CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Going to work and being on the water, working with fish, is a dream come true for Salvador Mondragon. He’s a fisheries management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), tasked to help communities in Missouri’s southeast region in the management of fish populations in their lakes.

“Growing up, I enjoyed fishing, and quite honestly I just enjoyed being on the water,” Mondragon said.

That’s why helping to manage community lakes isn’t just a job to him. It’s a chance to help others cultivate an appreciation for nature as well.

Throughout the state, community lakes are easy destinations for families that want to put a hook in the water on an evening after work, or a Saturday morning. MDC calls the concept, “close to home fishing.” However, lakes don’t maintain healthy fish habitat on their own. MDC fisheries management biologists work together with city and county administrators to keep these lakes fishable.

Shane Anderson, the Parks and Recreation Director for Jackson, works with MDC to manage the three-acre Rotary Lake in Jackson City Park, and the two-acre lake in Litz Park, also in Jackson.

“My first official duty in April of 1998 was to reopen Rotary Lake to fishing,” Anderson said. “While reopening the lake generated community interest in the park, I quickly realized that to operate a lake and ensure it was a quality experience for the community, I needed the support and expertise of professionals at the Conservation Department.”

The agreement for MDC’s assistance in managing Litz Park is more recent, and just as valuable, according to Anderson. Similar to Rotary Lake, the health of the lake at Litz Park is monitored by MDC and the city also takes part the Department’s stocking program, he said.

“Stocking is important to us because it makes the lake attractive to anglers, by giving them the expectation that they will have some success at our lake,” Anderson said.

Other communities in southeast Missouri with cooperative management agreements with MDC include Bonne Terre, Farmington, Dexter, Perryville, and Marble Hill. Depending on the needs of the lake, MDC implements a variety of practices to improve the communities’ fishing resources. They manage fish populations, implement fishing regulations to protect sustainability of certain fish species, stock fish and assist with fishing accessibility facilities such as docks and privies in some cases.

“We also work with communities to conduct fishing events,” Mondragon said. “Sometimes all people need is a little bit of education on how to fish, what works and what doesn’t, and they’ll start fishing regularly with their family.”

Mondragon said community lakes get a lot of fishing pressure because they’re right there within a community and provide that “close to home” fishing opportunity. This can present a challenge to keep fish stocked and healthy.

“Sometimes Channel catfish are harvested nearly as soon as they’re stocked, so we really try to keep an eye on populations before they’re gone,” he said.

By “keeping an eye” on those species, Mondragon means the biologists go out to the lakes and sample the fish. They will net fish, measure and take other data, and then release them back to the lake. This helps them track population numbers and individual growth of the fish.Close to home fishing

Regardless of the challenges, Mondragon and his colleagues enjoy offering their expertise to create quality fishing opportunities to these communities and they welcome discussions on creating more opportunities in other communities.

When asked what he recommends to those who manage lakes on their own, Mondragon said there are several things landowners can do to improve their own fishery.

“Place cut cedar trees and root wads into the lake or pond to give fish a place to hide and look for shelter,” he said. “They could also regulate harvest in their own ponds by keeping a record of what they harvest. This way they can keep track of the ongoing quality of their fishing.”

For Mondragon and other fisheries biologists at MDC, the work of managing lakes, whether a public lake or a private lake, is simply about ensuring others have opportunity to enjoy nature for generations to come. For more information on fish, pond and lake management, go online to mdc.mo.gov/fishing.

News from the region: Southeast
Candice Davis
Jun 24, 2016