A Trim and a Tuck!

Remember the "Beverly Hillbillies"TV show with Jed, Granny, Ellie May, and Jethro? Remember their swimming pool, the "cee-ment pond," in their backyard?

Many people think that all urban lakes are not much more than "cee-ment ponds"-- concrete lined and devoid of fish. Thanks to lake improvement projects conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation, however, St. Louis lakes are becoming prime fishing holes, full of habitat for fish and amenities for anglers.

St. Louis park lakes are very popular among area residents. Each year, anglers log more than 2,800 hours of fishing per acre of water on these lakes. That's 15 times more fishing attention per acre than at Lake of the Ozarks, which is considered by many to be Missouri's busiest lake.

Some lakes offer good year-round fishing for bass, sunfish and catfish, but many do not have adequate habitat to allow fish to survive and successfully spawn. Others have poor access for disabled anglers. Lake renovations are remedying these deficiencies. Like renovating an old house to improve living conditions for people, lake renovations remodel lake habitat to improve conditions for fish and fishing for anglers.

In 1993, the Conservation Department entered into cooperative agreements with agencies in St. Louis City, Ferguson, Ballwin, Overland, Bridgeton, Kirkwood and St. Louis County to improve 27 park lakes. The Conservation Department pledged more than $2 million to deepen and aerate lakes, stabilize lake banks, and provide disabled-angler docks, trails and parking facilities. Several renovation projects have already been completed at Carondelet, Willmore, Tilles, Spanish Lake, O'Fallon, Suson, January-Wabash, Wild Acres, Veteran's Memorial, Bellefontaine, Forest and Queeny parks.

Typical lake renovations involve several steps. First, the lakes are drained and allowed to dry. Draining and drying, which takes about three months, begins in September. Fish stocking is normally discontinued one month before draining. Emergency fish salvages allow anglers to remove most of the lake's fish prior to complete draining.

After a lake dries, Conservation Department crews deepen it with excavating equipment. Holes ranging from 8-10 feet deep are created in the middle of the lake. The deeper water helps eliminate winter and summer fish kills that currently knock down fish populations at several lakes. Away from the shoreline, the water deepens gradually, allowing plenty of shallow water habitat. Rock or brush structures are added near deep water to create fish habitat.

Aeration is added to most lakes to help prevent fish kills due to low oxygen levels and improve survival rates of stocked fish. A small, land-based compressor and several underwater lines transport air to diffusers that infuse bubbles of oxygen into the lake.

Disabled-angler fishing platforms or docks, with accompanying trails and parking, are being constructed at each lake. These concrete platforms or floating docks extend into the lake, making it easier for anglers who are disabled to fish deep water. The parking areas and connecting trails allow for easy access.

If everything goes according to schedule, a lake renovation can be completed within six months. The lakes are then refilled and restocked with fish.

After a lake improvement project, the Conservation Department usually stocks the lake with largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish. These fish should be able to establish naturally reproducing populations and provide good fishing without additional stocking. As part of the Urban Fishing Program, some lakes receive supplemental stockings of carp or channel catfish twice a month from April through October. Rainbow trout are stocked at selected lakes during the winter.

Although a lake renovation temporarily inconveniences anglers, there are usually enough nearby fishing opportunities in the St. Louis area where anglers can wet a line. More information on St. Louis fishing lakes can be obtained by calling the Missouri Department of Conservation ((636) 441-4554) and asking for the "Fish St. Louis" brochure or visit on the web.

Ultimately, the renovation of St. Louis lakes will provide much better fishing, improved disabled-angler access and, in many cases, more species of fish to catch. That's more than you would ever find at Uncle Jed's "cee-ment pond."