January 6, 2006

Fish flock to Christmas tree reefs in US lakes

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Stripped of tinsel and ornaments, thousands of Christmas trees across the United States are becoming reefs for fish in fresh-water lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers collects discarded trees to create an underwater forest near fishing piers in man-made lakes that lack natural habitats.

"The little fish will go in there for cover and to feed and the big fish will follow them," said Eric Lemons, a park ranger at Wappapello Lake in southeast Missouri, which gets about 200 Christmas trees a year.

"We don't get as many as we used to. People are getting fake trees more than real trees," he added.

As it has for decades, the Army Corps drills holes in the trunks and wires four or five Christmas trees to a concrete block before tossing the conifers into the lakes.

Avid anglers seek out the Christmas reefs as prime fishing grounds for bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish. Anglers can even get permits to sink Christmas trees at their favorite fishing holes.

The Army Corps prefers Christmas trees to hardwood trees because the branches of conifers break easily if caught on fishing lines.