The Table Rock Lake NFHI project builds upon a long-standing public/private partnership in southwest Missouri to improve and restore fish habitat in Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo and their watersheds through cover augmentation, watershed management and other water quality-related projects. The MDC, NFWF, BPS, AGFC, USACE, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwestern Power Administration, TRLWQ, various non-government organizations, angler groups and private citizens all worked cooperatively to ensure the success of this project. The NFHI project was an excellent opportunity to proactively maintain and enhance fish habitat in and around four of the Midwest’s most popular sport fisheries and has proven to be a national example of sustaining and improving reservoir sport fish populations through large-scale habitat improvements. The work proposed in the Missouri White River Reservoirs Fish Habitat Project will continue to build on the successes of the NFHI project.
In 2007, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), in cooperation with Bass Pro Shops (BPS), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Table Rock Lake Water Quality Inc. (TRLWQ) and many other partners began the National Fish Habitat Initiative (NFHI) project to sustain and improve the degrading physical habitat within Table Rock Lake. The project began in October 2007 and continued through December 2013 with funding totaling four million dollars. Primary funding for the NFHI project came from Bass Pro Shops, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Missouri Department of Conservation. During this timeframe, a total of 2,024 fish habitat structures were installed in Table Rock Lake; including 1,797 brush structures, 114 rock piles, 76 stump fields, 11 rock and stump combination structures and 26 shallow water rock fence structures. These structure locations were recorded by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology and are available to the public on the MDC website.
In addition to Table Rock Lake, from 2016-2018, 193 brush piles were installed in Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake utilizing NFHI funding. Biologists utilized techniques acquired from the Table Rock Lake NFHI project to implement improvements on Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake. Staff built large fish habitat structures that spanned a range of depths which are more likely to hold fish year-round. Biologists also conducted SCUBA surveys to assess how fish utilized the newly created fish habitat structures. Creating each structure by varying the tree depths within a single brush pile made these structures suitable for fish throughout the year and during water level fluctuations. Biologists noted multiple species of fish utilizing the structures, including mature and young-of-year crappie, mature and young-of-year bluegill, mature and young-of-year bass, Walleye, and baitfish. Since project completion in 2018, researchers have evaluated these structures and have reported that at least 28 need some maintenance, or trees added, to increase longevity and to be fully utilized during water level fluctuations.
The MDC, in conjunction with the James River Basin Partnership and TRLWQ, implemented a program to improve water quality throughout Table Rock Lake as a part of the NFHI project as well. Over 2,000 septic tank pumpouts were completed equating to a potential reduction of two million gallons of septic effluent entering the Table Rock Lake watershed and helping to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the lake by 550 pounds per year. The program also offered educational packets to each participating landowner to increase their knowledge of the benefits of properly maintaining their septic systems. Due to the successes of this program in the Table Rock Lake watershed during the NFHI project, this program has since been expanded to include the watersheds of Lake Taneycomo and Bull Shoals Lake as well.
To reduce the amount of sediment transferred from the watershed to Table Rock Lake, MDC also worked with landowners to provide a cost share program to stabilize highly eroding streambanks. A total of eight (8) cost-share projects were completed in the Table Rock Lake watershed. This aspect of the NFHI project offered a cost share incentive of up to 95 percent to the landowners and were designed and built with the most effective techniques to stop erosion. Approximately 3,610 linear feet of streambank were stabilized, and many more acres of riparian corridor were established. Habitat improvements were also completed in the upper portion of Lake Taneycomo. Much of the habitat in the upper sections of Lake Taneycomo is comprised of homogenous gravel substrate. Boulder clusters were installed in the upper mile of Lake Taneycomo to add diversity of habitat to the lake, create improved feeding areas for trout and other species of fish and increase angling opportunities in Lake Taneycomo.
The NFHI project provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of habitat structures that were installed in Table Rock Lake. Four different evaluation techniques to determine fish and angler use of the habitat structures began in 2009. Electrofishing surveys of habitat treated coves showed that fish can be attracted locally to habitat structures for spawning, but habitat structures are not likely to congregate fish from other areas of the lake. SCUBA surveys of bass and crappie species were conducted on five of the main types of structures installed in Table Rock Lake (hardwood trees, cedar trees, pine trees, stump fields and rock piles). During these surveys, Largemouth Bass were observed on all of the structure types and observed most often on hardwood structures. Crappie species were observed on all structure types except rock piles and most often on cedar trees. Radio biotelemetry of Largemouth Bass in the Kings River Arm of Table Rock Lake showed that the chances of fish using installed habitat structures were equal to or greater than the chances of fish utilizing natural habitat types. Finally, two types of angler surveys were utilized to determine angler use and opinions of installed habitat structures in Table Rock Lake. A roving-roving creel survey was used to determine if angler catch rates were improved as a result of habitat placement, as well as to assess angler opinions of the habitat project. A web-based survey was also conducted to determine opinions from the general angling public about the installed habitat structures and the NFHI project. The information gained through both surveys indicated anglers do support installation of habitat structures in Table Rock Lake and also believe that the installed habitat structures in the lake improved their fishing. This combination of information was used to determine that the habitat structures installed in Table Rock Lake generally employed the most effective techniques and materials for fish and angler use.
This project will build upon previous work conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation in cooperation with Bass Pro Shops wherein over 2,200 fish habitat structures were placed in Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake from 2007-2018.
On Bull Shoals Lake, bass tournament anglers have contacted biologists to report that they have succeeded in competitions by targeting newly created fish habitat structures. Crappie anglers have also utilized the structures and experienced great success. Many of the habitat structures installed during the NFHI project are beginning to deteriorate due to age. This project will replenish and rebuild many of those habitat structures to ensure they remain viable as fish attractors and continue to provide benefit to anglers in the form of increased angler catch rates.
This project will replenish 645 brushpiles on Table Rock Lake and 35 brushpiles on Bull Shoals Lake to ensure they remain viable as fish attractors for anglers as well as serve as nursery habitats for sportfish recruitment in aging reservoirs where littoral habitat is degrading.