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Re: darter..

Here's what I did TABMAN.....

              The Resurrection of Fox Den Lake
                       by Robert Rice

            2213 Prytania Circle Navarre Florida



Many  folks  dream of living on a lake. To be able to  fish

from your own backyard appeals to many of us. Imagine

catching the big one just  a  few feet  away from a cold

one. Sounds great huh ? What people fail to  realize is that

a lake or pond is more than just a bass factory.  A lake is

an entire ecosystem. The size and  health of  it's super

predators (bass, pike , etc.) depends  on  the strength and

diversity of that ecosystem. It takes more  to  create large

fish than just a watery hole in the ground. It takes a

healthy vibrant lake. The kind of lake teeming with fishes

of all types,  game and non game species. The  non  game

species are the foundation on which  a  great fishing  is

made. Without them you have nothing  but  a  few skinny

Bass   and  Bluegill  chasing  each  other   around

desperately seeking enough food to survive. Hardly the  type

of  fishing  that  is  memorable.

I  live in the Panhandle of Florida near Pensacola in a

coastal town called  Navarre  .  When  we first moved  to

the  area,  the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico (less than a

mile away)  and the  lure  of  fresh seafood seemed to be

all  I  could  have asked  for.  Imagine my surprise when we

moved into  a  home that backed up to a 2 acre drainage

freshwater pond masquerading as Fox Den Lake. I was

ecstatic. For you see I am an avid fisherman of  a

different type . I spend much of my free time out  in the

waters collecting and studying  non game fishes of  all

sizes  and types. I have aquarium reared a great many  North

American Native Species and thought perhaps this lake  would

hold  some unusual species for the home tank. You know catch

a  few bass while loading  up the fish tank with some nice

Killies and shiners.

I  was dead wrong. After settling in to the House I began to

sample  my lake , which I share with 10 other homeowners.  I

was unpleasantly surprised. It held high nitrites due to the

run  off  and scant few fish and plants except for  Gambusia

affiniss the dreaded mosquito fish and huge floating mats of

algae.  All  in all it was a water hole not a  lake.  I  was

disappointed at first and then challenged. The few Bream  in

there  were  skinny  and  of poor  health  .  No  Bass  were

collected  by  hook, net or dynamite (Just  kidding  on  the

dynamite  part). The water temperature in the summer  soared

to  the mid 80's. The lack of vegetation and flat surface

of the  water  created  a perfect solar panel.  The  pH  was

a respectable 6.5. All in all I had a mixed bag to  work

with and decided to start from the ground up.

First  off  the  lake lacked any significant structure.  The

barren sand  that  covered  the bottom provided very  few

places for fishes to hide. That problem was going to have to

be  addressed and fast. I took a two pronged approach. First

I  put (threw) a series of fish boxes, logs, and five gallon

plastic buckets into some of the deepest holes. The branches

and boxes  provided cover for the younger fishes and the

plastic buckets  with several 1 inch holes in the sides  and

a cement bottom provided  necessary  nesting sites and

cover. If by chance you have access to cement pipes throw

them in there .I have found that cement piping makes

excellent structure. I was limited to using things I could

drop in from the shore or a canoe. You must also keep in

mind that on a private lake you may take some liberties that

you could not on a public lake. So check with your local

Fisheries personnel for any restrictions you may have.

The second problem was  the  more serious one and  required

a more long term  fix.  The  lack  of  suitable rooted

vegetation had allowed hair algae to dominate the  lake.  As

this  huge mat of algae rotted in the summer heat, it used

up all the oxygen,  the subsequent fish die off's and foul

odor made the lake unsightly and  unpleasant.  I realized if

the  lake  was gonna  grow some worth while kind of plants,

it was up to me to decide  what they was going to be. After

a  little research was undertaken I decided to establish two

main plants,  native  lilies were to be on the surface , and

underneath  the water,  giant  vallisnaria.  I chose  those

species  for  a variety  of reasons, the foremost being they

were native  to my area and I could easily collect them from

other locations .   The   other   factors  included  ,

durability,   looks and reproductive rate. I wanted plants

that would thrive in my lake  but  not take  over. Native

plants  were  my  only practical solution.

I  spent the better parts of several weekends standing waist

deep in the lake planting lilly tubers and eel grass root

balls in a mess of strange places .The neighbors seemed to

find it amusing  and would cheerfully sit and watch me muck

around in the lake finding  the occasional deep spot the

hard way. I felt a little foolish but  I knew  it was the

right approach so I stuck to it.  I  was rewarded  in my

second spring on the lake, with a very  large bed  of  eel

grass ( giant vals ) and lily's popping up in the mid range

shallows. Their crisp white flowers made the  lake

stunningly beutifull.  My  neighbors  who before looked at

me as if  I was a bit nutty, began to trickle  over to the

house and to get the inside scoop on the resurrection of Fox

Den Lake.

The  second  step  was  to add diversity  in  the  available

forage. Contrary to the hype mosquito fish make poor  forage

and  even poorer mosquito fish ! Their primary forage

consists of  plant matter, free swimming insects, and eggs

and young of other fish . True they do eat mosquito  larvae

on  occasion but not at nearly the rate of many other common

native species. In addition, their habit of remaining in

the shallowest water makes them generally unavailable as

forage  for  the predatory species. I did a little  research

and talked with some of the folks in my Native Fish Club

(North American Native Fish Association) and came  up with a

species list wich would cover the full range of  forage

from  the very small  on up !  For starters  I  added

banded pygmy sunfish (Ellasoma  zonatum) this tiny guy

(under 1.5 inches ) hides in the weeds at  the edge  of  the

lake feeding primarily on mosquito larvae and  in turn

becoming  food for larger fishes. He is  prolific  and very

tolerant of harsh conditions. This is one of the hidden

fellas  that makes a lake that much healthier.  We  know  he

does good. We just don't know how much good he does !

My second addition were several members of the killi family.

killies  or  top  minnows as they are sometimes  called  are

colorful, tough mosquito eating machines ! I  have observed

killies in an Aquarium eat nearly their halve  body weight

in mosquito larvae in a day ! They also have so  much

species diversity  that you can get them  in  all sizes from

the less that two inches to the whoppers of  over six

inches. There are different types of  killies common all

over the United States so adding a local variety to your own

lake should not be to hard. They are prolific, colorful and

very durable. All in all they make an excellent

pond/lake/aquarium species.  I went  with  two types of

local killies that I could  collect locally with relative

ease and wich met the conditions and needs  of  Fox  Den

Lake. I chose golden topminnow  (Fundulus chrysotus) a

colorful tough Killi that grows up to four inches in size.

My  second  choice was a killie my daughter calls  the  pink

lemonade fish because of it's pink fins (Fundulas

singalatus) and  brilliant displays in the home Aquarium

while just as durable as the golden topminnow this species

remains well under three inches in  size. You  of  course

have  Killies near you  that  are  equally suitable  to the

task. Check out the Peterson's Field  Guide to  Freshwater

Fishes by Larry Page and Brooks M.  Burr  for species in

your area. Do yourself , your lake and your fish a favor

only use species from your area. Importing  non local

species can have devastating results.

I  collected two dozen of both types and released them in  a

shallow  oxbow in the corner of the lake. Within  ninety

days   I  was  able to collect young and juveniles  of  both

species with a dipnet. Now over a year later they have begun

to  surpass the gambusia in numbers. A walk along the  shore

will reveal flashes of color as killies dart along the

surface and the bottom. The bass and bream have tapped into

this new food source and wait just below the drop off for

someone  to cross  the  line.  You  can hear the splash  as

they  lunge towards a killi that has gone just a bit to far

in search of food or a mate.

Once  I  realized the killies were prospering in  their  new

home  I  took the final steps. I purchased crawdads from  my

local seafood market and released about forty pounds of  the

beasts (red swamp crawfish) into the lake. They are strictly

scavengers and vegetarians and provide an excellent clean up

crew in the lake while providing top notch forage. Red swamp

crayfish are local for me , I am sure you have a suitable

species that you can collect or purchase locally. Find a

good local species and use `em they will do the trick. About

one month  later  I went sport fishing at several local

locations  and over  the next 4 or 5 weeks brought back live

fish to  stock the  lake. I brought back thirty six adult

bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus  )  and  eighteen 10-14 inch

Largemouth  bass  ( Micropterus  salmoides  ).  All

specimens  were  immediately released  upon my arrival home.

I also began  a  regimen  of weekly  feedings. The gentleman

who owned the local  seafood market  would collect the

scraps for me and once a week  I'd feed  the  fish about one

five gallon bucket of scraps.  The results  were astounding

. All of the fish spawned within  a few  weeks of their

arrival and by mid summer two inch bass  and bream were

everywhere. Even a bigger surprise to me was  the growth

rate . With the year around warm weather and regular food

the fish grew at a fantastic rate.  The first spawns were

sexually mature by  fall. By early winter the size and

number of fish had increased so much that regular fishing

could be resumed.

Even more amazing was the change in the lakes condition. The

huge floating mats of algae disappeared.  The nitrates began

to  drop and the eel grass acted as a filter bed keeping the

yard  waste and sediments from causing huge fluctuations  in

the lake's fertility. The lily pads did their job. They

provided cover from the sun stopping the solar panel effect.

The lakes summer water temperature dropped a full five

degrees.  The lake  no longer suffered from unexplained

summer die offs  .  Leopard frogs  and  bullfrogs  began  to

appear,  adding  music  and diversity   to  this  once

barren  landscape.  Kingfishers, egrets,  herons and ospreys

all made the stop over for an occassional meal  as they

headed on to their unknown destinations. I found  myself

spending more and more time outside just watching . Soaking

up the beauty nature provides.

Now  my  children  catch bluegill to the point  of  boredom.

bream as large as a pound have been taken out of the lake  .

Just  last week I caught and released a 3  and  a  half

pound largemouth bass. So the process has gone from planting

in  this lake garden of mine to tending. I have added a  few

redfin  pickerel (Esox americanus)  to  keep  the  bluegill

population  under control.  I  have  tried my best to keep

the  fishing  at  a managed level, chasing the fence jumpers

away and encouraging the  serious  bass fisherman to knock

on the door  any  time they  feel  the  urge. This fall I

plan on  making  my  last addition , channel catfish. I have

placed homes for them in all  the  deep holes and with the

increase in cover, killies and bream  they should find a

suitable home. I am confident that  old Mr. Catfish , like

the others,  will settle down here and find  lowly Fox Den

Lake the kind of place to raise a family . I know  I have

Robert Rice

" The Quality of a life is not measured in days it is measured in legacy