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“Fish Sticks” to benefit fish in Bayfield

Regional Fishing, United States Fishing Articles, Wisconsin Fishing Articles |

Mere months after felled trees were dragged across the ice on Upper Eau Claire Lake as part of a grassroots partnership to restore fish habitat in the near-shore areas on this lake, hundreds of fish are using the trees.

Underwater photos taken earlier taken this month show a young muskellunge swimming past two tree trunks on the lakebed, a school of panfish darting through branches, and the dark stripe of bluntnose minnows.

“These trees are a piece of the fishery habitat puzzle that has been missing for quite a while and I am excited by the early indications of success,” says Scott Toshner, the Department of Natural Resources fish biologist working on the project. “Hopefully, we can get enough waterfront landowners involved so that we will see positive benefits to the lakes fishery as a whole.”

This year, the Eau Claire Lakes Property Owners Association and the Eau Claire Conservation Club are working with Toshner to find willing property owners to let them place more trees in the shallow water in front of their property on Upper, Middle and Lower Eau Claire lakes.

They learned recently that their “Fish Sticks” project will receive $15,000 in federal funding through the Glacial Lakes Habitat Restoration Partnership. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to expand the project,” Toshner says.

The Eau Claire Chain project grew out of an earlier project on Bony Lake, another lake in the same chain, where property owners in 2007 launched one of the largest shoreland habitat restoration efforts in Wisconsin.

The next year, the Eau Claire Conservation Club got involved on Upper Eau Claire Lake, and 2009 saw a continued effort on Bony, Middle Eau Claire and Upper Eau Claire lakes by the club, the property owners and the DNR.

trees placed in shallow water

To date, 395 trees have been placed in Bony Lake, where there were only 89 pieces to begin with. Upper Eau Claire has added 98 trees and Middle Eau Claire, 49 trees.
“These trees are very important habitat because they provide refuge, forage, cover and spawning areas for pretty much every fish in the lake for at least part of their life cycles,” Toshner says. “The turtles, ducks, kingfisher, otter, mink, beaver and other wildlife are using it at the same time.”

For this year’s Eau Claire chain lakes project, the property owners association mailed out to its members a brochure the group helped Toshner develop. Members have also been talking the project up. So far, a handful of property owners have stepped forward, and Toshner expects that to increase.

He meets with interested property owners, explains more of the process to them, and if they still want to continue, works with them to sign an agreement that they will not remove down trees from their property and will keep the ones placed in their shallow water. In late summer and early fall, Toshner will meet with the property owners again to mark where they want the complexes of two to eight trees to go. In winter, heavy equipment operators place the trees on the ice in the proper spots. The conservation club helps with the logistics of getting the trees harvested and to the proper site on the ice.

“The volunteer effort on this project is quite simply what makes this go,” Toshner says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Toshner (715) 372-8539

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