Talk about a big fish story. The good works of the Sun City Fishing and Hunting Club, plus recycled trees from Sun City Hilton Head residents, and able assistance provided by Estate Management Services are ensuring that an increasing number of Sun City ponds will be thriving with everything from shad to bass.
"Of course, the fishing here is catch and release," explained Bob Flaherty, chairman of the club's annual Christmas Tree Project.
Under a light sprinkling of rain Jan. 9, Flaherty was joined by six members of the Fishing and Hunting Club and two staffers of Estate Management from Brunswick, Ga.
Club members hauled stacks of discarded Christmas trees to four community ponds, anchored the tree bundles with concrete blocks and loaded them onto a small boat. Estate Management's Larry Saye and Kyle Johnson then dumped the weighted tree bundles into the ponds. The bundles were placed into ponds at Argent Place, Crescent Creek, Hampton Circle at Fenwick and Hampton Place. The ponds ranged in depth from 6 feet to 8 feet.
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In all, 44 trees were deposited into the lakes in January -- 22 bundles of two trees each. The Christmas Tree Project began four years ago and Flaherty said since then 81 bundles of trees have been placed in the fish-stocked ponds.
The tree-and-concrete bundles are permanent and the concrete is inert, Flaherty said, so the concrete is not an ecological hazard. The bundles provide adequate cover that enables the fish to elude predators and to reproduce.
"It's a very green project that creates habitats for fish. The small fish attract medium fish and they in turn draw big fish," Flaherty said.
The bundles are dropped in triangular patterns, which encourage fish colonies to develop, Flaherty said.
Fish in the community's ponds include catfish, bass, bluegills and several types of shad, Saye said. The fish are either stocked or accidentally dropped in the ponds by birds such as osprey, which are common to Sun City.
Flaherty and Saye traded stories of seeing predator birds such as osprey and eagles flying and eating fish up to 12 inches long. Joining in this ecological chain are alligators, which feed on the fish, too.
This year's Christmas Tree Project event began at a pond near Hampton Circle and Fenwick Drive. Passersby might have seen a sign indicating the pond was closed to fishing, Flaherty said.
"Two years ago, the pond lost a lot of fish due to thermal inversion. That's when cold water flips to the top of the pond," Flaherty said. "This tree project will renew the fish population. In the four years we've been doing this, we've seen the fruits of this project."
The project will extend to new ponds at the Reflections section of Sun City as well.
Sun City Fishing and Hunting Club members participating in the January Christmas Tree Project along with Flaherty were John Beaver, Larry Krantz, John Schlectic, Bob Stewart, Rich Van Gelder and Jim Zepaltas.