A small group of volunteers watched from a pier at the Izaak Walton League in Griffith as a fishing boat began to take on water.
As two other boats navigated around the sinking boat, onlookers from the water’s edge tried to see what was happening.
“It’s finally sinking,” someone in the crowd cheered. Submerging the boat was intentional, and just one of numerous structures sunk in each of the three lakes at the facility in an effort to establish habitat and improve conditions for fish in the lakes.
Alice Butterfield, of Lynwood, Ill., a lake chair for the club, said the work Saturday stems from a small grant that allowed members to conduct a lake audit of the three lakes on the property with electrofishing to establish just what kind of fish and habitat exists. Electrofishing is a scientific survey method used to sample fish populations and determine the number, density and species composition in a body of water, officials said.
Butterfield said during the process the league learned the lake near the entrance to the property was devoid of the natural habitat necessary to sustain a strong fish population. So along with the abandoned fishing boat, volunteers sunk old Christmas trees and other structures to create a habitat conducive to catfish, and in a couple years, trout, she said.
“This is all volunteer and all the stuff was made from what we had,” Butterfield said. Volunteers worked to repurpose items including pallets, cement blocks, PVC piping and even garden hoses to create the sinkable habitats.
Tony Irvin, of Griffith, who has been a member of the league for 35 years, built many of the structures from the reclaimed materials.
“The fish need a place to hide, trap minnows and hunt minnows. There is no structure in this lake for that,” he said.
Once the habitat is placed, the league plans to stock the lake with 1,000 blue gill, 1,000 catfish and 20 pounds of flat head minnows. At a second lake on the property plans call for removing the pickerel, carp and bull fish and stocking it with catfish, bass and crappie.
The work is part of a three-year plan for the lakes.
“Each lake is very different,” Butterfield said. The last lake on the property, the one closest to the Cady Marsh Ditch, is home to at least 17 different species of fish, she said. River fish find their way from the ditch into the lake during times of heavy flooding, like what occurred in 2008, she said.
Bass Pro Shops donated two commercial devices for the back lake to provide the crappie habitat. The store also donated two sets of walkie talkies to the league for use on the property during their fishing tournaments and events. Tina Witham, promotions and events lead, and Chris Takach, the assistant general manager at the Portage location, where on hand to help assemble the habitats and watch the club’s progress.
“We do a lot with Izaak Walton because they are all about conservation and preservation,” Witham said. The store also helps with the various youth fishing tournaments and events conducted at the league throughout the year.
Club newcomers Jeff Jenkins, of Highland, and Jose Santos, of East Chicago, were using the experience to put in volunteer hours, one of the requirements of being a club member.
“I think this is great,” Jenkins said, adding the two men were just talking about what the new sunken habitat would mean for their future fishing trips.
“We just got to remember the spot,” he said.