Fisheries biologist Chad Menke deploys a catfish casa in a pond on Hoosier National Forest. (photo by USDA Forest Service)
Recycling Project Helps National Forest Catfish
By Keith “Catfish” Sutton
Anglers fishing the lakes of Hoosier National Forest may catch more catfish thanks to an innovative recycling project.
Hoosier National Forest near Bedford in the hills of south-central Indiana offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities for visitors. Fishing is one of the most popular pastimes in the 203,000-acre tract managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), with many anglers targeting catfish in waters like Deer Pond, Sundance Lake, Grouse Hollow Pond and German Ridge Pond. These waters and others receive regular stockings of channel catfish.
Federal fisheries biologist Chad Menke oversees much of the fish management work in the national forest, and as a member of the Hoosier National Forest Green Team, he’s always working to improve the sustainability of operations there. He’s a very innovative guy, and according to a press release posted by the USFS last month, when he heard that the Can-Clay Corporation in nearby Cannelton was trying to give away its excess stock of clay tile pipes, he knew just how to put them to good use.
Catfish require underwater cavities like hollow logs, muskrat holes and spaces beneath rocks in which to lay and guard their eggs. But suitable spawning cavities are in short supply in many ponds and lakes, and to maintain catfish populations, biologists must either restock the fish on a regular basis or provide artificial spawning habitat. At one time, old dairy milk cans were sunk in many waters to give catfish protected places in which to nest.
Menke figured the clay pipes would work just as well if not better than milk cans. All he had to do was figure out a way to close off one end of each 8- to 18-inch-diameter pipe. He did this using pieces of old metal signs no longer needed by one of his coworkers. The other end of each pipe was half enclosed with the same metal pieces, leaving a semi-circular entrance catfish could use to get inside.
Menke and his fellow workers dubbed the nesting structures “catfish casas” and started building and placing them in the national forest ponds. Because the casas are made of solid clay and metal, they quickly sink to the bottom where the fish spawn. Each pond receives different sizes of the casas to accommodate various sized catfish.
Students in an Indiana University ecosystem management class helped in building and distributing the casas, which not only offer nesting sites but provide important structure used by other fish and aquatic animals. Ongoing monitoring will determine whether or not the project is successful in boosting the number of catfish naturally with a reduced need for stocking.