This is the first in a two-part success story involving many people dedicated to improving fishing in Payson. It will culminate in the installation of 15 fish structures in Green Valley Lake (GVL), three in the next two weeks.

You will soon see new orange buoys in one of the Green Valley Lakes.

They will mark the location of new fish structures designed to help fish feed and ultimately, improve fishing at the lake.

Made of recycled PVC material, volunteers built the fish structures to last for decades.

The structures look a bit like small trees as they sit weighted on the bottom of the lake at a height of approximately five feet.

They provide a surface for phytoplankton to grow on which aquatic insects eat. Little fish eat the bugs and have a great place to hide.

These bugs and small fish attract larger fish that often assume ambush positions near the structures or are stacked up in a school over them.

The first noticeable step that residents will see is five orange buoys placed near the bubblers on March 27. These buoys will provide a target for the water department when they deploy three structures per buoy. Crews should have them installed by April 3.

These buoys will remain after the structures are in place so that anglers will know where to look for fish attracted to the structures.

This idea actually started in Jim Goughnour’s house last June.

At the time, he was the president of the Mogollon Sporting Association. He had invited a number of folks over to talk about ways to improve fishing in and around Payson.

In the room were: Curt Gill, aquatic wildlife program manager of region VI; Grant Pearce, aquatic wildlife specialist with Arizona Game and Fish Department; Mayor Craig Swartwood; Courtney Spawn, Payson Parks and Recreation Department director; Dennis Pirch, outdoorsman extraordinaire; and me, a member of the Payson Flycasters Club and the Gila Trout Unlimited Chapter.

We talked about current fish projects in the area and how to improve fishing for residents and visitors.

I left that meeting amazed at what AZGFD does for fishing around the state, especially in the Payson area.

I loved learning about the fish structure project started in April 2017 by AZGFD to improve bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish fishing in Roosevelt Lake.

I was also convinced that I should extend my elementary fly fishing program to the middle school and include a conservation component for these older students. I wanted to provide the middle school students with a chance to learn a bit about the fishing improvement efforts of the AZGFD and hopefully have them complete a conservation project that would contribute to fishing opportunities for Payson.

Curt Gill suggested that I contact Bryant Dickens who heads up the fish structure project on Roosevelt Lake to get a firsthand experience with the structures and see if they would work for my plan with the middle school. That turned in to a fun day of volunteering with AZGFD on Roosevelt Lake and provided a clear choice for what would work best with my after-school fly fishers.

On that day, we constructed several Mossback fish structures and dropped them in groupings in different sections of Roosevelt Lake. We also deployed several Georgia Cube fish structures. They are used most often in Roosevelt Lake, but require power tools and are a bit more complicated than what I wanted to tackle with middle schoolers.

I also saw several massive concrete fish balls in the staging area to be put in the lake on another day.

So far, AZGFD has built and deployed 422 Georgia Cubes, 198 Mossbacks, and 146 concrete fish balls, plus several of a type that they no longer plan to use because it did not hold and benefit fish as well as the other three types.

They will continue to add structures to Roosevelt Lake over the next 20 years.

During the higher water conditions that we are currently experiencing on Roosevelt Lake, the fish move in to the brush and dead tree cover along the shoreline, but when the lake recedes that preferred cover is no longer available to the fish.

All of the Roosevelt Lake artificial fish structures have been placed in deep water where there is a lack of cover and will remain out of harm’s way to boaters even when the lake levels are significantly lower.

AZGFD found that the fish often move onto these structures within hours of placement, indicating their importance. The department provides GPS coordinates to anglers for these structures to improve fishing success on Roosevelt Lake. They are also planning to do a similar project in Bartlett Lake.

After seeing the structures on Roosevelt Lake, I met with Jennifer White, Rim Country Middle School principal, to explain what I had in mind. She loved the conservation project component and the fact that the kids would have a chance to work with AZGFD specialists as well as work with the town to put in place a project benefiting Payson.

Swartwood suggested that I talk with Tanner Henry and Gordon Dimbat of the water department to see if this project would actually meet lake restrictions and requirements, and fit into the plans for GVL. As it turned out, the project was a perfect match.

In 1994, a transaction between the Town of Payson and the City of Scottsdale was made. In that agreement, the town’s Central Arizona Project (CAP) water allocation was transferred to Scottsdale for a certain amount of funds. The town set part of the monies from the sale aside in a CAP Environmental Trust Fund for future environmental projects to enhance or preserve riparian habitats at Green Valley Park. That meant that there were monies already set aside for exactly this sort of project.

The other benefit that the town, AZGFD, and I hope results from the deployment of these structures is to reduce the likelihood of fish die-offs in the lake.

Crappies love structure and were the most impacted species in the last event.

These structures will be placed near bubblers and fountains in the lake and should put the crappies attracted to these structures near well-oxygenated water and minimize the impact of any future low dissolved oxygen events.

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