July 27, 2008

Club Helps Improve Lake: Conservation Club Project Builds Habitats for Fish

By Tom Venesky, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Jul. 27--KINGSTON TOWNSHIP -- On the surface, the crib-like structures don't look like much -- nothing more than a series of two-by-two hemlock boards nailed together to form a pyramid shape.

But below the surface -- underneath the water, the structures called porcupine four-by-four cribs provide crucial habitat for fish on the mostly barren bottom of Frances Slocum Lake.

On Thursday, 20 members of the Nanticoke Conservation Club teamed up with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to build and deposit 10 porcupine cribs. This year's project was coordinated by member Joe Rutchkaukas and the conservation club has been building and depositing the structures in Frances Slocum Lake for the last seven years.

The cribs are built on site by club members and loaded onto a fish commission boat. Concrete blocks are attached to the bottom to make the cribs sink. When the boat arrives at its destination, the cribs are dumped into the water via a series of rollers mounted on the boat.

Ben Page, lake habitat manager for the fish commission, said the cribs, which mimic stumps or roots, give juvenile fish a place to congregate and hide -- and attract larger game fish in the process.

The end result is the young fish have a place to hide and anglers can catch the larger fish that congregate at the cribs.

"We want anglers to utilize them," Page said. "We've had a lot of positive feedback from anglers here."

Page added that anglers ice fishing on the lake in the winter deposited underwater cameras into the water and saw fish surrounding the cribs.

Park manager Rex Bradish was glad to see the cribs go into the lake. He said he welcomes any project that will improve fishing in the park, including the trout stockings that occurred earlier this year.

"Our fishing this year has been up tremendously," he said. "In April we had 8,000 to 10,000 more visitors than normal, and I feel it's primarily due to fishing."

Every location that the cribs have been deposited in the lake is marked on a map, Page said. Each year the fish commission determines a new part of the lake for the cribs.

This year the cribs were deposited in 22 feet of water -- deeper than usual, to provide a possible hotspot for ice fishermen this winter.

Nanticoke Conservation Club president Gary Gronkowski said the cribs last at least 10 years and the club will do the project again next summer.

"This is why we have our club, to do projects like this," Gronkowski said. "The bottom of Frances Slocum Lake is basically vacant. This will give it some structure."

PFBC Waterways Conservation Officer John Cummings commended the club for volunteering its time to do the work and said many fish habitat projects wouldn't get done if it wasn't for conservation clubs.

"I've worked with a lot of different clubs throughout the state, and the Nanticoke Conservation Club does a ton of work," he said. "Their efforts will help many aspects of this lake, such as the panfish that have a lot of predators in here."

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will conduct another habitat improvement project at Frances Slocum Lake on Aug. 13. The agency will construct a rock rubble habitat to provide cover for crayfish, aquatic insects and small fish.

PFBC lake habitat manager Ben Page said 20 tons of rock rubble will be deposited in the lake by a boat equipped with a special dump hopper. The rubble will dumped in mounds in six to eight feet of water.

Page said the rock rubble habitat will also attract larger fish and offer anglers another potential fishing hotspot. The rock will be placed within casting distance from shore, near the public boat launch.


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