From coast to coast and border to border, Christmas trees are the holiday gifts that keep on giving for fish and fishermen. Bass clubs, municipalities, and power companies participate in this giant, annual attractor/habitat enhancement project, along with state and federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service.
“A lot of lakes we work with are manmade and there’s not much fish cover in them, so we have to figure out how to put fish habitat in those lakes,” said Kevin Meneau, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “Christmas trees are one of the best ways to do that in winter.”
In the St. Louis area alone, trees are submerged in 60 lakes, with each fishery receiving them every three years. Shenango River Lake, meanwhile, is but one of many lakes targeted in Pennsylvania, as the Corps teams with local communities. To the South, the Lake Wedowee Property Owners Association has worked with Alabama Power for six years to anchor trees in more than 70 locations.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife collects hundreds of trees each January for placement in Three Springs, Shanty Hollow, Barren River, and Green River Lakes, among others. And in California, the Corps sinks trees in Pine Flat Lake.
"We put them in the water here until they basically disintegrate and it gets a full life cycle out of the tree," said Adam Thompson, Corps senior park ranger, adding that discarded Christmas trees are the most cost effective way to sustain fish habitat annually.
"These trees create a perfect safe haven for the fingerling bass to hide from the larger predator bass," he said.
Additionally, the trees provide woody cover that makes excellent habitat for invertebrates, ideal forage for these smaller bass, along with panfish, added Missouri's Meneau. Of course, larger fish follow, as the entire food chain gets a boost.
Ideally, the trees are anchored with cement blocks and submerged in at 4 to 7 feet. This typically gives newly spawned bass in shallow water quick access to cover.
Of course, predatory bass and other species also are attracted to the brush piles, which provide cover for ambush, as well as a source of food. In turn, that makes them magnets for anglers.
Eventually, the trees become water logged and sink completely. But Meneau said that the tops usually are visible for five to six weeks after placement. This gives anglers time to mark them with GPS.