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DNR continues crib project on Cedar Lake

Volunteers line up the lumber for a fish crib.1 / 2
Marty Engel, of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, oversees construction of the fish cribs on Cedar Lake on Saturday.2 / 2

It's a cold crisp Saturday morning in mid-January and the ice off the north boat landing on Cedar Lake is alive with the sounds of chain saws and Bobcats.

On the horizon, shantytowns harbor diehard fishermen trying their luck through 16 inches of ice. However, the largest and loudest population on the ice this morning consists of volunteers from Star Prairie Fish & Game and the Cedar Lake Management District, along with concerned local anglers, who are working together with staff from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources constructing 45 new fish cribs.

John Bush, a volunteer from SPF&G, sits behind the wheel of a four wheeler waiting for a crew of his fellow volunteers to position one of the completed cribs on his sled. His job is to tow cribs to one of three staging areas located on the south end of the lake.

Wearing a fashionable blue hardhat and bright green safety vest, Barbara Scott with the DNR props herself up against several rods of rebar.

Surrounding her are numerous cribs in various stages of completion. They look like miniature log houses with no roofs stuffed full of brush and tree branches.

Scott explains part of the process; The logs are placed on top of each other leaving about an eight-inch gap between each layer.

"Once the logs are in place, we bend the tops of the rebar over to hold it all together," Scott said. "Then we place branches in between the layers to create the fish habitat. After the cribs have been towed into place, we tie cinder blocks on top to prevent them from moving once they sink."

The cribs will sit in place out on the ice until spring thaw. As the ice melts, the cribs slowly settle into place at the bottom of the lake.

Fish techs from the DNR were out on the lake in the fall determining the precise locations where the cribs would be located.

Daryl Berg, with a pipe in hand, is hard at work bending rebar. Besides being a self-appointed "log loader and brush builder," Berg is a local fisherman who makes time to help with this project because he "cares about the fish habitat."

Marty Engel is a biologist with the DNR's Lower Chippewa and Central Wisconsin Fisheries Team. He operates out of the DNR office in Baldwin and this morning he's in charge of making sure the cribs are correctly constructed and delivered to the correct locations. The plan is to sink up to 500 cribs throughout Cedar Lake over the course of the next 10 to 20 years.

"Cedar Lake is clear enough to grow weeds in the spring, but by around June 15th, the algae begins to come on strong. When the lights go out, the plants don't grow," Engel said. "By mid-July the weeds are starting to die back and by August they've all but died off. Cribs are one way to create alternate habitat in green lakes."

Creating log cribs provides a place for fish to migrate to when the weeds die off. According to Engel, the center of the cribs provides cover for smaller fish like bluegills, perch and crappies, while the extended branches on the perimeter provide hunting areas for larger species like northern pike, walleyes and muskies.

"Once they go through the ice, fish will gravitate to them instantaneously," he said.

The results of the project have been promising.

"There wasn't a lot of good pan fishing on this lake 10 years ago," Engel recalls, "But now you can tell the results just by seeing the number of ice shacks out on the lake and talking with the people."

Ever wonder why all the shacks seem to congregate in just a few areas on the lake? Individual cribs are installed in "colonies" to mimic habitat like a weed bed.

By the end of the day, Cedar Lake will be home to numerous colonies consisting of 325 individual cribs. The fish, both predator and prey, move to where the colonies are. The fishermen follow the fish resulting in a landscape of shantytowns right on top of the cribs.

Marty reports that the DNR working in conjunction with several other volunteer groups, including students from Somerset High School, is starting crib construction initiatives on two other local lakes, Bass and Glen. In addition to the winter crib construction programs, the DNR will also be creating "near-shore" structure on Bass Lake once the water opens up by dragging 80 oak trees out into the lake so that the crowns of the trees rest in about eight feet of water.