Recycle Christmas Trees as Fish Habitat

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Sinking brush to create fish habitat is an endeavor many anglers undertake to develop their own secret spots. Christmas trees make great brush piles and in the days after holidays, truckloads of them are easy to come by.

I grew up on a lake in a large subdivision. My grandpa and uncle were easily two of the best fishermen who were regulars on the water. But it wasn’t because they used special techniques or had superior equipment. It was because they spent weekends in the winter developing large brush piles mostly made up of old Christmas trees that produced fish all year long.

For weeks after Christmas, we would spend our evenings driving around the subdivision with a flatbed trailer behind my uncle’s van, garbage picking trees from the end of driveways until we couldn’t squeeze another on the trailer. Then we would take them back to his garage, where we’d prepare them for sinking.

There were two ways we’d prepare the trees to be sunk. Most often, we’d work on lashing a dozen or so together into a large wad. Then we’d wrap a chain all the way around them and run it through a couple of cinder blocks. The other way we prepared individual trees was to put the bottom in a small bucket and fill it with concrete. We used a lot of one-gallon ice cream tubs for the buckets.

Our favorite places to place the brush was in front of docks in deep water and along drop-offs. To place the Christmas trees, we used a large pontoon boat. This was before the days of GPS, so we kept a paper map updated with all of our brush piles. We usually sank the big piles in open water, and would sink a half-dozen or so single trees in front of and along the sides of docks.

While individuals like my uncle do their best to keep their brush sinking missions a secret, the Missouri Department of Conservation is using the same technique to build fish habitat for all public fishermen.

“A lot of lakes we work with are manmade and there’s not much fish cover in them, so we have to figure out how to put fish habitat in those lakes,” said Kevin Meneau, MDC Fisheries Management Biologist. “Christmas trees are one of the best ways to do that in winter.”

According to Meneau, the trees provide woody cover that makes excellent habitat for invertebrates. These are an ideal food source for smaller fish, which draws them in like a magnet. This in turn brings in bigger fish and creates a situation that gives a boost to the lake’s entire food chain.

“They also help young fish,” Meneau added, “because when the adults spawn their young can hide in those trees.”

Sinking brush to attract fish is no secret. A lot of people do it in front of their own docks. But not a lot of people go through all the effort to create exceptional habitat around an entire lake. Doing so gives you a great advantage when fishing through the seasons.

Many of my greatest outdoor memories stem from preparation activities. It’s not always about catching the fish or shooting deer, but what you did to make the opportunity happen that really sticks with. For the rest of my life, I’ll remember how excited my family would be while gathering our annual allotment of used Christmas trees. And how much we enjoyed the fish fries our efforts resulted in.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler


Read some trout fishing tips and tricks for your next winter excursion.


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