I have to confess that the two things I detest most are shoveling snow in the winter, and cutting grass in the summer. Both chores seem totally redundant, in that as soon as you finish, it either snows again or the grass grows back and you have to start all over.
Worse still, both chores take me away from what I enjoy doing the most and that is fishing.
The reason I am thinking about "grass" is because of a question I received from Mike, a reader who wrote with the following question: Last season the lake's weed growth looked promising in spring, then it seemed as though the weeds just stopped developing, with no defined edges, just very sporadic. Why does this happen and what's the best way to approach this with a lake having very little structure to none at all? For bass and muskie.
Well, the best way to think of the weed growth in your favorite lake, Mike, is by equating it with the front or back lawn. Some years, weather conditions are such that it grows so profusely it seems you’re cutting it every few days. Other years, however, no matter how you tend to look after it, it fails to materialize.
As a general rule, water conditions determine the density and lushness of the weed growth in a lake, river or reservoir. Water clarity, in particular, is important. When the water is relatively clear, sunlight can penetrate much deeper into the water column and stimulate growth. An early spring accompanied by warm, hospitable water temperatures can also promote lush weed growth as can a fertile lake bottom. Rich clay soils generally promote better weed growth than sterile sands and gravel.
By the way, I notice in your question that you mention that your lake failed to develop defined weed edges last year and that the growth was very sporadic. Rather than being bad, that situation can actually represent ideal fishing conditions. Numerous studies have shown that the density of vegetation in a lake, river or reservoir can have enormous impact on the number and size of fish that successfully survive the first crucial year of life.
While it is a long way from Canada, Florida’s Lake Kissimmee is a good case study. Until the 1960s, Kissimmee’s water level went up and down as much as 10 feet. This natural variation was a boon to fish. During high water periods weed growth flourished. During low water periods it died back, was thinned out and the shoreline blown clean. Once water levels were regulated, however, the weeds have flourished beyond belief.
According to researchers at the University of Florida’s Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, pickerelweed, cattail, smartweed and water primrose have choked off the shallow shoreline zone in much of the lake to such a degree that young bass have suffered.
Back in November 1995, for example, the lake was drawn down and the weeds were removed from almost 20 miles of shoreline. The substrate was also scraped clean in the process. The results were immediate.
Dissolved oxygen concentrations were higher in the enhanced areas (over 6 mg/L) in all daytime samples. Values in the thick weedy untouched areas, on the other hand, averaged less than 2 mg/L, which is below the level generally considered lethal to bass.
Amazingly, not a single young largemouth was netted or electro-shocked from the weedy control areas. On the other hand, the density of young largemouth in the enhanced areas ranged from 40 to 140 fish per acre. Not only were there more young largemouth in the improved habitat sections, the fish were bigger, fatter and fitter. Some yearlings were as long as seven inches.
Why such fast growth?
The researchers discovered the young bass were eating small fish within weeks of hatching. By the following spring, up to 85 percent of their diet was fish instead of invertebrates like grass shrimp. These results confirmed similar findings from other Florida lakes where young bass in unvegetated waters consumed fish when they were 3-inches long, whereas bass in vegetated lakes didn’t eat fish until they were twice that size.
It is generally agreed that fisheries managers need to further study ways to efficiently and effectively manage vegetation. That way they can control weeds in fertile lakes where natural water levels are held in check, and create intermediate levels of weed growth in lakes and reservoirs where vegetation is scarce, and natural woody habitat is fading away. Indeed, intermediate weed growth looks like it represents the best of all possible worlds.
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