LAKE OCONEE —
The Lake Oconee Bass Club has been investing some of their time in an attempt to improve the fishery at Lake Oconee. The club wanted to undertake a unique and long lasting conservation project. Club member Tony Beck who works for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (GWRD) is the club's conservation director.
The club was able to obtain a grant for the purpose of planting water willow around areas of the Lake Oconee shoreline. Water willow is native to the Oconee River basin and water willow was already established in some areas of Lake Oconee although not widespread.
The aquatic plant water willow can grow from the shoreline out to a depth of five feet deep. The plant is as stated earlier a native non-invasive plant that was already established in the lake in small quantities. Water willow has many advantages including providing shoreline cover for fish and for preventing shoreline erosion.
The plant is easy to grow since it generates roots from the stem of the plant. The club took cuttings from established plants and then potted those cuttings in gallon pots. The pots were then placed in small pools of water to keep the plants moist. Within three months, the plants were established in the pots well enough to be transplanted to the lake.
The lower third of Lake Oconee already had some established areas of water willow. Initially 150 water willow plants were planted in three different locations. Additional plantings of the water willow have been made and so far the plants are doing well in those areas where planted. Once established in one area the water willow will then establish in other areas when parts of the plant break loose and then root elsewhere.
This is an ongoing project for the club as additional plantings of water willow will continue in Lake Oconee. The plantings of water willow have been so successful in Lake Oconee that the club is now working with GWRD to establish water willow in Lake Jackson.
Downstream Lake Sinclair has well established areas of water willow but unfortunately water willow has decreased in coverage along shorelines in Lake Sinclair due to removal by homeowners and shoreline development. Water willow could be found in most of Lake Sinclair until the expansion of shoreline homes, docks and boat houses resulted in the plant being removed.
When Lake Oconee was initially opened in the early 80s, water willow was well established in several areas of the lake but much of it was removed due to shoreline construction. One cove in particular that I fished regularly when the lake was first opened had water willow along the entire shoreline but that water willow was completely removed by shoreline construction.
I have long been an advocate for keeping water willow in Lake Sinclair where I live but landowners continue to remove the water willow along its shoreline. I wish that a law or rule could be established to make removal of water willow in both lakes illegal and would result in penalties for its removal. Otherwise the fine work of clubs like the Lake Oconee Bass Anglers and efforts by the GWRD in Lake Sinclair to establish certain grasses will been unsuccessful.
Both Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair are owned by Georgia Power and that is where action must first be taken to stop removal of the water willow. The only argument against water willow that I have heard is that it draws snakes and is unsightly.
In the over thirty years of fishing Lake Sinclair and over twenty years of fishing Lake Oconee, I can count one hand the number of snakes I have seen in grassy areas and even then the snakes were harmless water snakes.
Give me a choice between a lake with a natural grassy shoreline and one lined only with seawalls and boat docks and I will take the natural shoreline every time. However seawalls, boat docks and water willow can exist together so please resist any urge you might have to remove any aquatic plant from the shoreline. Remember that water willow was present in the Oconee River long before either lake was constructed. Merry Christmas, good fishing and see you next week.
Bobby Peoples can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.