End of the Beginning


End of the Beginning

Private Lake at a Crossroads Shows Its Age

1st of a Series

By Mark S. McDonald

Pond Boss Founder



Ransom Canyon, Texas -- Just outside the Nowhere city limits, jackrabbits race tumbleweeds across a dusty escarpment the locals call the Caprock. Or, just “Cap,” if you’re talking to a cowhand. If he will talk at all.

  This country was once a vast inland sea that stretched from what is now Nebraska to the Gulf of Mexico. Time has baked the landscape into a cactus-mesquite tortilla – hold the salsa, please – and the plants stay short to duck the wind.

            This place on Texas’ South Plains has a certain honesty to her. What you see is what you get. But if you don’t respect her, she will burn your hide to a crisp.

            Residents in nearby Lubbock claim that with a naked eye, when dust devils die down, they can see all the way to Dallas. Not true. Total exaggeration: It takes binoculars to see past Fort Worth. Imagine, then, driving along the Cap and running face-first into the jolting sight of an ocean.  

            To the thirsty, and the hush puppie hound, Ransom Canyon Lake’s rippling surface looks like a mirage. Erase the homes surrounding these private waters, and 200 feet below the rim rock, you could find a pondmeister’s Disneyland. Again, not quite true.

            Ransom Canyon Lake – as with any 55-year-old waterbody – suffers from varicose veins and memory loss. Showing its age, the fishery has reached the point even old-timers can hardly remember when fishing was good.

            Can we do anything about it? The Lake Ransom Canyon Habitat Conservation group is asking.

            Enter the Pond Boss, with electro-shocking boat in tow. For answers, lakeside residents have called the bullpen for fisheries biologist Bob Lusk. The newest member of the American Fisheries Society Hall of Excellence, and the very face of American pond management has arrived to put the lake on the examination table.

            With a water sample already in the data bank and probing the lake with the electro-shocking gear, Lusk is capturing fish, weighing and measuring them, then compiling the data for study and a detailed analysis. Preliminary prognosis: Sorry, gang, but your fishing sucks.

            But they already knew that.

            Like so many, this lake suffers from a natural occurring build-up of nutrients, a near-terminal condition scientists call eutrophication. Over time, a pond or lake fills with silt and organic matter. Which ruins shallow-water spawning habitat. Which ruins the food chain. Which hampers the pond’s capability of supporting gamefish such as largemouth. Which makes the pond bottom … and the fishing … stink.

            In Ransom Canyon, there are so many adult rough fish – gizzard shad and carp – there are not enough adult predator fish to control their numbers. As Lusk worked the shallows with the shocker boat, there seemed to be a cluster of carp under every cattail. Lusk, in his consulting travels nationwide, sees this death spiral all too often.

            “A pond or lake starts dying the day it is born,” Lusk says. “The way Mother Nature works, even a brand-new lake begins a long, slow decline. It is the natural order. From Day 1, a pond or lake is on its death bed.”

            What might lake residents do? Could a pondmeister anywhere reverse this process in his/her own private waterbody?

            Answer: Yes, says Lusk. He outlines the escape route like so:

            (*) Change the habitat – Build gravel beds to boost shallow-water bluegill spawning habitat. Buy ready-made habitat from manufacturers. Use discarded materials to create reefs that may be sunk at varied depths. Dredge the bottom to scrape out its thick coating of pudding-like silt.

            Drawback: It costs money, and it may be only part of the solution.

            (*) Change the fish population – The key here is removing carp and gizzard shad. Conservation group members could host carp derbies for kids. They could rent an electro-shocking boat, to scoop and remove rough fish. With planning and manpower, the group could bait a shallow cove, surround the undesirables with a net and pull them from the lake.

            Drawback: Depending on their choices, these techniques require manpower and repeat efforts. One carp rodeo, no matter how intensive, will not do the trick. What do you do with literally tons of carp, just let them rot in the sun?

            (*) Change the water – In the most aggressive move, residents could drain the lake and start over, restocking with selected species in proper numbers.

“Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.” – Mark Twain

            Drawback: Go ahead. Empty a 96-acre reservoir, in arid West Texas. All you need then is extra ammo, because you have just started a civil war. Local lawyers will be the big winners.

            All signs here point toward an impending public debate, right after the dirt clod fight. The path may not come clear until 2021, or later. One lake resident, who asked not to be identified, says, “We’ve got some real studying to do.”

            Maybe your pond has similar challenges. If so, what would you do?










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