Christmas for the Fishes to create habitat for lots of fish a swimmin’
Volunteers will drop more than 125 Christmas trees into Claytor Lake on Tuesday morning for the seventh year in a row in an effort to continue building an artificial habitat for fish living in the lake.
Assistant park manager Brody Havens said the Christmas for the Fishes project partnership between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Department of Conservation began in 2005.
The Christmas trees, Havens said, are tied to concrete blocks — donated by Chandler Concrete in Christiansburg — and then dropped in three designated areas in the lake.
The spots are about 13 to 17 feet deep and are marked with a fish habitat buoy, Havens added.
“The trees create a shelter for small fish like blue gill and crappy,” Havens said.
“It also attracts predatory fish like large and smallmouth bass and catfish. It makes for a good fishing opportunity for folks from the shore and from boats, as well.”
Havens said the three dropping points are located near the lake’s picnic, cabin and gazebo areas.
While the Christmas tree drop is an annual event, officials at Claytor Lake continue to battle an invasive, aquatic plant called Hydrilla.
If left untouched, the plant could hinder boating, swimming and recreation on the lake.
In early 2011, a committee of Pulaski County officials, the citizen’s group Friends of Claytor Lake, business owners and wildlife experts began planning a method of attack to rid the 4,600-acre lake of nearly 400 acres of the plant.
The fight included a dump of 6,000 grass carp and chemical sprays to help control Hydrilla growth.
Fast forward to 2013 and fisheries biologist John Copeland with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says the grass carp have been “amazingly effective.”
“Initially there were some chemical treatments done around the homeowner area,” Copeland said, “In 2012, grass carp were so effective there were no areas of the lake where Hydrilla reached the surface.”
Copeland said the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has established a research contract with the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech to study the grass carp’s habits.
As the grass carp population decreases due to natural causes of death for the fish, Copeland said the research group will be moving toward a “maintenance stocking” approach.
Further research will be done to determine mortality rates of the fish, Copeland added.
“Hydrilla doesn’t just go away,” Copeland said. “If nothing is done further, a good percent of it will come back.”
Both Copeland and Havens will be part of the Christmas tree drop Tuesday.
The drop will begin at 9:30 a.m., Haven said, and those interested in volunteering should contact Copeland, who can be reached via email at email@example.com or at 871-6064.
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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