A double dose of habitat improvements

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The 2019-2020 Clarks Hill Youth Fishing Team.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Clarks Hill Lake on the Georgia-South Carolina border is getting a double dose of habitat improvements, courtesy of two youth fishing teams and grant support from AFTCO, a B.A.S.S. sponsor.

For example, this spring, members of the Greenbrier High School Fishing team will help the Corps of Engineers to take cuttings of water willow already established in the fishery also known as Lake Strom Thurmond.

"We will plant those cuttings in pots so they can grow and eventually be transplanted back into Clarks Hill Lake," explained Sue Blumling, team manager.

“These plants provide great fish habitat for juvenile and adult fish and good erosion control,” added Chris Nelson, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR).

Meanwhile, the Clarks Hill Youth Fishing Team, their parents, and other volunteers have placed both Christmas tree bundles and fabricated structures at several locations. The latter was made mostly from concrete, bamboo and irrigation tubing.

"It was not a minute after we posted the anglers putting out the habitats on our social media page that several local anglers and opposing team members wanted to know the coordinates," said Christy Gonsalves, manager of the team. "It was as if we had dropped gold bars in the lake. It was funny.

"Afterwards I made a spreadsheet of all the habitat locations and information," she added. "We will continue to gather data from these habitats and see where that information leads these young anglers."

Those are but two of the seven B.A.S.S. Nation conservation projects receiving a portion of the more than $25,000 that AFTCO has contributed since it initiated the grant program in 2018.

"With a long history of supporting conservation efforts by donating 10% of company profits through our 10% Pledge, AFTCO continued that tradition with the AFTCO x B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Grants," the California family-owned business said. "As part of our entrance into the bass fishing clothing world after 60 years of focusing on saltwater, AFTCO was pleased to partner with B.A.S.S.

"The program was designed to support local B.A.S.S. Nation conservation grants in their efforts to improve bass habitats and fisheries."

While the two Georgia fishing teams received funds in 2019, the Virginia B.A.S.S. Nation received $5,000 in 2018 to help with a massive collaborative effort to grow and plant water celery (eel grass) and other native grasses. Partners include the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Tech, Friends of Claytor Lake, New River Valley Conservancy and others.

"This is an ongoing project and this grant was used to expand the project on how to grow native aquatic grass in high volume for use in multiple bodies of water in Virginia," said Joan Blankenship, long-time state conservation director.

Blankenship added that the project has been promoted in public schools and colleges and at community events "to emphasize the need for native grass fish habitat. Social media has been essential for promoting the project and educating anglers who still feel that the solution for a healthy fishery is to add more fish."

The Greenbrier fishing team also incorporated conservation education as a part of its habitat improvement strategy for Clarks Hill. Last September, it invited students in grades 3 through 8 for its second annual Kids Conservation Day at Clarks Hill Marina in Appling, Ga.

Along with learning about the water willow project, about 65 attendees also received instruction in how to cast and tie knots, as well as boating and life jacket safety. The Corps and GDNR participated. The day ended with team members assisting the Corps in planting water willows.

AFTCO-sponsored conservation projects in Connecticut, Michigan, New Mexico and Tennessee will be featured in an upcoming article.