ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — Since 2013, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, along with volunteers and other entities, has been enhancing native aquatic vegetation in Lake Gaston, a 20,000-acre impoundment located in Halifax, Northampton and Warren counties along the Virginia border.
They have constructed fenced-in areas, called exclosures, around the lake and native aquatic vegetation planted both within and outside of these areas. Planting and maintaining native vegetation are particularly important given the presence of hydrilla, a non-native, highly invasive plant in the lake. The Lake Gaston Weed Control Council has worked for years to control the spread of hydrilla in Lake Gaston, using a combination of herbicides and triploid grass carp. Biologists hope the planted native vegetation will compete with hydrilla, improving fish habitat and providing anglers with better fishing opportunities in Lake Gaston.
The fenced exclosures protect the newly planted vegetation from being eaten by herbivores, such as turtles and triploid grass carp. Volunteers and staff have planted a variety of native vegetation, such as spatterdock, white water lily, watershield, eelgrass and pondweed. These plantings provide much needed habitat for popular game fishes that prefer underwater vegetation — like largemouth bass and crappie.
Earlier this month, a work group repaired and expanded on existing exclosures and constructed 12 new exclosure sites. The group added native aquatic vegetation to both new and existing exclosures, including Beechwood above Interstate 85 bridge, the Flats, Poplar Creek, Stonehouse and Stillhouse.
With these newly built exclosures, Commission staff, partners and volunteers have put in over 2,250 hours since 2014, building 67 exclosures and planting hundreds of native grasses and plants.
None of this could have been done without the assistance of volunteers, N.C. State University, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Dominion Energy and the Lake Gaston Association, according to Mark Fowlkes, the Commission’s Piedmont aquatic habitat coordinator.
“We had a number of new volunteers this year, including Boy Scout Dillon Cook, which was very encouraging,” Fowlkes said. “I would like to thank everyone for their continued support of this important effort. The Lake Gaston Association was once again given permission to use the Brunswick County workboat and without the use of this boat, it would have made things more difficult. I’d also like to thank the Lake Gaston Association for providing great volunteers and lunch to everyone.”
The habitat enhancement project is funded by the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council, Dominion Energy, the N.C. State University Department of Crop Science and through the Sport Fish Restoration Program. The Sport Fish Restoration Program utilizes state fishing license money and federal grant funds derived from federal excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuels.
Fowlkes says that volunteers are still needed for a full lake survey to be conducted in September and October. Interested persons should contact Wally Sayko (434-636-5393) with the Lake Gaston Association for more information.