When you hear habitat project, fish are probably the last thing that come to mind. However, creating habitat for fish is very important.

“The goal of fish habitat projects around the state is to increase spawning areas and boost food sources for all of the fish in the lakes, as well as improve overall fishing,” said Jacob Miller, warmwater fisheries biologist for the Department of Game and Fish.

Several years of survey data collected on sportfish species at Bill Evans Lake suggested sportfish lacked food sources, such as plankton, crayfish, minnows and bluegills, that are crucial for growth during early life stages. In 2020, the department conducted a restoration project to improve fish habitat at Bill Evans Lake Wildlife Management Area near Silver City.

Bill Evans Lake was purchased in 1972 from the Phelps-Dodge Corp. The lake is situated on top of a mesa and provides fishing access and habitat for wildlife. The reservoir is 300 feet above the Gila River. Water is routinely pumped from the river below to maintain lake levels and suitable habitat for warm and cold-water fish.

The project at Bill Evans Lake improved habitat for several sport fish species, such as largemouth bass, channel catfish, rainbow trout and bluegill by increasing spawning areas for adult fish and hiding areas for juvenile fish. Artificial structures that are less likely to be snagged by anglers were sunk at strategic points near the shore to attract fish, ultimately improving angling and catch rates at Bill Evans Lake WMA.

In unison with the habitat project, the department is also planning to build a new boat ramp and alter much of the shoreline around Bill Evans Lake to improve angler access to areas by smoothing the slope of the shoreline, adding walking paths, improving the road around the lake and adding boulder/gravel fishing jetties.

Similar habitat projects are underway at Lake Carlsbad and Lower Tansill Lake. With the help of the New Mexico Chapter of B.A.S.S. Nation and the city of Carlsbad, the department has begun to improve fish habitat structures in these lakes. These habitat projects are aimed at increasing spawning areas, boosting the food sources of all the fish in the lakes and improving overall fishing.

More habitat structures made of logs, large branches and pallets will be installed later this year and a map showing the locations will be provided on the department website at bit.ly/3r3bXs3, just like the one showing great fishing spots in Bill Evans Lake.

Ross Morgan is a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

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