Restoring fish habitat to Smoots Bay

Posted at 3:12 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-11 18:58:27-05

A roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothes on our backs. The three things we all need to survive. For our good friend, the largemouth bass, it’s not much different.

For them, a roof over their head means habitat.  Give them enough of the right kind and it’s like having a grocery store right in their home. Aquatic vegetation draws in insects, which draw in forage fish, which in turn draw in bass, all the while providing protection from predators.

When that habitat disappears, so do the fish and that’s exactly what’s happening in an area of the Potomac River known as Smoots Bay. Some of you may be scratching your heads like I initially did, wondering exactly where that is.  Well, it’s right by National Harbor off I-495.

Over the last decade, submerged grasses in Smoots Bay died off for various reason and have failed to return.  And according to a report from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the loss of those grasses meant a decrease in the largemouth bass population on the Potomac River.

“There is definitely some grasses in Smoots Bay, just not as much as there used to be. Not surprisingly, there aren’t as many bass there either,” says Dr. Joseph Love, manager of DNR’s Tidal Bass Program. “Coves, like Smoots Bay, are preferred areas for spawning bass in tidal rivers.”

Love is spearheading a project to bring habitat back to Smoots Bay in the form of two artificial reef areas made up of concrete reef balls.

“We’re also planning on sinking some wood with concrete anchors.  The wood washes up at National Harbor [and] the folks [there] are beginning to stockpile wood for us,” says Love. “I’m hoping the combination of concrete and natural wood will replace the submerged grasses that were once in Smoots Bay.”

The project is expected to cost $20,000 most of which has already been raised, with a majority of it coming from National Harbor, DNR, and Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative.

Applications for permits have been submitted to the Maryland Department of Environment, and program managers expect to receive those soon. Love will then begin purchasing supplies to make the reef balls. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has agreed to provide molds and its expertise since it’s already used them in the Bay before.

“The reefs should function as a nursery grounds or foraging grounds for bass,” adds Love.

According to the project timeline, the balls themselves will be constructed in September and placed in the cove later that month or in October and Love is looking for some helping hands.

“The biggest way bass clubs or individual anglers could help is by volunteering some time to build the reef balls or deploy them.”

If you’re interested in helping, you can check out DNR’s page dedicated to the project here.

Once the artificial reef areas are in place, the Tidal Bass Program will continue to monitor the area and look at the possibility of stocking the cove in hopes of keeping the Potomac River a world class fishery.

* Jeff Herman is the assistant news director at WMAR | ABC2. His main passion while not at work is fishing. This column is part of a series of columns he writes for our outdoors page . You can read more of his columns here .