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Invasive plants can cause many problems

When it comes to aquatic vegetation, some varieties are decidedly more worthy of anglers’ attention.

This summer provides proof positive that some of the weeds in your favorite lake will attract game fish and others are best left unfished.

Mosquito and Pymatuning reservoirs are two of our region’s best producers of walleyes, bass, crappies and yellow perch. Both are better today than they were 25 years ago thanks to an abundance of greenery growing up off their sandy bottoms.

The vegetation is great cover for the small fry in the aquatic food chain and thus is highly attractive to the game- and pan-fish that are popular with Ohio and Pennsylvania anglers.

But a relatively new variety of grass is taking root in some of our waters and it’s choking out the plants that bass, crappies and other fish prefer.

The invader is bushy pondweed, also known as southern naiad. If you’ve fished Mosquito, you’ve no doubt encountered the stuff. It grows thick and stringy and can easily stop the prop on an electric trolling motor.

Bushy pondweed seems to be outcompeting coontail, curly-leaf pondweed and other more desirable grasses in several of our local waterways, thus replacing the fish-holding vegetation with weeds that do not seem to be attractive to game species.

All of this means that fishers are best advised to focus their efforts on the remaining areas where coontail, curly-leaf pondweed, milfoil and lily pads are still thriving.

The invasive species of grasses are always a threat to our local lakes. Anglers are more mobile today than in years past and often fish a half dozen or more lakes each summer. Each trip can result in aquatic vegetation hitch-hiking on trailers, outboard motors and hardware on our boats.

Then, when we launch the next time at a different lake, bits and pieces of species like southern naiad can drift down to the lake bottom and take root. Southern naiad is known to spread easily via “fragmentation” — pieces broken from plants become established plants themselves.

Waterfowl also can help spread invasive species, as they transport pieces of plants in their feathers and then rinse them into the next lake on their daily fly pattern.

I have not seen much evidence of walleyes, bass and crappies living in and among bushy pondweed (southern naiad). I have noticed a few yellow perch, but apparently not enough to bring the bigger fish in to dine.

Grass carp, on the other hand, are known to love munching on the stringy naiad stalks and leaves. I suspect, however, that grass carp won’t be introduced in our reservoirs to eat the salad.

Vegetation tends to ebb and flow in our Ohio lakes. Some years are better than others when it comes to producing bumper crops of fish-holding grass. It is possible that the same cyclical pattern may emerge for bushy pondweed. Perhaps it has hit the peak of its cycle and we will see less of the annoying wiry grass next year.

In the meantime, anglers can play a role in controlling the spread. After a visit to a weedy lake, inspect your boat and trailer after pulling out. Pluck the grass that is on your trailer frame, axles, fenders, and the outboard and boat parts.

It’s also helpful to douse the boat and trailer with a vigorous hosing at home to dislodge grass that is stuck.

If we all do our part, we can give the grass that fish love a fighting chance in 2021.

Wollitz is a writer and angler who has witnessed the resurgence of the waters of Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania thanks to healthy growths of vegetation. He appreciates emails from readers at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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