Many of you already know about the battle the Ski Nuts have been waging against the Asian Carp invasion of Twin Oaks Lakes. This has been an expensive, time consuming, and exhausting war against these evil critters – starting in October and continuing through mid-February. We hope to bring this to a conclusion the weekend of February 11-12.
Asian Carp infested Twin Oaks during the 2011 flood, when the Ohio and Clarks rivers backed up into our ski lakes. The carp had a wide-open shot into the lakes for several weeks, and they obviously took full advantage. The spawning habits of Asian Carp direct them to migrate upstream into tributaries to lay their eggs (an adult female can drop up to one million eggs in a single batch), and we became an upstream tributary to the carp. When they got to the lakes, they hit the end of the line, so they stayed put in massive numbers.
At the time, we were not aware of this, but it became evident over the last couple of years as dangerous jumps by silver Asians became more and more frequent. This past summer, one of our skiers (Kassidy Hawkins) was hit while trick skiing, and suffered a severe leg bruise. That was the final straw, and we decided we had to take drastic action to completely rid the lakes of Asians.
A little info about Asian Carp. There are four types of Asian Carp which are prevalent in U.S. waters – silver, bighead, grass, and black. The first two are the ones that have become extremely problematic to ecosystems, and the silver carp are the ones with the high jumping ability (as high as 8 to 10 feet above the surface) which have caused numerous, and sometimes severe injuries. These fish, which are strictly vegetarian, will wipe out a lake or pond by simply outcompeting every other species for base level food (vegetation), thus starving out other species starting with the bottom of the food chain and going all the way up to primary game fish.
After evaluating several options for exterminating the fish from Twin Oaks, we decided to pump the lakes down to virtually empty – one lake at a time. Then we’d seine out all the fish we possibly could, to salvage the game fish and eliminate the carp, and sterilize the remaining water to get 100% eradication. There is a significant market for the carp here in western Kentucky, with a processing plant in Wickliffe (30 miles west) that would take all we could ship, so we planned to capture and sell. We had no idea how many fish we’d catch, but the best “WAG” was that we might pull out 10,000 pounds from the two lakes. Geez, were we ever wrong!!
The chronology of events has gone something like this:
- Pat Coomes secured a 16-inch agricultural pump (tractor driven) in early October from a farmer friend in Owensboro, and we put it in the lakes and started pumping in early November. With the larger of two tractors we had available, we were able to pump about 5,000 gpm (seven million gallons per day – enough to fill 140 Olympic-size swimming pools), dropping the lake level over a half-foot per day. Fortunately, we were in a dry period, we started out with a relatively low lake level, and we did not have to deal with any run-off for several weeks.
- We knew the north and south lakes would completely divide at about four feet down, which they did. At this point, we used heavy equipment to move dirt and raise the dividing levee on the west end to completely separate the two lakes at normal summer pool, so we could deal with one lake at a time.
- We continued to pump from the south lake (the larger lake, takes all run-off water) until we got it as low as possible with the big pump, then switched to four smaller (3-inch) pumps to continue pumping down to large “puddles.” We ended up with three distinct basins on the south side, each having to be dealt with separately.
- Now it was time to seine fish, and find out what was really in the lake. A friend of the Ski Nuts secured a 200-foot commercial net, and we set up to seine the southeast basin (the one in front of the Burkhead home) on December 3rd. This basin collected about one-fourth of the total area of the two lakes. Little could we have imagined what we’d find, expecting maybe two to three thousand pounds of carp, and a lot of game fish. As we dragged the net the length of the basin, which now had a max depth of around 12 inches, we could see the frenzy of fish start to increase. By the time we were within 50 feet of the end of the basin, the net had collected a churning cauldron of madness! Pulling slowly from each bank with a tractor on one end and a 4WD large pick-up on the other, we started to bog down with the truck. Then one entire end of the net gave way and released half our catch back into the basin!
- We were able to drag about half the catch out onto “dry” lake bottom before everything gave way (dry lake bottom was actually muck up to 3 feet deep). As you can see from the pictures, our catch was a little larger than expected!! We loaded out 5,000 lbs of carp to market before we pooped out (dragged the carp to tractor buckets positioned on solid surface, dumped buckets into large hoppers), and left at least 3,000 lbs on the bank. AND we had lost an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 lbs back into the basin. AND this basin represented only about one-fourth of the lakes area/volume. Based on these numbers, we now estimate we were “housing” around 60,000 lbs of Asian Carp in our 32 acres of lakes.
- The largest carp we caught that first day was a bighead, around 110 lbs (see picture). We caught dozens of carp, silver and bighead, over 50 lbs, hundreds over 20-30 lbs.
- We had virtually no success in saving game fish on this first attempt. They were just too buried in the carp! The “half net” of fish resulted in a pile about 100 feet long, 20 feet wide, and up to two feet deep! Game fish simply got buried in the mass. (again, see picture)
- We went through the same process on December 17th with the jump basin (area of the ski jump) and the crescent basin (around the southwest island), except we did not even try to salvage game fish. We were faced with heavy rains that evening and we knew we had to get finished that day or suffer several weeks of setback. We were successful, and the south lake is now 100% clear of Asian Carp. Rain and run-off have already filled it back to nearly two-thirds full.
- We’re now in the process of finishing the north lake. We could relax a little more with this one as we did not have to worry about run-off flooding us out. Like the south lake, it divided into two major basins and one smaller one. We started pumping down in late January, and have all basins ready to finish off on the weekend of February 11th. We’ll try to seine for game fish the week of February 6th and hope we have better luck salvaging a restock base. We’re dealing with the same problems, however – bottom muck that is as much as 3 feet deep – impossible to work in – so we have to do all seining from the banks, using ropes.
- Once we’ve finished the north lake to 100% kill, we’ll cut a connecting (boat) gap through the temporary levee and allow both lakes to refill together. We hope to have this done before the end of February.
- Carp Wars – WE WIN!! Or at least we look like we’re in good position to do so by the end of this week.