shore Land Restoration Committee of six volunteers who have met periodically over the past six years and successfully implemented the aforementioned shore land grant in 2008-10.
The shore land restoration plans are included in the Town of Belle Plaine’s Outdoor Recreation Plan, updated and approved by the Town Board on Nov. 10, 2014. The CLPA has also endorsed the plans.
The majority of funding for the shore land work would be covered by the CLPA, with an estimated volunteer labor cost of $2,400; native plant cots of $5,800; and consultant fees for 150 hours of service from Lisa Reas (billed at $50 per hour) is expected to cost $7,500. The total cost of this project is estimated at $15,700.