Fish Attractors: Creating the Best Fish Habitat for Ponds
Fish prefer some type of cover. Bass, crappie, bream, and catfish all feel at home around some type of cover. This cover or structure is usually a log, brush, stump or weeds. But, what if the cover in your lake has succumbed to Father Time? There are options anglers can take to add or improve cover in any lake. Building DIY fish habitat structure and attractors is a great idea for any fresh water angler. Sure, there is some effort involved along with a little planning. However, the benefits are worth the trouble. And knowing exactly where the structure has been planted can help improve the odds of catching fish.
Norman Latona is president of Southeastern Pond Management, which offers services that cover the waterfront of pond development and management in the Southeast US. SEPond provides ecosystem analysis, management programs, pond construction, liming, fertilizing, fish inventory assessment, removal processes, stocking of forage and game fish, pond maintenance and development and more. I spoke with Norman to get his expert take one fish attractors and creating the best fish habitat for ponds
“I just spoke to a contractor who is building a pond and he told me he had access to cracked up culvert pipes, concrete rubble and all sorts of construction debris like gravel rock, sand, riprap and should he use any of it in his pond and I told him absolutely use everything,” Latona said. “When you are starting with a new pond or even an old pond which has become barren, it is a blank canvas and your imagination is the limit in terms of what you can put down.”
Latona pointed out that because fish are so adaptive, they won’t perish without a lot of structure and they will use whatever is available. That includes any available gravel, sand and small rocks for spawning habitat and as means to hide in order to ambush prey. The prey fish will utilize the small nooks and crannies to protect themselves and have a safe haven from predator fish. He also advises people to utilize what they have on hand. He also said, in the case of new ponds, to dig ditches, artificial canals and channels, benches in steep banks and other bottom modifications that provide its own structure to hold and shelter fish.
“It’s not an exact science in terms of how much and what type of cover you need and we tell folks to utilize whatever resources they have at their disposal. If you have timber left over from a logging operation or even extra dirt, use it,” Latona said. “Instead of having a 10, 12 or even 15 foot vertical bank, you need to get out three or four feet and, and build a bench that you can pile some rocks on or build a brush pile or pile down some timber, something to provide structure.”
Latona said that one of the biggest mistakes pond owners make when it comes to structure is putting too much of it in the deepest regions. He believes that doing that it is most likely a waste because the ponds “stratify”. Thermal stratification is basically in the spring and summer, when the majority of fishing takes place, the water temperature drops the deeper you go and the deeper and colder the water is, the less oxygen it has.
“These ponds stratify thermally and chemically and in the real cold deeper water there isn’t sufficient oxygen for fish to live for extended periods of time and they are forced to live in the shallower areas,” Lationa explained. “That break point where it goes from warm to icy cold and plenty of oxygen to none is called the thermocline and it is the deepest and coldest part of the water that still has sufficient oxygen for fish to survive.”
“Depending on the depth of the pond, at some point, at some depth, particularly in the summer, when the sun starts warming everything up, you’re going to have that thermocline and if you’ve got a bunch of structure and the habitat below that depth is not going to be utilized at all,” Latona added. “They’ll chase something that they want to eat down below the thermocline but they aren’t going to set up camp there because they can’t breathe.”
“Focus your structure placement, your habitat placement, in shallow to moderate depths because that’s where the fish are going to be,” Latona added.
What about investing in spawning? Since fish are going to find a place to spawn regardless of the physical characteristics of the pond does it do any good to place pea gravel and/or sand to provide areas for “beds”?
“Yes, it really is and I prefer to use a mix of sand and pea gravel because just sand alone tends to get covered up with silt and sediment and the gravel and sand mix just holds better and it is a fantastic habitat enhancement,” Latona said. “It doesn’t have to be a big area and doing it in a three-to-five-foot water depth is ideal. It is deep enough to keep predators from above at bay but shallow enough so that you get some water warmth and you stay above the thermocline.”
“If you spread that gravel and sand, bass but especially the bluegill and shell crackers who will find it 100 times out of 100 and I guarantee that they will spawn there,” Latona said. “They may spawn other places but they will spawn on that gravel and they prefer it especially in cases where the bottom is silky and mucky. They fan their beds out to get something solid and clean.”
Simple Fish Structure For Ponds
Many lakeside residents will take their Christmas tree and sink it near their pier or shoreline for a, when building fish habitat and attractors. A concrete block or a few bricks are tied to the tree base and released in the lake. The weight of the block causes the tree to sink to the bottom.
In some lakes, it may only be a matter of hours before minnows and fish call the new cover home. Usually, after a few days fish will locate and take up residence in the tree. However, there are other methods of using one or more old Christmas trees for making fish attractors.
“We would tie the trees to the posts on our dock,” mentions Terry Scott of Eastaboga, Ala. “The trees were tied up vertically usually on the corner posts.”
Scott reports they would fish the trees by dropping a minnow or other bait vertically next to the tree. An advantage of the trees tied to the piling is they won’t drift off with the current. Also, other anglers fishing from a boat would not be able to pull the trees away from the dock.
Most Christmas trees are some type of evergreen tree. Spruce, cedar, pine, and others are common and work fine as fish attractors. These trees are generally around six feet high. For use as fish attractors, the trees can be cut or trimmed to a shorter length. This allows for easier handling and less weight required to sink them to the bottom.
Another simple DIY fish habitat structure is just using hardwood tree limbs. Oak and hickory lose their leaves in the winter. The bare branches can be placed through the openings of a concrete block and easily dropped into the lake.
“Oak trees will last longer,” advises Jeff Carpenter of Wedowee, Ala. “We will place three of four trees off the end of a point.”
The limbs inserted through the block will rest about 12- to 18- inches off the lake bottom. Anglers may want the limbs or small trees to be vertical once in place on the bottom.
One method to help the tree stand vertically is to place the tree trunk or large limb into the block and nail or screw a board on the back of the block to hold the tree to the block. When the block and tree are dropped into the lake the block will sit on the bottom with the tree standing vertically.
Trees more than a few feet tall may require two or more blocks or other types of weights to hold them down on the bottom. Some anglers may tie an empty two-liter soft drink bottle (with the lid on) to the tree tip creating a float to help hold the tree vertical.
Utilizing Building Materials
PVC is a popular material when building fish habitat and attractors. The PVC water pipes are placed in a five-gallon plastic bucket with concrete. Each pipe is cut to various lengths, from around 3- to 5- feet. As many as 10 or more pieces of pipe are used to make a “bushy” type attractor.
“An advantage of either of these PVC trees, besides attracting fish, is they are almost impossible to hang up with a lure.”
An alternate method, using PVC pipe for construction, consists of a 3- inch diameter pipe about 5- feet in length. One-inch diameter holes are drilled in the main pipe at 90- degree angles. The smaller diameter plastic pipe fingers around 2- to 3- feet are inserted through the holes and glued in place.
An advantage of either of these PVC fish structure designs, besides attracting fish, is they are almost impossible to hang up with a lure. Jigs and crankbaits will bounce off the PVC making a tick or thump to trigger a strike.
Wooden pallets can be easily transformed into a fish attractor. One method uses small trees or limbs that are nailed or screwed to the pallet. Starting on the corners, add the small tees. Continue to add limb and branches to the center portion of the pallet. A couple of large concrete blocks in the center should send the pallet to the bottom.
Scott mentions on lakes with winter drawdown, pallets can be placed out away from piers and docks. Also, they can be anchored out on points or long flats. When the water level returns to normal pool, the fish habitat structure will already be in place.
“We place about three or four treetops or brush piles several feet apart in the same area,” Scott comments.
Nothing Lasts Forever
For your DIY fish structure, you may put out logs, brush, Christmas trees, even concrete, but whatever stuff you place or sink in your pond but be advised that in a few years not all will be well in paradise. Nature has this habit of reclaiming its own and the substantial structure you put out there a while ago may now be just a fraction of its original size. In and of itself, that that isn’t a bad thing because the decomposition just adds to the health of the pond. The bad thing is that you have to replace it.
It could be time to expand your horizons and add artificial cover to your underwater structure and artificial fish habitat mix.
“There are a number of viable options that have been created by various companies that are artificial elements, artificial structure that are fairly economical and last forever,” Latona said. “In the last several years these companies have gotten super creative. They make trees, bushes and other things with limbs.”
“Texas Hunter makes all kinds of fish feeders and they are launching some amazing stuff like lily pads that float on the surface to simulate lily pads and create top water fishing. They have got grasses and leafy items that are designed to deploy and sink and to the bottom and stands up.”
There are other companies that offer options that are easy to deploy, get down to where it should be and provide cover, hold and protect fish and are made of material that can last for decades.
“The point is if you’re interested in ratcheting up your habitat game, and you want something that’s going to last and it’s fairly easy to handle, to deploy and get down to where you want it there are a lot of really good options out there,” Latona said. “We get heavily involved in developing a planned design and then going out and installing the stuff and it lasts for a long time.”
Southeastern Pond Management
Texas Hunter Products
Toll Free: 800.969.3337