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If You Want To Build Fish Habitat On A Flat Bottom Lake, Get Creative

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Justin Prather
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Utah Public Radio

 

With little cloud cover, the afternoon heat warps the horizon at Willard Bay State Park. It’s 3 p.m. on a weekday, the south marina is busy with boaters.

Standing on the dock, I’m watching boats launch into the bay when a peculiar vessel creeps into the inlet - a towboat pushing a barge carrying a 24-ton dump truck over the water.

“That’s something you don’t see everyday that’s for sure,” says Kent Sorenson, a habitat manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “We’re putting some large boulders in offshore areas in a rather unique fashion. The hope is to give these fish a place to identify to and with, and just to make some sort of attraction and hopefully make this little micro food web in these areas.”

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Credit Justin Prather
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The barge docks and the empty truck changes place with one full of boulders and prepares to depart. Kent and I follow in his boat to a spot not far off-shore. The dump site is marked by two Hippity Hops doubling as buoys.

“They sure look good, and they’re cheap. That’s a state government thing, we’ve got to low bid everything,” Sorenson says.

The tow boat slows and detaches from the barge. The truck backs up to the edge and 20-tons of boulder descend to the bottom of the bay.

“Willard Bay is just a freshened and dyked off portion of old Great Salt Lake, and as a result you might expect it to just be kind of featureless. It’s old flat marshland,” Sorenson says. “The rocks will colonize with certain types of plankton. That will bring in the next layer of the food web, the grazers. They’re generally aquatic invertebrates, and you start this micro-community, that brings in small fish and that brings in big fish.”  

The project aims to create a more hospitable environment for Walleye and Smallmouth Bass. Sorenson says it’s good for the fish which is good for anglers and Utah’s recreation economy. He directs the boat back between the buoys. A sonar imaging device, commonly known as a fish finder, shows a large blip where the rocks have begun to form the prospective habitat.

An avid fisherman himself, Sorenson says projects like this increase the sustainability of the lake for generations.

“It’s hard to leave a footprint, but when you do something like this I know these rocks are going to be here for a long time, I’ll be able to fish on them for a long time, fish will be coming back them for a long time,” Sorenson says. “You know, how long are rocks going to last and still be something that’s going to contribute to the fishery?”

By the end of the project, 500-tons of new rock will be dumped into Willard Bay. The total cost of the project chalks up to about $125,000 and, if it works as planned, could be implemented in other lakes around the state. The new habitat will be monitored with cameras when the water clears up, and will also depend upon reports from anglers to determine if fish take to the new environment.