Some of the most popular game fish in West Virginia like swimming in waters with ample woody cover from downed trees and other vegetation. And when fish are happy anglers are happy. That’s why the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is always looking for creative ways to improve fish habitat and the angling experience.

One method is taking discarded Christmas trees — the real kind you see just tossed to the roadside after the holidays each year — and using them to improve habitat at popular fishing locations, such as Beech Fork and East Lynn lakes.

“Most of our reservoirs are lacking in complex, woody cover, so any type of structure we can make with the Christmas trees we collect or other types of brush are really beneficial,” said Aaron Yeager, an assistant fisheries biologist.

In addition to improving fish habitat, the program has environmental benefits by finding a new use for trees that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

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Creating fish habitat

Creating fish habitat out of old Christmas trees is a little more complex than you think. If the trees are simply dumped into the water, there’s a good chance they could wash away during a heavy rain. To prevent this, fisheries biologists have come up with a way to group and secure the trees.

Before dropping trees into a lake, fisheries biologists slide the trunk through the hole in a cinder block and anchor it in place with nails and boards. When the tree is dropped in the water, it sinks to the bottom and stands upright.

By doing it this way, the trees stay in place and create ample cover. This gives small, young fish an opportunity to grow, which increases the overall fish population. The trees also provide ambush spots for larger fish and serve as attractors experienced anglers can use to their advantage.

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Collecting Christmas trees

Following the Christmas season, DNR staff collect whole, real trees at locations around the state. During the following months, fisheries biologists can be found dropping the trees in lakes around the state. Spots where the trees are used typically have adequate shore access or fishing piers.

So, be sure to keep an eye out for tree collection days sponsored by the WVDNR next Christmas season. We’ll put it to good use!