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Friday, September 14, 2012

The bait is set

AEP places habitat structures on the lake in an effort to lure fish.

Mike Forte of Moneta said each wooden fish habitat he built took about an hour to complete.

Courtesy of Mike Forte

Mike Forte of Moneta said each wooden fish habitat he built took about an hour to complete.

A barge is filled with a variety of odd-looking contraptions designed to attract fish.

Courtesy of AEP

A barge is filled with a variety of odd-looking contraptions designed to attract fish.

After screwing together 4-foot-long boards to resemble a pyramid, Mike Forte placed the wooden structure under the dock at his Moneta home. His grandchildren love to watch the sunfish and bass that congregate in the inch-and-a-half gaps between the boards, he said.

"I've noticed dozens of fish that were not there before," said Forte.

Three of Forte's creations were used in late August as part of Appalachian Power's Habitat Management Plan.

To fulfill portions of AEP's 2010 relicensing requirements, which include preserving and improving the lake's environmental qualities, the utility has placed an assortment of fish habitats designed to appeal to aquatic creatures in the waters near Smith Mountain Lake State Park's Discovery Center.

"With all of the development around Smith Mountain Lake being cleared, you don't have a lot of the natural cover," said Dan Wilson, fisheries biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "What we'd like to do is provide things in the water that would attract fish and provide protection for smaller fish."

Anglers long have known that piers are good fishing spots, Wilson said.

"Fish, in general, like to be around structures," he said.

Some of the habitats are made of natural materials such as bundled debris, trees and rocks. Man-made items include "spiderblocks," which feature long plastic tubing coming from a centralized core, and Forte's wooden pyramids.

Appalachian Power's Liz Parcell said future fish habitat sites include the public boat ramps at Scruggs, Hales Ford, Penhook and Anthony Ford. The objects will be placed in water less than 20 feet deep and in areas that will not have an impact on navigation.

Officials from VDGIF will inspect the habitats in the spring to determine the success rates of the various structures.

In addition, Appalachian Power is developing a permit program for homeowners to lawfully place their own habitats in the lake, Parcell said.

"It's a fun project ... and an exciting project," she said. "It's just as interesting as birdwatching."