AUSTIN – Fisheries biologists call them “crappie condos;” artificial underwater fish habitat created in this case out of undesirable stands of exotic bamboo. Thanks to a recent joint project between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), parks and recreation staff from the cities of Waco and Cleburne and student members of the Tri-Beta Biology Club at Baylor University, fish on Lake Pat Cleburne call them home.
Crappie are well-known for selecting this type of habitat to hang-out in, hence the structures’ name. However, biologists say other popular game fish species that inhabit Lake Pat Cleburne, such as largemouth bass, white bass and a variety of catfish, will also benefit from these unique fish attractors.
The City of Waco gave project coordinators permission to harvest stands of exotic bamboo from within city limits for use as fish habitat in area reservoirs. TPWD Inland Fisheries Division staff in Waco harvested the bamboo and worked with Baylor student volunteers to build the crappie condos. The bamboo was cut to desired length, placed into 3 gallon plastic buckets and set in concrete. Once dried, the bamboo shoots fan-out in all directions creating a complex system of stems and branches that stand upright when underwater due to air pockets in the bamboo.
With help from the City of Cleburne, TPWD “planted” 28 of these unique fish attracting crappie condos along the Pat Cleburne Lake dam in about 20-feet of water.
“The crappie condos simulate clumps of natural fish habitat like flooded brush and small standing timber,” said Michael Baird, TPWD fisheries biologist in Waco. “Over time these structures will become coated with algae, providing a food source for micro-fauna like insects and snails. These creatures, in turn, provide a food source for forage fishes such as sunfishes, which are naturally drawn to the new habitat for cover. Predatory fishes then frequent the structures looking for prey and anglers can take advantage of these habits to try and increase their chance of success.”
Recent TPWD fisheries sampling showed lower white bass and catfish populations in Lake Pat Cleburne, probably due to recent drought, low water and their direct effects on spawning success. Conversely, largemouth bass and crappie populations are doing quite well. All sport fish populations in the reservoir are expected to improve as long as the reservoir maintains current water levels.
“Habitat additions, whether natural or artificial, can be a very important tool in helping to build, maintain and improve fish populations, particularly in older reservoirs or reservoirs with little existing habitat,” Baird explained. “This round of habitat addition work is just the first of many planned for Lake Pat Cleburne over the next few years.”
Detailed crappie condo locations on Lake Pat Cleburne are available on TPWD’s web site.