BAMBOO CRAPPIE CONDOS
Lake Greeson is basically void of any natural habitat or cover, which is vital for newly hatched crappie and other species to survive to reproductive age and catchable size. Cover is especially important in our clear waters with stripers, catfish, walleye, bass, gar and other predators that seem to enjoy fresh crappie as much as I do.
We’ve discovered that Bamboo or "Giant Cane" is an excellent material for building fish habitat, also referred to as "Fish Attractors". We call them "Crappie Condos" because they make excellent cover for young crappie and other species to feed around and hide in while they grow up.
Fish can be caught on them within days of sinking and fish stay on them year around when they are in the right depth range. Hooks are much easier to pull out of bamboo than wood and it lasts much, much longer than most trees, especially the small, tight branches that provide cover for newly hatched game fish and the forage they feed on. Bamboo Crappie Condos that have been in the water for over 6-years are still providing cover and producing fish for us. After the leaves fall off there are still a lot of small branches that make excellent cover and moss and algae soon form on the stalks and branches providing additional cover and food for young fish and also insect larvae and crustaceans they feed on.
Crappie Condos also have open areas where larger crappie and other game fish can conceal themselves and ambush their prey from. Giant Cane is native and plentiful throughout the south where it is sometimes planted for property borders or screens and often spreads farther than desired. We’ve found several patches that folks are willing to let us cut back or even take it all. It grows back to usable size within a year so we have a steady supply.
Our goal is to provide crappie and other game fish with beneficial habitat that will accommodate their needs at all seasons and depth ranges, at all lake levels and through all stages of their lives. To accomplish this we make four different styles of Bamboo Crappie Condos and we’ve developed a system for each of them. We now have over 1,200 Bamboo Crappie Condos in Lake Greeson.
Bucket/Bamboo Crappie Condos
For these we use one five-gallon plastic bucket, 60-pounds of QuickCrete and about 20-freshly cut stalks of bamboo about 12-feet tall or only the top 12-feet of taller bamboo. The bushier the bamboo is the better and we leave the branches and leaves on. We don’t use any bamboo larger than about 1¼-inch in diameter where we cut it at the butt end because larger stalks take up too much room in the bucket and are too buoyant. We cut the bamboo down using a Commercial Brush Cutter (Weed Eater with a saw blade) and then cut it to length with bypass lopping shears just below a “knuckle”, which secures the stalks in the QuickCrete.
It's best to trim off any branches coming out of the bottom knuckle so they aren't taking up room in the bucket. We stack the bamboo on a boat trailer and secure it with ropes to haul it to our building site. Tying the Bamboo in bundles of about 20 stalks makes it faster and easier to transport and we can carry more on the trailer.
!!!CAUTION: Be careful around power lines. Bamboo is conductive so don't let it come in contact with overhead power lines while you are handling it!!!
The biggest problem we’ve had in building our tall condos is keeping them standing up until the QuickCrete sets, especially if there is any wind. In the past we used rebar driven in the ground around the buckets, secured with a piece of rope, which worked well but we also needed a tree or dock to secure the bamboo to for additional support. Now we're using re-usable jigs made from plastic culvert with 2 x 4 legs, which hold the buckets secure without any additional support while we build the condos. These work real well as long as we cut our bamboo no longer than 12-feet and we don't have a lot of wind.
We start with about 3-inches of water in the bottom of the bucket and have one person stir while another person pours in 60-pounds of QuickCrete. The trick is to keep stirring as the QuickCrete is poured in to mix it thoroughly and keep any dry QuickCrete from settling to the bottom. We're using 80-pound bags of QuickCrete so three bags is enough for four condos. We empty the bags of QuickCrete into buckets first so we can divide it up evenly and it also pours a lot better from a bucket since it has been loosened up.
We make the QuickCrete a little soupy and make sure it’s stirred all the way to the bottom of the bucket so we can get the bamboo all the way down. A small garden rake with a long handle works well for mixing the QuickCrete but a piece of stout bamboo about 4-feet long also works. Next we start putting the larger bamboo stalks in the bucket at an angle so the butt ends are at the bottom edge of the bucket and the stalks rest against the rim on the opposite side and work our way around the bucket.
Then we fill in the condo with the rest of the stalks spread out at different angles up to vertical. Here is a set of 8 completed condos. The concrete needs to set over night - longer in cool weather - before sinking the condos. The completed condos are lifted out of the jigs and loaded on a large pontoon boat with an open deck and taken to the area we want to sink them. We use a second boat with a mapping GPS/Sonar to select where we want a condo, mark the spot with a buoy marker and then come back and save a waypoint on the condo once it has been dropped.
There's no need to try to drop the condos straight because they go down like a parachute with the bucket at the bottom and stand up even on fairly steep slopes because the bamboo is buoyant. We put these condos at a variety of depths on points, drop-offs, on the inside bends of creek channels and in the deeper areas of coves that crappie spawn in.
Depending on the lake level we'll sink them in 15-feet of water (when the lake is very low) down to 50-feet of water (when the lake is high). We usually see a 15 to 20-foot variation in water level each year and depending on the time of year, we catch crappie in as shallow as two-feet of water and as deep as 45-feet of water.
For shallow water spawning habitat we use a variation of the Bucket/Bamboo Crappie Condo. Instead of spreading the bamboo evenly around the bucket we keep one side open except for one stout piece of bamboo with no limbs. When we're ready to drop the condo we lay it down and put a heavyweight concrete block over the piece of bamboo without limbs and tie it in place.
To deploy, we slide the bucket off the front of the barge first and then walk the block off the deck and lower it into the water as the barge is being backed out. The block keeps the condo from floating up and also helps keep an open area under the condo for crappie beds.
We place these condos in protected coves where they should be in 3 to 5-feet of water during the spawn, which is usually just below the buck brush at a level where there basically isn't any cover. The advantage of these condos over the Concrete Bock Mega-Mats and Lay-downs is that we don't have to wait until the water level is low to put them in the lake.
We're also trying these condos in fairly shallow areas where there's current at times. By placing the bucket upstream from the block we think the bucket will anchor into mud in the bottom and the bamboo will collapse in the current. We'll find out after the next flood.
Concrete Block and Bamboo Condos
We build three different styles of Bamboo Crappie Condos using heavyweight concrete blocks. The quickest and easiest is our Flat Mats. These are good for shallow areas and two people can build one on the front deck of a boat and sink it in just a few minutes once all the materials are ready and we’ve located the spot we want to place it.
Each Flat Mat takes two 8 x 8 x 16-inch heavyweight concrete blocks, about 3-feet of nylon rope and about 16 bushy stalks of freshly cut bamboo about 15 to 20-feet long. We start by tying the blocks together with one on top of the other and at right angles to each other.
With one person steadying the blocks and another person getting the bamboo we start inserting the bamboo through the blocks. Two stalks of bamboo are inserted through each hole in both blocks from both directions so that a third to a half of the stalk is sticking out the other side. Once assemble we just pick the Flat Mat up by the bamboo near the blocks and walk it off the front of the boat and let it sink. It helps to have a third person to properly position the boat and then have them back up slowly while we’re putting the condo in the water.
The end result is a cross about 20-feet across with four heads that come up about 5-feet off the bottom with open spaces in between. Once they've been in the water a while they'll settle and only come up 2 or 3-feet off the bottom. This is what they look like after they've been in the water a while and the lake level drops to expose them. These condos are placed in spawning coves in 3 to 5-feet of water depending on the lake level. They can be built in place if the lake goes down enough so the spawning areas are on dry ground but if we get the opportunity to work on dry ground we build our much more substantial Mega Mats and Lay-downs.
Our Mega Mats make much better spawning habitat than the Flat Mats because they have much more vertical cover and areas where crappie can get up under the bamboo. However they have to be built on dry ground when the lake is at it's lowest level, which is typically in the Fall and early Winter here. Mega Mats are placed where they should be in at least 3 to 5-feet of water in March when the crappie begin spawning and in as much as 8 to 12-feet of water by the end of April when the crappie tend to spawn deeper. Of course the water level depends on the amount of rainfall the area receives and how the water is used for generating electricity.
We select a fairly level area towards the back of a known spawning cove, preferably where there is at least two features nearby where the bottom changes depth like a hump, shallow point or ditches formed by runoff. We start by stacking four 8 x 8 x 16 heavyweight concrete blocks on top of each other in alternating directions and tying them together.
Then two stalks are inserted in each hole of the second block up about half-way through from opposite ends to make a cross similar to our Flat Mats. Two stalks are inserted from each direction in both holes of the third block up. Each butt-end of these stalks go into one of four additional "leg blocks" on the ground about six feet from the stacked blocks, which keeps the top end of the stalks suspended and gives the Mega Mat stability. The butt ends are inserted in the opposite hole of the "leg block" so the bamboo is crisscrossed, which helps spread the tops out and provides added stability.
The process is then repeated with the fourth block. With one person pushing the bamboo through the stacked blocks and another guiding the butt ends into the leg blocks they go together very quickly. With 4-stalksin the second block and eight stalks in each of the third and fourth blocks ittakes twenty stalks of bamboo and eight blocks to build a Mega Mat. This makes a condo about 5-feet tall that covers an area of about 500-square feet or a total of about 2,500 cubic feet of cover!
When the lake level rises to cover the condo the bamboo will float up making it more open with more space underneath. These provide excellent, open cover for crappie to get under and around for spawning as well as dense cover for the fry to hide in when they come off the beds.
The third style of block/bamboo habitat is intended to replicate a "lay-down" tree - a tree that has fallen off the bank with the top of the tree laying down the bank in the water. Crappie and other species use lay-downs in the backs of coves for spawning cover and newly hatched fry use them for cover when they come off the beds. Mature crappie use lay-downs in creek channels as staging beds on their way too and from their spawning areas and young crappie use them for cover as they work their way back down the creek arms as the water warms through the spring and summer.
We place our Bamboo Lay-downs on the banks in the back of spawning coves and also on sloping banks along secondary creek channels between the main channels and spawning coves. It takes five 8 x 8 x 16 heavyweight blocks and sixteen bushy stalks of bamboo about 15-feet long to build one. We start with two pairs of blocks stacked on top of each other and tied together, about 8-inches apart and a fifth block about two and half-feet behind them. A small garden rake works to level off a spot for the blocks so they will be stable. One stalk of bamboo goes in each hole of the bottom front blocks, with the two in the middle going beside the back block and the two outside stalks crisscrossed with the butt ends outside of the opposite side of the back block.
There's no need to put the butt ends of the bottom bamboo in the back block since they are laying right on the ground anyway and we need all the available space in the back block for the rest of the stalks. We use these first four stalks to space and align the blocks in the proper position. Then we put two stalks in each hole of the upper blocks with the butt ends going through the holes in the back block. Each pair of stalks in the front blocks go into opposite holes in the back block in a crisscross pattern to spread the bamboo out as much as possible. The back block holds the but ends down, which keeps the tops suspended well off the ground. Four bamboo stalks go on top of the front blocks with the butt ends going through the holes in the back block.
When all the bamboo is inserted we pile rocks on top of the blocks and butt ends of the bamboo for added weight and stability. This is what the finished Bamboo Lay-down looks like rom the side and from the front. When the water comes up the bamboo will float up a some, which will open it up and give the crappie plenty of room to get up under the limbs. The leaves will probably be gone by Spring but algae will form on the bamboo in just a few weeks after being submerged.
Providing habitat in a lake that doesn't have adequate places for crappie and other species to spawn, live and grow is helping Lake Greeson produce an abundance of bigger and healthier crappie and other game fish for everyone to enjoy catching.