TIOGA - Conservation requires work, effort and usually the coming together of agencies and volunteers.
On July 17, Hammond Lake was the site of such cooperation - for the benefit of the resident bass and panfish population.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains and runs Hammond Lake; the state Fish and Boat Commission; and the Backwoods Bass Club of Lock Haven, braved the heat of a 90-plus degree day to sink some artificial structures into the lake.
At left, Ben Page, right, holds a 16-inch largemouth bass that Mason Page, left, caught on a Pennsylvania Rock Star structure at Hammond Lake on July 13 during a camping trip.
Above, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intern Josh Hamblin, left, and volunteers build porcupine cribs for placement in Hammond Lake. The cribs serve as a “brush” structure that provide cover for fish in the lake.
Twenty "porcupine cribs," constructed of wood and nails and held down by concrete blocks, were made to create a deep-water course brush structure for panfish and other species of fish to use for cover and locating prey.
As part of the Cooperative Habitat Improvement Program, or CHIP, the Fish and Boat Commission provides technical support to public parks statewide.
"When a reservoir is lacking sufficient cover for fish, the PFBC (Fish and Boat Commission) can help by devising a plan to place artificial cover. The (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the PFBC have been working together for 20 years to improve the fish habitat in Hammond Lake," said Ben Page, lake habitat section chief for the commission.
"In addition to participating in the CHIP program with the bass club, the club's tournament fees are waived by the Corps of Engineers so that they can be used to fund the improvements," said Stephen Sporer, natural resource specialist for Tioga-Hammond and Cownesque lakes.
The lake is a flood-control reservoir. After the area was flooded some years ago, trees, shrubs and stumps were cleared, making sure they wouldn't get stuck in the dam.
"The lake does have existing submerged road beds - the old stream channel and riprap that may provide some fishing
hot spots - but there are many large flats that have benefitted from the addition of artificial structures," Page said.
How it's done
Staff from the Army Corps and fish commission, plus volunteers from the bass club, convened at the Ives Run boat launch in July.
The crib structures were built by members of the Backwoods Bass Club.
"The (fish commission) supports the project with technical guidance during the planning phase of the project. They also give field construction oversight during the building of structures," Page said. "The (agency) supplies the habitat boats for placement as well as power tools and safety gear for construction."
Machinery and concrete block came from the corps, including the skid steer that loads the structures onto specialized habitat boats that haul the structures to a predetermined location where they are dumped in.
The lumber cost is split between the bass club and the commission.
The cribs were placed into the water and anchored with concrete block.
"The final product is a new stump field on a lake bottom area that was once a featureless aquatic desert," Page said.
The change will increase success rates for the fishermen who target the habitat improvement sites.
Reeling it in
Since 1999, the fish commission has worked with the Corps in placing these types of structures in the lake.
"We have received plenty of positive feedback from the anglers that fish these spots. I recently camped at Hammond and had success on a site that we improved in 2008. My son caught a 16-inch largemouth on a 'PA Rock Star Structure,' " Page said.
The panfish of Hammond Lake, particularly the black and white crappies, will use the sites the most, but bass will find their way there, too.
Sporer said Hammond Lake is home of the Pennsylvania state record black crappie, which weighed 4 pounds and 2.88 ounces and was 19 3/8-inch long with a 15 7/8-inch girth. It was caught May 28, 2000, by Richard A. Pino.
"As the Corps, we manage the resource as a whole, not necessarily targeting one specific species. The structures provide benefits all the way up the food chain from algae to macroinvertebrates to the panfish game fish," Sporer said.
He added that since 2007 the lake has received the following habitat improvement structures:
The structures are mapped with GPS coordinates and can be found on the commission website at fishandboat.com/lakeplans.htm.
"Anglers can print this PDF map off of our website and take it out to the lake to find the fishing hot spots," Page said.
The Tioga County Bass Anglers provide a laminated map of the structures. The map is found locally at the Ives Rub Visitor Information Center for a donation, which goes to fund more habitat projects.
Another project is planned for 8 a.m. Sept. 7 at Cowanesque Lake at the Tompkins boat launch.
"We can use volunteers to help build the structures and those same volunteers can go out on the PFBC habitat boat to push the structures in. Each volunteer gets an honorary habitat patch for their hard work," Page said.
The event is in partnership with the the Tioga County Bass Anglers Club.
"The amount of work is scheduled for following years based on the amount of volunteers that show up and assist. The event this year will build and place 60 structures," Sporer said.
Those interested in attending should contact Stephen Sporer via email at Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org or 835-0123.
It is important to these projects that bass clubs such as Backwoods and Tioga County get involved.
"It gives them a chance to give back to the lake that they fish. And, it helps create fishing hot spots," Sporer said.
As many of the reservoirs in Pennsylvania age, fish habitat continues to degrade due to sedimentation, erosion and decomposition.
Habitat improvement projects become increasingly important as the years pass, Page said.
"It is important to replace that valuable fish habitat with wood, rock or vegetation. The conservation project is also important because it gives conservation groups a chance to give back to the resource and work alongside of habitat management staff from the PFBC," he added.
Sporer agrees that grassroots efforts like these are extremely effective and make a significant positive impact on natural resources.
"By working together, volunteers, the Fish and Boat Commission, the Corps and the bass clubs ensure that the resources are healthy and available for future generations," he said.