Fish Fry Lake is a 7-acre experiment. Imagine seven football fields of water. I live here, and Fish Fry is a complete 180-degree shift from my behind-the-desk routine. So, a couple times a day I visit it. On occasion, I get in the water, usually with a GoPro strapped to my wrist. This is because, even though the footage isn’t particularly commercial, the things I see may be vital. They may show us a path forward, where water can be the incredible resource that it was in the past. The bottom line is, I have this living experiment just steps from my computer. Yesterday I had a surprise lesson about crawfish habitat.
The story begins (surprisingly) with a wastewater project in a small community about an hour from my desk. Our goal is to help the village deal with their sewage. Right now, each winter, their sewage is not fully treated. So, when it gets into the trout stream that heads downstream from the village, it’s not good for the trout.
Think about a swamp. It’s shallow, and usually rich with smells and plants like cattails, and when you step in the black muck you are reminded of the richness of the place. The carbon and nutrients in such a place are like banana creme pie…you can only eat so much before your gut gets way out of whack compared to your height! That’s what we were dealing with in this small village.
If you are going to fix water, you need to bump up two factors… surface area, and circulation.
So, we built these bags of habitat filled with recycled plastic filter material. Lots of surface area! Then I put one in Fish Fry Lake, where it sat for about three weeks. A test.
Yesterday I pulled it out…used the four-wheeler, because the bag is totally heavy, what with everything that was growing in it. The bag itself is about ten feet long, and maybe three feet in diameter. Pulled it up onto our beach, and then was amazed to see crawfish exiting, and always heading back to the water. Back to Fish Fry Lake. How do they sense where the lake is? Bottom line, these crawfish had colonized the bag, contained within a net material, because it provided what they needed…security, as fish that wanted to eat them couldn’t get in. It also provided food, because food like algae and plants were growing on the filter material everywhere you looked. And crawfish eat anything. Really! Pretty much whatever they can grab a hold of is food!
Then baby crawfish started crawling out of the bag. The whole bag was like the maternity ward in a hospital…a crawfish maternity ward! When you have super nutrient rich water, you need to design structure into your pond that allows for bottom dwellers to be able to climb upwards, so they can breathe at night when oxygen isn’t being produced by plants. All of us need to breathe, and oxygen goes away in nutrient rich water at night.
This bag, this incubator, was giving the crawfish a place where they could easily shift as needed. So if you want your water to be productive, to grow crawfish which end up in your fish, think like them. How do you stay alive at night, when the oxygen goes away? Do you need a maternity ward that reaches from the bottom of your pond right to the top?
And one other thing… game fish that eat crawfish taste really good! I tell you what… Fish Fry is going to have a few dozen of these incubators before winter sets in. We are already the best fishing hole in Montana. But it may get even better! Think two pound yellow perch, 17” black crappie, and tons of largemouth bass. Not to mention channel cats that fight like horses!