By Kristen Miller
Members of the Collinwood Lake Association are hoping to increase the lake’s panfish population through a pilot program that uses downed trees to create habitat.
With the panfish population well-below average, according to recent fish survey numbers, members of the lake association are hoping their recent efforts will turn those numbers around.
Collinwood lakeshore owner and association member George Kraemer came across a program implemented in Wisconsin by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, called Fish Sticks.
The project uses fallen trees to “provide shelter and feeding areas for a diversity of fish species,” according to the Wisconsin DNR. The trees “may also provide nesting and sunning areas for birds, turtles and other animals above the water,” according to its best practices manual.
As lakeshores were logged and developed, a key lake habitat component composed of submerged and partially submerged trees, or complex wood habitats (CWH), were removed from shorelines.
Studies have found that the loss of these wood habitats have resulted in decreased abundance of game and non-game fish species.
These habitats also protect the shoreline from erosion, which is another benefit of the complex wood habitat program.
Kraemer contacted the Minnesota DNR Fisheries to find how the program could be implemented on Collinwood Lake.
This type of project would be the first in Minnesota, making Collinwood a pilot/demonstration site.
With the program approved and funding provided by Meeker County Area Lake Associations, as approved by the county board, volunteers set out in late February to create these habitats.
Members from the Collinwood Lake Association worked with the DNR in selecting three sites along the shores of Collinwood both on the windward and leeward sides. For safety reasons, the trees had to be placed away from the landings, beach, and channel.
One of the locations selected is adjacent to Kraemer’s property on the northeast side of the lake, and another is adjacent to Collinwood Park on the southeast side.
Trees were cut along the shorelines and inside the park with permission of the Wright County Parks Service.
“We are excited to work with the Collinwoood Lake Association on the habitat project as they move forward,” said Wright County Parks Administrator Marc Mattice. “We have allowed them to use a few different tree species as to see what the benefits maybe of each,” Mattice said, adding that the trees used were in areas in which thinning will benefit the adjacent trees by allowing canopy development.
Kraemer explained that it was important to use live trees so that they would sink when the ice melts. The volunteers cut and hauled roughly 20 ash and cedar trees, 10 inches in width and 40 feet tall, to their final shoreline destination.
The trees were then secured to the shoreline with steel cables to prevent them from moving with the ice melt.
Monitoring the effects
Jesse Roberts, aquatics habitat specialist with the MN DNR, said the habitats on Collinwood would be evaluated in the spring using underwater cameras to see if they are attracting fish.
Though increasing the overall panfish population is a goal, the lake association would particulary like to see the perch, sunfish, and crappy populations increase.
Roberts said the perch population would be the most visible, as the eggs are free-floating.
A lake survey will inevitably determine if the pilot program is making a difference in Collinwood Lake. However, with the amount of structure, Roberts doesn’t foresee a large increase initially, though it could increase over time.
Other factors that will determine if this is a viable method to use on other lakes are if it reduces erosion and wave action, and if anglers are attracted to those areas, Roberts said.