Weather and other factors permitting, Lake Waxahachie will soon receive a test planting as the first phase of a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department project that will take place at the lake during the next year.
District fisheries leader Richard Ott of TPW Inland Fisheries District 3C, which covers an area that includes Smith County on the east to Ellis County on the west, along with TPW employee Pat Beck, also of Inland Fisheries District 3C, traveled to Lake Waxahachie on Tuesday to perform more research prior to the planting.
“What we’re going to do is drive around the lake and we are going to identify the (plant) species that are there,” Ott said. “Then we will go through our list of potential additive species and determine which will work well. We don’t want to duplicate something that is already there. But if there are other species that we feel like would be beneficial, we’d like to add those.”
The process has included the help of The Working Man bass fishing tournament group.
One evening several months ago, Beck was at Lake Waxahachie performing a routine fish sampling and habitat assessment, while Red Oak resident David Butler and his friends from The Working Man were holding their weekly fishing tournament.
“We’re not a club,” Butler said. “We’re just a bunch of guys with an interest in bass fishing that meet every Thursday night for a tournament.”
The weekly fishing tournament to which Butler refers takes place from 6-9 p.m. every Thursday at Lake Waxahachie.
“He (Beck) takes his boat out and asks if I am keeping the statistics of the tournament,” said Butler, who serves as the tournament weigh master. Beck then asked Butler to e-mail the results of the tournament, including the number of people, the number of boats and the weight of the fish caught during the tournament.
“He (Beck) came up with a big study pamphlet that said that there were some dry years that caused the fish to be small and one of the suggestions was a grass project, to put some native grasses in the lake to give them native habitat to get bigger,” Butler said. “The expectation of the project is to increase the size of the fish and the quantity of them. We hope that is what it will do.”
After statistics were gathered, research was performed and meetings were held that included Waxahachie City Council members and parks and recreation department director John Smith, it was determined that Lake Waxahachie was a candidate to receive benefits from TPW’s statewide aquatic habitat initiative, the Plant Establishment Program.
“Lake Waxahachie doesn’t have the density of plants that we’d like and we’re missing a lot of species that we think would do well here,” Ott said, pointing out the importance of choosing species that are a “good match” and will provide good fish habitat.
“Our plans include diversifying the plant community by adding other species that don’t already exist,“ Ott said, noting there are also steps TPW can do to help some of the existing plants to flourish.
The main goal of the program is to develop fish and wildlife habitat.
“We feel like we can produce a more quality fishery if we supply the habitat,” said Ott of Lake Waxahachie, the “fishery” to which he refers. “The fishery is habitat limited. The fact that there are so few plants limits the reproduction and survival of juvenile game fish. They have nowhere to hide.
“Turtles and waterfowl eat these plants, too,” said Ott, noting it’s not just fish that benefit from the plants. “It is beneficial for the entire ecosystem.”
Plants in circular enclosures of coated wire mesh that measure 6 feet in diameter will be placed in shallow water of from 2- to 3-feet deep.
“We will place them out of traffic and not close to homes,” Ott said. “We don’t want it to be a hazard to boaters.”
After the test planting, more research will be performed.
“Typically we can tell within a month,” said Ott of the measure of success from the test planting. “We’d like to give them a full growing season to evaluate them and see if they will do what we need them to do.”
The next step will be to expand the plantings to more locations.
“These species are self-replicating,” Ott said. “We just provide the nursery colonies.”
In addition to benefiting the ecosystem of the lake, there may be an added benefit to residents living on the Lake Waxahachie shoreline.
“The benefit that property owners might see is if they’re having problems with erosion, most of these plants aid in shoreline stabilization,” he said.
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