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Willow Lake Renovation

Last week our fisheries personnel along with help from a bunch of other folks applied rotenone to Willow Lake (the Willow Lake in Brown County).  Willow Lake has been an excellent largemouth bass and panfish fishery over the years, but recently has been dominated by black bullheads and common carp.  Those species not only are less desirable to anglers, they also degrade water quality and habitat and are a detriment to all other fish species.  When that happens the quickest and easiest way to restore the fishery is to eliminate all fish using a fish toxicant called rotenone.  That is what was done last week.

Here is some more explanation of the project:


I was not out to help the guys with the hard work, but I did drop by Willow Lake last week to see the aftermath.  There were dead fish everywhere and yes, it stank.  In fact, let me say something about all the dead, stinking fish.  No, we usually do not pick up those dead fish after a rotenone renovation and in fact we would prefer NOT to pick them up?  Why?  Well, scavengers and decomposers have to eat too, and all of the nutrients wrapped up in those dead fish will re-cycle back into that aquatic ecosystem and provide productivity that will benefit the future fishery.  Yes, it is “the circle of life”!

I saw one nice largemouth bass washed up on the shore, one 12-inch black crappie, a few small crappies, small bluegills and small yellow perch, but BY FAR it was almost entirely dead common carp and black bullheads.  It was no wonder the water quality, habitat, and fishing at Willow Lake was nothing like it used to be.  This is the end of one chapter for Willow Lake.

But the future will be bright!

Re-stocking of bluegills, yellow perch and largemouth bass will begin yet this fall.  In addition water control structures have been modified to prevent re-invasion by bullheads and carp.  It will not take long, in  about three years a person will want to be fishing Willow Lake again.

This was written on FaceBook by someone who helped with the project last week.  It says it all!

I am bone tired. I just helped feed about 25 people at Willow Lake in south Brown County. They had gathered to do a fish kill so that the lake could be renovated and restored to a “fishable” condition. All I did was grill the burgers and brats and heat up the beans that had been purchased by Game and Parks but I got to participate, albeit in a very small way, to a project with huge ramifications. In a couple of years you will find my behind parked on a bucket over an ice-hole at Willow, something that hasn’t happened for a couple of decades.

Carp infested Willow Lake years ago during high water conditions and the once pan-fishing mecca gave way to carp, bullheads, and an occasional catfish. Carp are considered a pollutant to sandhills lakes and they had certainly taken their toll on this body of water where as a youngster I caught my first master angler perch and bluegill and enjoyed many outings with my dad and brother.

I was shocked as the first wave of dead carp rolled into the shallows. Not only were there gobs of minnow sized carp gasping for breath, some of the carp were huge … 5 pounds, 10 pounds, and one quite possibly 20-25 pounds. And there were hundreds of them if not thousands. No wonder Willow Lake looked like a mud hole in Mississippi.

But due to the efforts of many people working together from all over this grand state of ours, the first stage of the renovation is complete. In a few weeks the first of many stockings will take place and in a couple of years I will be making the brief four mile drive from my cabin over to the lake to once again entice a largemouth bass or monster bluegill.

But it took teamwork! In the preceding months the lake had been surveyed and divided up into various workable sections. The inlet and outlet of the lake had to be thoroughly secured to prevent future infestation. Then dozens of barrels of chemical had to be carefully loaded onto the 8-10 boats. Finally the chemical had to be painstakingly applied with pumps. Some of the areas had to be handled from the shore with a gator and a hand sprayer. The captain of the single air boat seemed to be having the most fun, until he high centered on a stump in the shallows. But of course, several boats came to his rescue and soon he was back to work.

But everyone had a job to do. They did it patiently and professionally. It was hard work but they knew the fruit of their labor would be worth it — a clean productive lake; a 10 year old seeing his bobber disappear for the first time; a retiree hooking the biggest fish of his life! It’s fun to work together. It’s rewarding. It’s tiring. And it is the way our world works best.

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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