Giving cover to Berlin

Rarely do I truly feel my age, but after a few hours of watching 20-somethings lug concrete cinder blocks and Christmas trees, I gained a new appreciation for the way things used to be.

Used to be I could do manual labor from sun-up to dusk. Used to be I could cut my grass and not break a sweat. Used to be I could spade my tomato patch and not have screaming muscles for the next three days.

And it used to be the bottom of Berlin was studded with stumps and stuff that provided great cover for bass, crappies, bluegills, muskies and walleyes.

But like the flexibility in my joints, Berlin’s woody cover has deteriorated.

Restoration, therefore, was the order of the day last Sunday as members of the Youngstown State University bass fishing team and Youngstown-based Mohawk Valley Bass Club gathered in the Mill Creek Campground. I was among them.

All avid bass tournament competitors, the 20 volunteers took direction from Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists Matt Wolfe, Dan Wright and Phil Hillman as they explained the process of creating a fish cover brush pile out of discarded Christmas trees, concrete blocks and nylon rope.

If you’ve traveled across the U.S. 224 causeway at Berlin or boated the beautiful reservoir’s bays and creeks, you have seen the results of previous year’s brush plantings.

The brush is deposited during winter drawdown on flats and points that the biologists judge to be places where game species will swim when Berlin is full of water. In late winter and early spring, when the lake level rises due to snow melt and rain, the brush floods and fish soon move in.

If the trees were simply dragged and dropped, the rising water would float the wood and the trees would litter the lake in areas where they are unwanted or where fish don’t typically live.

Wolfe, Wright and Hillman demonstrated how to secure three to four Christmas trees to a pair of heavy blocks. As in anything that is worth building, there is a certain technique that yields better results. Above everything, they counseled, make sure the knots are tight so the trees don’t float away.

The YSU tournament team and the Mohawk club members all picked it up pretty quickly, and the cover building project quickly morphed from bare slate and clay bank to a green acre of Christmas tree-festooned goodness. The trees were collected by the Mahoning County Green Team.

The work completed, the YSU team led by president Jared Latone and Mohawk club led by president Kevin Hartill posed with the Division of Wildlife biologists for photos. Everybody felt pride about converting discarded trees that would have gone to a landfill into an extended life as fish cover before they ultimately release their carbon for whatever form it will take in the future.

The group also felt the satisfaction that comes when muscles are sore because of good work. We had lugged tons of materials – several hundred trees and nearly 200 blocks – from Bedell Road to the lake’s edge.

The young men of the YSU club reminded me of exuberant puppies rough-necking in the backyard. They scampered with load after load, while us older guys took a few turns making the several-hundred-yard trek from the road to the lake’s edge, then settled down to the more sedentary task of tying the brush to the anchors.

Together, the young guns and the more experienced guys helped bring back to Berlin the kind of cover that used to be.

Everyone was happy at the accomplishment, including the fish. You could almost hear them out under the ice making reservations for their new pine condos.

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