Friday, August 22, 2014

Lake Musconetcong Water Quality Suffers Weed Killer

One look at the water, and I knew likelihood of catching bass was slim. "Spinnerbaits work in mud like this," I said. I really didn't know if many bass remained to respond.

Lake Musconetcong used to have beauty in the clarity of water, the varied greens and reds of aquatic vegetation, and the natural color tone of the few rocks protruding above surface. The water is deeply stained now not because of rain. Aquatic vegetation filters a lake's water by absorbing nitrogen and phosphorous feeding minute particles of algae. And when a lake is loaded with weed killer, the decaying vegetation adds to the lake's turbidity. Only by leaving the lake alone to let nature heal can the vegetation return and water clarify, fish populations increase and the cormorant population dwindle, since these voracious diving birds can't swim through thick aquatic vegetation. It may take many years, but Lake Musconetcong will return to health if it is allowed. 

No one we saw did any water skiing. I haven't seen any evidence of water skiing all summer.

I was there in 2009. A red carpet covered much of the lake. However, fish populations throve. I have fishing log figures to show that the fishing was good. It was very good. Pockets existed in the weeds. Weedlines provided cover edges. And bass and pickerel hit right through the weeds with scum frogs and Phatrats fished on top of the masses. Could you navigate a boat? Rowing was trying. Electric outboards impossible. But, yes, we got around by rowing. It took effort, wasn't easy. Not everything worthwhile in life is easy, but by the evidence of what I've read, water chestnuts create an anoxic condition that would eventually kill all the fish in the lake.

Rather than resort to chemicals, which have in fact done as I've described, I have visions of dozens of laborers hired to work in flatboats over the course of a few summers, rooting out this infestation. Examples on the web show this approach works. I have no information to judge how many years Lake Musconetcong will be stained, fish populations dwindling, before the chestnuts get eradicated and the lake let be to clear, fish populations coming back. I hope that day comes, but no evidence I've read suggests that water chestnuts have ever been eradicated entirely by either chemical or manual means, and the "chestnut" seed pods can lay dormant as many as 12 years before sprouting new, rapidly infesting plant life.

So if the lake is allowed to breathe again and fish populations return, it's possible water chestnuts will return with them. The best approach clearly is manual removal, the employment of many people and lots of equipment when needed in the interest of preserving the lake's clear water quality, water filtered by abundant aquatic vegetation other than water chestnuts, which keeps the numbers of fish-hoarding cormorants much lower also. Where's the money for this in New Jersey? I'm assuming manual removal is more costly than the funds Lake Musconetcong Planning Board paid to the company that administered weed killer. So the lake is a mess because we've done it the easy way, apparently cost effective. What other way is possible? Manual removal is possible to an imaginative mind, not to politics as usual in the state today, by all appearances.

 Fred fishes a spinnerbait unsuccessfully.
 Cormorant on a previously brown rock, whitened by cormorant excrement.
 This filthy rock, thick with cormorant excrement and once brown, stands out visibly white all the way across the lake, as if vandalized.
Cormorants have free reign to swim now that vegetation doesn't stop them. Their numbers have increased dramatically. I once read that a single cormorant eats 10 pounds of fish a day.
 Look at that brown water. My lens has a polarizing filter. Previous years, you could see the bottom clearly, five feet down.

 Stanhope Bait & Boat is a baitfish hub for the whole region, but virtually no one fishes the lake now, except for catfish. And if you want big ones, do come and buy bait here and you can catch them off the dock out back. Fifteen pounds this summer.
Are there any bass left? We got skunked.


  1. Lodi Lake, the lake I live across the street from is also a dam fed by the Mokelumne River. It is drained for a month or so, and over the years has become more and more shallow. Frequent beach closures due to high bacteria counts.

    1. Bacteria count has shot through the roof here, I'm sure.


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