Building a benefit

June 9th, 2015 4:18 pm

First Posted: 7/16/2014

The benefits are piling up beneath the surface of the 165-acre lake at Frances Slocum State Park.

On Wednesday, 18 members of the Nanticoke Conservation Club, along with some help from Cub Scout Pack 241 in Lehman, built 20 brush-filled structures and deposited them throughout the lake to provide habitat for small fish and a foraging area for larger species such as largemouth bass. The structures, which consisted of a box made of one-inch thick planks and filled with brush, were based on a design from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Wednesday marked the 15th year the Nanticoke club has built and deposited fish habitat structures in the lake.

Club member Joe Rutchauskas said the annual project has greatly improved fish habitat in the lake, which otherwise has a flat, muddy bottom.

“These structures give the fish a place to spawn, provides cover for the young and attracts predator fish like bass,” Rutchauskas said. “As a result the fishing here has gotten better each year because anglers target these structures because they know the fish will be there.”

In previous years, the club built a total of 135 porcupine structures - a series of wooden strips nailed together in the shape of a pyramid, and deposited them in the deeper areas of the lake. They also built seven turtle basking platforms and two rock rubble humps.

On Wednesday, they built vertical plank structures using green hemlock boards that were anchored with concrete blocks donated by Riverview Block Inc. of Berwick. Once the structures were built at the boat launch, they were loaded onto Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission boats and deposited in the shallow areas throughout the lake.

Mike Swartz, lake habitat manager for the PFBC, said the wooden structures essentially create their own food chain at every location.

“Algae likes to grow on the hemlock boards, and that attracts macroinvertabrates which in turn attract smaller fish and they attract larger predator fish,” Swartz said. “We’ve done these on similar lakes throughout the state, and in the areas where we put them we’ve seen the bass numbers increase three times.”

Swartz said the structures will also aid the recruitment of muskie fingerlings that have been stocked in the lake by providing a safe haven from predators.

He commended the Nanticoke Conservation Club for spearheading the project and said without such partnerships a lot of habitat work couldn’t get done.

Rutchauskas said he was glad to see the scouts pitch in an add a bit of youthful enthusiasm to the project.

“They contacted us about coming out to do a nature project and they worked really well today,” he said. “It’s good to see the youth take an interest in this.”

The scouts were equally enthusiastic as they not only took a hands on role in building the structures, but also got to ride out on the boats and help place them in the lake.

“It was fun doing something that makes the environment better,” scout Jacob Doran said. “It really wasn’t that hard to do.”

Scout Nikolas Good said he liked the construction part the best, while Anton Koss said the boat ride was his favorite part of the afternoon.

Along with the fun, the scouts also learned a lesson about aquatic life.

“We put them close to shore because that’s where the small fish are and they can get inside the brush and hide,” Koss said. “It’s a good idea, and they would also be good places to fish.”

Rutchauskas said the club will build and deposit 20 of the vertical plank structures in the lake annually for a three-year period and then talk with the PFBC to determine the next project.

“A lot of club members look forward to this every year because it’s an enjoyable evening after work and it’s something that benefits the fishery and gives anglers a reason to get out on the water,” he said. “This has become a tradition for our club.”