WASHINGTON – After the halls have been un-decked for the holidays, some Christmas trees in our area end up decorating the bottom of the state’s lakes and waterways in order to create habitat for fish.
Area biologists point out Maryland is the only state without natural lakes. Because the lakes are manmade, the area beneath them is quite barren, leaving fish exposed to cold weather and predators.
“It looks like a desert down there,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Western Regional Fisheries Manager Alan Klotz describing the Savage River Reservoir in Garrett County.
To make the lakes more hospitable, many selfless Christmas trees — in numbers reaching the hundreds — are generally anchored in cement or cinderblock, bundled in clusters and placed in various locations around the lake bottom by getting tossed overboard. The bundled trees can also be placed on the iced-over lake and left to settle to the bottom with the spring thaw. While the trees degrade rather rapidly and need to be replaced, this does not pose a problem since each holiday season brings a new underwater forest.
“It’s making use of a material that is readily available and at no cost,” said Ed Enamite, DNR Central Maryland Region fish biologist, adding that the creation of these underwater brush piles are “more important in bodies of water that function as bathtubs,” or artificially created lakes lacking tributaries.
Constructing these habitat piles serve multiple purposes, the primary one being housing and shelter for the smaller or bait fish that attract local panfish such as bluegill, crappie, yellow perch and largemouth bass.
Bass, in particular, are structure-oriented creatures.
“If you put a bass in the pool with no markings in the pool and throw in a quarter and come in a little while, the bass will be sitting by the quarter,” said Scott Sewell, conservation director for the Maryland Bass Federation. Sewell admits to having sunk around 60 trees over the past 7 years.
Christmas tree habitats provide a surface for various types of algae and small microscopic plant life which are eaten by the smaller fish. In turn, the shelter that is provided to the smaller fish helps keep both their and their large predator population in balance.
“It provides benefits down the food chain as well,” said DNR Southern Regional Fisheries Manager Don Cosden.
Local fisherman also benefit from this practice in that the number of fish are typically concentrated around these structures.
“Every time we do a survey at these Christmas tree reefs, we always find fish over them,” said DNR Eastern Regional Fisheries Manager Rick Schaefer.
Both Klotz and Sewell said fisherman can buy maps for Garrett County’s Deep Creek Lake that indicate where the trees are located in order to increase their fishing odds.
Sewell, himself a fisherman, said that he and fellow anglers often secretly drop trees before fishing competitions in the hopes of landing a large fish.
While he’s never caught “the big one” this way, Sewell said, “I knew people who’ve won tournaments for brush piles they’ve created.”