The last time the restored Hope Mills Lake was restocked with fish, there was a miscommunication between the town and state wildlife officials. The result was the lake was drained after new fish had been put in, causing them to be lost.
Rod MacLean wanted to make sure that mistake wasn’t repeated when the restocking process started for the recently restored lake
MacLean is currently the chairman of the Hope Mills Lake Advisory Committee and has been serving on it for the last four or five years.
A dedicated fly fisherman, MacLean has worked as a volunteer for North Carolina Wildlife for close to 10 years and is active in the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program.
MacLean said he spoke with Hope Mills mayor Jackie Warner three years ago and assured her that when the time came to bring fish back into the lake, he would make sure there were no mistakes.
“I told her I would take care of getting them delivered and what types of fish,’’ he said.
MacLean researched the types of fish people used to catch from the lake, and he also consulted with a biologist from the North Carolina Wildlife Commission about what fish would be best to introduce.
Earlier this month, MacLean said 10,000 redear panfish and 10,000 bluegill panfish were put into the lake. At some time in the future, some 1,000 fingerling catfish and another 1,000 fingerling largemouth bass will be added to the population.
MacLean said the small panfish, the bluegills and redears, are introduced first so they can become established. “These are the fish the predators will eat, the largemouth bass and the catfish,’’ he said.
MacLean said it’s likely that the new bass and catfish that will be introduced later are already present in the lake. He said that’s because of what happened in this area when Hurricane Matthew struck.
There was a lot of flooding associated with Matthew, he said, some of it involving Lake Rim, which flooded and overflowed. Those waters wound up in some six ponds at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center.
“They went into the creek that ends up coming through Hope Mills, down Rockfish Creek and into the Cape Fear River and on to Wilmington,’’ he said. “Some of the fish have been in the creek from Matthew, and some got washed all the way down through Hope Mills.’’
After about three years to allow the fish population in the Hope Mills Lake to stabilize, MacLean said officials from North Carolina Wildlife will do a census of the fish in the lake. “They’ve got a specialized boat that has electrodes coming off it,’’ he said. “They’ll go around to certain areas of the lake and put out an electrical shock that stuns the fish.’’
The fish then float to the surface and are caught with nets, measured and sometimes tagged, he said. A few fish may have to be kept in order to verify their age, but the majority of the fish will be returned to the water.
Until the fish population is stable, MacLean said, the lake will observe a catch and release policy. He said after two or three years, the population should be stable and the fish should reach a size making them worth catching and keeping. “You don’t want to catch 15 sardine-sized fish,’’ he said. “Then we’ll harvest them according to North Carolina wildlife rules.’’
MacLean said the lake is also likely to attract eels from the creeks, but the dam is equipped with an eel ladder that will allow them to escape and head downstream.
MacLean said he’d discussed the idea of putting a special breed of carp in the lake to help keep the vegetation down. This particular carp is a possible choice because it is sexless and can’t reproduce. But he said since in some cases the carp do reproduce and they would be able to escape from the lake and go downstream, it was decided not to introduce them.
“We discussed different species from the knowledge of the biologist and this is what will be best for our particular location,’’ he said. “I’m quite happy with the decision.’’