Have you ever been fishing and wished there was a sign saying right where the fish are? Well, fish attractors and the buoys that mark them are intended to do just that.
We all know that sportfish like structure, meaning something different than just a plain sand or mud bottom area, around which to hang out. We also know that tiny plants (phytoplankton) are the food for many bugs that little fish like to eat, and big fish eat little fish.
When biologists plan a fish attractor, they take advantage of those two facts, but a lot more goes into the decision and placement. Research has shown that attractors may not produce more fish, but they do effectively congregate fish. As a result, they are more accessible to anglers, especially when there is a lack of natural structure or there is a need to bring fish to a specific location. Translation: a better opportunity to catch fish, from small bream to trophy bass.
For example, in community ponds or small fish management areas that are popular with children and families, it is often desirable to place an attractor near shore or a fishing pier to give young anglers and others without access to a boat somewhere to to aim the cast. In some instances, productive lakes may have large areas of open water, and a properly deployed and marked attractor can help provide a new “honey hole” for recreational fishermen.
Before we go on detailing how attractors are constructed, where to find them and how to fish them, let me share a legal disclaimer or two. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has a permit from the Department of Environmental Regulation to place attractors in state waters. It is illegal for anyone to place materials in public waterways without such a permit and, moreover, in many instances it can constitute littering and result in severe penalties. Finally, unmarked attractors without a minimum clearance of 3 feet can become a navigation hazard.
Most FWC-constructed freshwater fish attractors are built from hardwood trees and branches, like citrus or oak. A suitable location is idenitified that will benefit recreational anglers and a brushpile is submerged using cinder blocks. Care is taken to keep the tops of the material at least 3 feet below the surface and a marker buoy is deployed. However, water levels can vary during droughts so materials may sometimes become exposed. Hardwood attractors are very effective because the natural substrate quickly attracts algae and stimulates the food chain that we described previously. In addition, the passages between the branches provide hiding places for small fish to avoid predators. Ironically, the branches also provide concealment points for ambush predators like bass.
Other attractors are occassionally made of various plastic or concrete materials but those are normally located away from any possible boat paths. Their advantage is they are longer lasting than hardwood brush piles and need to be refurbished less frequently. The shortest-lived attractors are made from softwood, such as old Christmas trees, but can still be a productive way for communities, with proper permits, to recycle the holiday centerpieces without filling up landfills.
Finally, some FWC attractors are actually bedding sites. These attractors use oyster shell or gravel to create a desirable substrate for sunfish, such as bass, bream and crappie to spawn over when the surrounding bottom is mucky. However, they still attract fish and can be very productive for anglers, especially in the spring.
The net effect is a community of fish hanging out in a location where anglers can find them. To fish effectively around a fish attractor, there are several considerations. First, use weedless lures or natural baits with a strong braided line. Carolina-rigged worms can be very effective around attractors. Second, if you are fishing from a boat, do not anchor too close; stay 50 feet or so away and cast toward the buoy. Remember there are branches or other material under the surface, anchoring in amongst them can pull the attractors apart, ruining their effectiveness.
Most freshwater sportfishes in Florida will occasionally use an attractor. The Big Catch program includes 33 different species for which anglers can be recognized. Simply take a photo of the fish and submit it. If the fish is longer than the Big Catch minimum length or weight (see MyFWC.com/BigCatch for details), you will receive a customized certificate and have your picture posted on the Web. There are even special sizes for youths under 16 to encourage their participation.
However, the big prizes go to TrophyCatch anglers who catch, document and release bass over 8 pounds. Beginning Oct. 1, all you need to do is snap a photo of your 8-pound plus bass on a scale showing the entire fish and its weight and submit it to TrophyCatchFlorida.com. Having an additional photo showing the length of the fish on a measuring tape will help with verification if the first photo isn’t clear. You can also choose to submit a bragging photo of you holding the fish and documenting the bass’ girth and release, if you want. In return, you’ll receive some awesome prizes starting with a $50 Bass Pro Shops gift card and Bass King T-shirt, to go along with your customized certificate and a window decal. Just registering on the website makes you eligible for a Phoenix Bass Boat. Like us on FaceBook at FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida and you’ll be sure to get all the latest updates.
You can learn more about fish attractors and FWC angler recognition programs online. Find the location of FWC fish attractors online at MyFWC.com/Fishing (select freshwater, sites and forecasts and then fish attractors). A new map (bit.ly/Attractors) makes it easier for anglers to find attractors near them. In addition, you can check out the video on YouTube at: bit.ly/YT-attractor. The FWC also has a private pond management brochure that talks about various approaches homeowners can use for improving fishing in their private fishing pond (see: bit.ly/Pond-Management).