Georgia anglers plant 2,000 water willows in West Point

LAGRANGE, Ga. — Anglers are hopeful that a habitat project initiated and coordinated by the Georgia B.A.S.S. Nation (GBN) will improve the largemouth bass fishery on West Point Lake.

“It was great for me and my team to be a part of such an effort,” said Jake Mims, a member of the Chapel Hill High School fishing team. “We’re hoping the water willow will do well here and I can look back and say I helped start it.

“I hear people talking about how great the fishing was back in the ’80s. Maybe this is the first step to making it great again.”

During a long day in mid-August, about 40 volunteers from four GBN clubs, six high schools, and the University of West Georgia transported and planted 2,000 water willows in pre-selected areas, including Yellow Jacket, Jackson and Whitewater creeks. The effort was financed by a grant from the Shimano/B.A.S.S. Youth Conservation Initiative.

Tony Beck, Georgia’s conservation director, said the habitat is needed to help largemouth survive predation from an expanding population of smaller but more aggressive spotted bass.

“Largemouth bass spend much of their first year in less than 5 feet of water,” he explained. “If they are spending that time on a bare bank with no habitat, the chances of them surviving go way down.

“If they can spend that time in a water willow grass bed, they have a good chance of surviving to 6 to 8 inches and recruiting into the population.”

With guidance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the volunteers planted the willows in the backs of pockets with sandy substrate and protection from boat traffic. “This ensures that the plants would not be washed out before they have time to establish roots,” Beck said.

“We planted in various depths, just in case there was a sudden rise or fall of water. We planted out as deep as we could reach, which is about 2 feet, to as shallow as about a foot.”

The Lake Oconee Bassmasters grew the willows from cuttings taken from plants that the club helped establish in Lake Oconee six years ago.

Club members spent two days cutting and potting, and high school anglers also assisted on the day before a tournament at Lake Sinclair.

“It takes about three months from the time the cutting is potted to the time it is ready to be planted in the reservoir,” Beck said. “During that time, a lot of hours are spent keeping them alive. I would say we have well more than 300 man-hours of work in this project.”