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Christmas trees: More for fishermen, than for fish

Christmas trees outside can provide bird cover, then be converted to fish cover when sunk, though that is generally more fish attractor than cover.Credit: Dale Bowman

Sparrows and other small birds began sheltering in our Christmas tree almost as I set it up on our porch the second Saturday in December.

By the time my wife hung lights on it, as many as a dozen were using it as cover from the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk, which marauds our bird feeders and the neighbors’.

Christmas trees have many uses after its ceremonial one. At the minimum, I hope people take them this weekend or next to their park district or forest preserve to be mulched.

Some of us have our own uses for the holiday evergreens.

When we were first married, my wife and I bought live trees, then I transplanted them.

In recent years, I take our cut Christmas tree and put it in the vicinity of our bird feeders as cover. This year, because we set up the tree on our porch, it already served that purpose. I will leave it serve that purpose until I get up the gumption to put the tree in its final resting place, a gifted spot.

I like to fish. Sunken anchored Christmas trees make great cover, well, more like make great fish attractors.

As a conservationist, I like to think that the sunken Christmas trees make cover, which helps fish populations; but the reality is that they are primarily helping me as a fisherman because they attract fish and I have the spots marked. Ergo, my own private fishing spots.

Brian Schoenung, chief fisheries biologist for the Indiana DNR, nailed that distinction last week when he said, “Fish attractors tend to bring fish and fishermen together. They provide cover but don’t necessarily grow more fish.”

When I asked him to expound on it, he emailed, “For a variety of reasons, recycled Christmas trees are a poor choice for this type of program. The primary reason is that Christmas trees are soft wood so they have a short 3-5 year life span compared to hardwoods which can last 20 years or more.”

Ken Clodfelter, who retired Thursday as a district fisheries biologist after 28 years in northwestern Illinois, agreed that Christmas trees deteriorate so fast that they only have a short life as cover.

“And they get algae around them and fish have a hard time moving through them,” Clodfelter said. “I like a hardwood limb, they last for years and years. And those limbs are far enough apart for the fish to be able to swim easily between them.”

He said the best thing he has found is pallets with hardwood limbs shoved in all different directions anchored by a rock pile on the bottom.

“The fish can go in and out, then they can last for 20 years,” he said. “But if you have a lake with no structure in it, any kind of structure will benefit the lake.”

For those of us who choose to sink Christmas trees, we anchor them with some combination of wire, rope, bricks and/or cement blocks.

On private waters, go wild. On public waters, permission or permits are formally needed.

I think of it as Christmas trees shining on.

This subdivision just off Interstate 57 south of Chicago took sinking Christmas trees for cover to an extreme several winters back.

Credit: Dale Bowman