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WV Wildlife: Improving Fish Habitat at Summersville Lake

These habitat structures are massive, and will provide great habitat for several different species of fish for years to come. (WCHS/WVAH)

It's one of the most popular places in the state for summer fun.

But this time of the year--it looks more like a lifeless moonscape.

Summersville Lake was made for flood control purposes by damming up the Gauley River.

And ironically, the day that we were there, it was being used just for that--to hold back water from the swollen Ohio River.

West Virginia DNR Fisheries Biologist, Aaron Yeager, also thinks this lake could become a fantastic place to fish.

That's why Aaron, his coworker, Jeremy--and a large excavator--have been hard at work recently.

"This is probably the most extensive habitat project we've undertaken as the DNR in 50 years or so--the largest one in the state I’d dare to say", said Yeager.

Jeremy Quick, who has been removing trees with an excavator from the Wildlife Management Area—which will open areas up for food plots for deer and turkey—says the size and complexity of these trees being placed into the lake will be appreciated by a wide variety of fish.

"You put wood of this size in this water, and you're looking at habitat for 20 years plus", said Quick.

And that's what this lake lacks--wood. Fish simply need it for more protection and better spawning. More smaller fish, like yellow perch, will eventually lead to bigger game-fish, like walleye and bass.

"All the timber was removed prior to filling. We've taken a flat featureless bottom--and we've created complexity. We've got humps and dirt now, we've got wood, we've got root-wads. We've got everything that a fish would ever want to relate to. These fish hotels are going to be recruitment zones for these smaller fish", said Yeager.

Yeager says the more disorder and randomness you have in a habitat, the better.

It's going to take more long days and hard work, as this lake has over 60 miles of shoreline--but some positive results have already been seen.

Quick has already seen it while creating these new habitats with the excavator.

"Within a matter of minutes, the fish are pulling into that. If you don't have the bottom of the food chain, you don't have the top. You want a good fishery? Got to have something for everybody to eat. This starts at the bottom and goes up".

Quick and Yeager are both really excited about this project and what it should bring to the largest lake in West Virginia.

"We've got some really good results of the fish using the structures. We're trying to make the most bang for our buck here, and use the trees that we are clearing out for the wildlife clearings for fisheries habitat. You're going to find trophy-sized bluegill, black crappie, very nice yellow perch, walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass--basically, every fish in this system is going to be using these piles at some point in the year. We've not scratched the surface when it comes to Summersville Lake", said Yeager.

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