Arbor Vital – Fishing Flooded Trees

February 4, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

Lakes such as Devils Lake with a lot of flooded trees provide endless fishing opportunities. This lone tree is on the edge of Doc Hagens island.

Lakes such as Devils Lake with a lot of flooded trees provide endless fishing opportunities. This lone tree is on the edge of Doc Hagen's island.

I  think that I shall never see structure lovely as a tree. Pardon the take on Ms. Kilmer’s poem; let’s consider it the angler’s version. But timber – be it live on shore, a deadfall along a river or a man-made reef on a lake – is structure that all anglers should develop affection for.

Take a Bough

I won’t go all John Denver in this column; the environmental benefits of trees are obvious. As air purifiers, animal habitat, shade umbrellas and erosion-stoppers, trees are appreciated for their positive impacts on the environment. A tree’s contribution to angling is steeped in all of these qualities.

A tree, particularly a large streamside tree, creates a place where all fish want to be. Sprawling root systems that stretch into the water provide current breaks and attract insects, crayfish and baitfish and are a “must-check” when fishing for bass or walleye.

Fish, which do not have eyelids, seek shade on clear sunny days and will take any opportunity to shield themselves under a tree’s canopy. The shadow of a tree provides welcome relief from the midday sun and draws bass and bluegills in like a magnet.

Lakes such as Devils Lake with a lot of flooded trees provide endless fishing opportunities. This lone tree is on the edge of Doc Hagens island.

Lakes such as Devils Lake with a lot of flooded trees provide endless fishing opportunities. This lone tree is on the edge of Doc Hagen's island.

Perhaps the biggest benefit provided by a tree to fish, and in turn anglers, is the veritable buffet of bugs that can be found in the leaves of a stream or lakeside tree. Terrestrial insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and ants are often found exploring the smallest branches of a tree. Aquatic insects, like dragonflies, mayflies and caddisflies use shoreside trees as a resting place as they complete the transition from nymph to adult. All it takes is a breath of wind and many of these insects become the lunch of opportunistic trout or panfish lurking in the water beneath the branches.

After finding a shoreside tree, anglers need only explore the area in the water around it with jigs, Texas-rigged tubes, topwater lures and flies to target the fish that might lie below.

Life After Death

In the natural cycle, everything dies, but the impact of a riparian tree continues on long after it topples into the water.

The branches of a deadfall create an ideal habitat for fish. These large pieces of decomposing wood also construct the base of a perfect food web; bacteria and small organisms feed on the wood, larger organisms feed on them, insects feed in turn, becoming lunch for small fish, which end up in the bellies of big fish. Sunken or partially submerged wood is another spot which anglers must explore to locate fish. Not only does it provide cover, shade and an ambush spot, it sports its own buffet!

A prime example of this can be seen in the acres of flooded shelterbelts and tree plantings in Devils Lake. Many fish, in particular walleye, use this wood as shade for their extremely light-sensitive eyes and ambush and feed on unwitting baitfish and other prey such as scuds and leeches attracted to the area. Fish the area with crankbaits, jigs and float rigs with minnows or leeches to take advantage of the structure.

Recognizing the value of sunken trees, many outdoors groups and individuals (with the permission of state water and game and fish departments where required) create sunken tree reefs and brushpiles for all the reasons mentioned. Baitfish such as minnows and gamefish like crappie, bluegill, bass will flock to these structures. Locating such a reef is a real find and is worth a marker on the GPS or the lake map.

Using jigs and small spinnerbaits such as the Beetle Spin, anglers can locate crappies suspended around or hiding in the branches, and bass are notorious for tucking themselves into the nooks and crannies after a cold front passes. Tree reefs make for great year-round fishing.

Outside of the occasional snag, trees are some of the top pieces of structure anglers should key in on throughout the openwater season. They can make for some lovely fishing…in our outdoors.


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