Nature’s Wetland Effect

How We Grow Fish Instead of Algae

Fish Fry Lake is a 6.5 acre fish factory. The catch-rate is so fast we can hook-and-line harvest up to 8000 bluegill, black crappie, northern yellow perch and largemouth bass every year. That’s a lot of fish, and we need them to help us feed our tribe of paleo hunting dogs! It’s amazing how much they eat, and us too! It was an uphill battle trying to learn how to grow fish instead of algae. Early on, the small lake suffered from Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), with patches of cyanobacteria that made us afraid to let our canines drink from lake edge. We are downstream from intense agriculture, so are gifted with nutrients from leftover farm fertilizer. It’s free, and today, thanks to Nature’s Wetland Effect, we cycle it into fish instead of algae. But we had to learn the ropes!

It was a tough life fishing!

I grew up in Wisconsin. I guided musky fishermen while going to college, and also ran a recreation tabloid, Outdoor News of Marinette County, way back then. I’d get up an hour before dawn, quaff down some stout coffee, and get to one of literally, several hundreds of lakes within a few miles, and fish by canoe until about the time most folks were tumbling out of bed. Then I’d stop by a local restaurant, one that advertised in the tabloid, have breakfast that usually included heavily carmelized hash browns and crispy bacon, maybe talk to the proprietor about local fishing conditions, maybe show ‘em the occasional six or seven pound bass I kept, to eat. Then I’d be back to my cabin to write, and paste up the next edition of the tabloid. Towards evening, another premier lake to fish! Tough life!

Anyone with eyes in their head couldn’t help but notice that the lakes that produced the best fish were also the lakes that included overhanging banks, marsh that filtered into lily pad carpeted bays, and naturally-occurring floating islands. These peat based islands were remarkably productive. I’d canoe around their perimeters, casting plastics, and the big question was whether I could horse a five pound largemouth out of the tangle of bushy leatherleaf and labrador tea roots that grew along the island’s perimeter. It was a non woven matrix of roots, and I was alway torn…lighter line that makes for easier casting with an open face spinning reel, or the heavier stuff that meant I could seriously fight back when a mossback bass attacked!

Surface Area and Circulation

The common denominator that spelled “FISH” was the mix of surface area and circulation. If a bog or wetland was draining into the lake, providing ongoing circulation, nature’s wetland effect would kick in. There’d be a floating island and its non woven matrix of roots to intercept every sparse nutrient, and cycle it into nature’s food web. Ultimately, after several trophic levels, into fish. The floating islands provided massive surface area, and gravity and rainfall provided circulation and water. Today we biomimic this combination of nonwoven matrix in the form of BioHaven floating islands.

Concentrated Wetland Effect

Fish Fry Lake is where I leverage what I learned back in Marinette county. A big difference between then and now is that nutrients here, filtering into Fish Fry Lake, are not sparse. In fact, they are too abundant. If they are not cycled into preferred biota quickly, and aggressively, they will become blue-green algae and cyanobacteria, i.e. HABs. But with concentrated surface area, and circulation, those nutrients cycle into diatom-based periphyton. And ultimately, from there into fish. Note that diatom-based periphyton is what the fresh water food web in North America has been premised on for millions of years. NOT blue-green algae and cyanobacteria. These are new essentially invasive forms of phytoplankton, and even aberrant forms, in that they can and do kill water, by robbing it of dissolved oxygen. So if I do nothing, Fish Fry Lake dies. Instead, I employ concentrated surface area and circulation, in the form of BioHaven floating islands, and the lake is incredibly productive.

My experiential education resulted in, with the help of many friends and partners, BioHaven floating islands. They provide the concentrated surface area component of what’s needed to steward water. Circulation comes from gravity, ideally, or from designable aeration/circulation systems. Combine these two, and fish happen!