With the invention of the boat — with that first hollowed out canoe — and subsequent forgetting to put the plug in, came the invention of the first artificial fish structure. (The location of which was promptly forgotten and snagged with a bone and handline the next day.) Almost as quickly as man can invent something, it can be wrecked and submerged in a body of water.
The difference between "wreck" and "reef" is merely a matter of timing and semantics.
And from the various artificial reef projects involving the sinking of ships, airplanes, subway cars and oil rig platforms, what isn't a fish structure? Look around and you'll see lots of opportunities. Some of which you may have already seized. And flung.
That bag of golf clubs you threw in the water hazard last year is already a catfish-spawning cavity. At the bottom of my pond, there is a wooden TV tray that wanted to go swimming after my toddler kept pulling it down on himself. Our trampoline isn't far behind.
Fish are attracted to structure, even if that structure is a computer desk claiming "some assembly required" and a garden gnome. This phenomenon can be observed by setting these same items out on your lawn early on a Saturday morning. Within minutes, people will stop their car to investigate. But structure doesn't just concentrate fish for angler success; the extra underwater surface area of these scuttled items cultivates algae and plankton, starting the food chain and increasing the productivity of the entire system.
As tempting as it may be, don't throw just anything in the water. Leave the sinking of cars to the professionals and maybe the Kennedys. The aquatic system is better off with structures designed for the purpose or, barring that, natural materials.
And who can think about natural fish structures without thinking about Christmas? Christmas and fish structures go hand-in-hand. No other holiday season culminates with the traditional sinking of large quantities of decorative centerpieces.
The Five Steps of the Christmas Tree Season:
Take down sometime before Easter.
Chuck in a water hole.
One caveat: We don't throw plastic trees into a lake ... unless they are plastic trees to throw in lakes. A multitude of plastic and PVC and metal fish structure products are practically Christmas trees, minus the chipped ornaments.
There is even the novel idea of using living Christmas trees in your family room, containerized, so that you can plant it in your yard later. This way, you can enjoy pruning and watching your future fish structure grow for years and years.
But the tradition revolves around a cut real tree. A German dragged a tree into his house, startling his family, but started our modern Christmas tradition around 1600 B.C. (Before Curb and Before Chipper). The day after Christmas, he continued forging the now time-honored sequence of events by stating: "Großartig! Jetzt machen was wir damit? ("Great! Now what do we do with it?")
Which brings us to choosing your Christmas Reef.
For the outdoorsman who has everything, the tree can be a gift — a gift of fish structure to throw in the pond. Go ahead and wire it to a cinder block as the tree stand. Throw a couple of those novelty fish pillows under the tree, if you want to make it really classy.
And you might as well go ahead and embed a couple of lures. Just a matter of time before they rest with the tree, anyway.
Hardwoods last longer under water, but you're bound to meet resistance when you suggest caroling 'round ye olde leaf-barren oak. Regular consumer evergreen qualities such as needle length and fragrance are short-lived underwater and do not impress fish, but do not overlook shape. A slow-growing Colorado blue spruce, for example, will have many tight, full branches for holding ornaments.
The more ornaments it can hold, the more minnows it can hide. If snagging is a concern, a faster-growing, more loosely branching species such as white pine may better suit your angling needs.
As lakes age, cover diminishes. Annual community brush pile drop events help return the productivity of fisheries. Leftover Christmas trees are readily available, relatively low-cost, environmentally friendly, and, except for that little bit of tinsel, all-natural. Plus on a really slow fishing day, a weighted Christmas tree can put up a pretty good fight on light line.
Andy Whitcomb, a freelance writer and designer, can be reached through his Web site, justkeepreeling.com.