Building Freshwater Fish Attractors
George W. Lewis
Professor, Aquaculture and Fisheries
Warnell School of Forest Resources
The University of Georgia
Adding fish attractors or artificial reefs to attract fish in salt water
environments has been extremely successful. The same idea is now being
used in freshwater lakes which do not have enough natural cover and structure
around which fish orient themselves. Freshwater fish attractors concentrate
fish by providing cover, structure, spawning habitat and an attachment
surface for many fish food organisms.
When and Where
Fish attractors should not be installed indiscriminately. They give best
results in lakes where brush is scarce. Attractors are not often used in
rivers and may not be effective in lakes with excessive cover, such as
aquatic weeds. Excessive cover from aquatic weeds or fish attractors can
contribute to population imbalance by over protection of small fish. If
possible, a fishery biologist should be consulted about need and location
of fish attractors.
Fish attractors can be placed in any private waters; however, fish attractors
cannot be installed in navigable waters without a permit from the United
States Army Corps of Engineers. To obtain a permit, submit a letter of
application together with a complete plan including exact location, size
and clearance over structure at mean low water level. Attractors in navigable
water must be marked with permanent buoys in accordance with the uniform
waterways marking system. State, county and municipal authorities should
be contacted to insure compliance with local laws.
There is no ideal size or number of attractors which may be used. As a
general guide, do not allow attractors to cover more than 0.25 acres of
bottom per 100 surface acres of lake. Some experts have suggested a maximum
of three fish attractor sites in lakes of 100 to 1000 acres and one per
500 surface acres in larger lakes.
Sites should be selected carefully. Attractors should be kept away from
navigation channels or areas where they will be exposed during low water.
They should be placed on hard barren bottom in close proximity to deep
water. If attractors must be located in soft mud bottoms or areas subject
to siltation, taller units should be used. Cover sites about 10 feet deep
are considered good for panfish. Sites located off points at depths of
20 to 35 feet near deep water are considered good for largemouth bass.
A number of materials and designs have been used in the construction of
fish attractors. Criterion for selection of materials and unit design are
cost, durability in water, availability, ease of handling and construction.
Brush is usually available, but difficult to handle and deteriorates rapidly.
Because brush floats, it must be carefully bundled and well anchored. Four
successful brush units are:
Rodeheffer square frame unit - a 9 foot square inner frame with
poles protruding in beyond frame and an 11½ foot square outer frame
tied to the protruding poles. Lay 18 inch diameter brush bundles at small
end on frame tops away from center. Place bundles as close as possible
to form a circular shelter 18 feet in diameter.
May stacked brush unit - stack brush 5 or 6 feet high on a 5 by
10 foot frame and secure with wire clothesline.
Block-brush unit - brush bundles weighted with concrete blocks.
Distribute units around perimeter of sites 15 yards square (Figure 1).
Christmas tree unit - drill a 3/8 inch hole at base of tree and
push steel bar into hole. Place tree trunk in a 5 gallon can 3/4 filled
with concrete and tie units together with polypropylene line when installed
Scrap tires are good material. They are available in large numbers at little
or no cost and provide an easily assembled unit. Tires do not rust, corrode,
leach harmful chemicals or decompose. Tires can be used in many designs;
three designs are:
Single tire unit - place concrete No. 10 filled can between tire
side walls and drill at least one ¾ inch hole on the opposite tread
to allow air to escape. If cans are not available, concrete can be poured
directly into sidewalls. These units can be used alone or used to build
more complex units.
Triangle tree unit - tie three tires together in a triangle with
synthetic rope (Figure 3). One or more tires are filled with concrete as
Pyramid tire unit - build three stacks of three tires tied in bundles.
Stacks are lashed together to form a pyramid. Tires in base stacks are
filled with concrete as described before. Holes should be drilled in top
of all tires but the tires of the top stack to assure sinking in an upright
position. This unit is heavy and requires special equipment for installation
Stake beds have been used in shallow water to concentrate crappie. Materials
are easily available but costly. Stake beds are more durable than brush
and easier to install than tire units. Two methods are:
Driven stake bed unit - during winter drawdown drive 150 stakes,
4 to 7 feet long, into a 4 by 8 foot bed in exposed bottom.
Prefabricated bed unit - build a 4 by 8 foot wooden frame onto which
150 stakes are nailed. Float bed to selected site and sink with concrete
blocks (Figure 5).
Car bodies have been used to create marine artificial reefs, but their
value in freshwater structures is questionable. They must be stripped,
steam cleaned to remove grease and oil and are a relatively costly material.
In addition, they are bulky and require special equipment for installation.
Freshwater fish attractors offer a new management tool for concentrating
fish in lakes with insufficient cover. They should be used cautiously and
are not desirable in all lakes and ponds. They are not a panacea.
Brouha, P. and E. D. Prince. 1974. "How To Build A Freshwater Artificial
Reef." Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Sea Grant Extension
Publication No. 73-03.
Prince, E. D. and P. Brouha. 1974. "Progress of the Smith Mountain Reservoir
Artificial Reef Project. Proceedings of an International Conference on
Artificial Reefs." Texas A&M University Sea Grant Publication TAMU-SE-74-103.