If you were a fish in a lake, where would you like to live, hunt, and play? Anglers from ancient times until this day all over the world have been using any means possible to enter into a fish’s domain. Of course, in ancient times, fishing sated a basic human need, hunger. Today, the fishing industry and anglers use the most updated technology. Yet, man-made fish attractors are essential to the fishing industry and anglers.
* Making fish attractors is a great way to boost angler productivity. With this information, we are discussing man-made submerged fish attracting structures, not scented fish attractants.
What Are Fish Attractors?
Fish attractors mimic natural elements that naturally attract fish. Fish attractors can provide fish species feeding locations by holding forage, shelter for fry (young fish), protection from predators, encourage congregations, protect them from incompatible currents, and increase chances for angler success. Several factors determine types of fish attractors, including water type, fish species, existing sizes and populations of fish, and existing available habitat.
Fish attractors are man-made structures that provide cover for fish not found in nature. They help to ensure sustainable of reproduction of the fish species, protection of fish, and provide a domain for larger fish, plus fish need clean, oxygenated water to survive. Fish attractor manufacturers focus on using green materials today.
What Kind of Structure Do Bass Like?
According to the last 2016 survey in the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bass are number one in popularity with anglers. Respectively, the next most popular fish are panfish species, trout, catfish/bullhead, crappie, and white/striped/striped bass hybrids.
The primary things to note about building artificial bass structures are that bass like weeds, stumps, laydowns, rip-rap, or brush, and that bass prefer a structure of some kind, depending on its species.
It depends on the species of bass, what kind of structure the bass species prefers. The two types of bass in North America are black bass and temperate bass, with nine known species of black bass and five species of temperate bass. Different species prefer different habitats and some bass species comingle in the same type of habitats.
For example, largemouth bass seek protective cover such as logs, rock ledges, and vegetation in clear, slow-moving water, but you find them in other habitats as well. Spotted bass like areas with more water current than the largemouth, and swim in areas with warmer, more sluggish water. It is where you place the artificial fish attractor that matters to supporting bass or any other game species.
How Do You Build a Bass Structure?
Basically, the definitions of a fishery are, “Spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply, and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life process” and “The occupation or industry of catching or rearing fish”. The goals of a natural fishery and artificial fish attractors (structures) are the same.
Artificial fish attractors (structures) work for all the species of North American fish that prefer cover, including bass species. Tests have proven that natural and man-made materials are effective. We discuss building only a few models of DIY fish attractors here because of the availability of dozens of designs to build DIY fish attractors.
What Can I Use for a Fish Habitat?
In 2020, the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture published a study that found, “Research indicates that wood structures—particularly those made with “brushy” materials with lots of small openings—are more effective.” (1) You can think about natural fish attractors as natty fish clothing—frayed and ripped with holes. The ideal goal of using man-made materials is to mimic natural fish habitat. Anglers build DIY artificial fish habitats with many materials and in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
Natural materials like aquatic plantings, boulders, gravel, rock, rubble, and wood, and brush piles, are ideal options. Fish attractors need to create perpetual spaces for fish to hide in, escape routes, and hold food. Plastics like PVC pipes are on their way out of fashion for fish attractor materials due to environmental concerns.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is promoting plastics in 2023 on its Fisheries Management website (2) with four artificial fish habitat designs on that web page. (3). The TWD pictures a PVC cube developed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which uses PVC and corrugated drain pipe. Texas fish attractor companies are also promoting using discarded construction materials for fish attractors.
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission appear to be leading the pack on how to build fish attractors that do not harm fish or their habitats. Recent 2020 research is proving PVC is eventually harmful and recommend that plastic materials are not the way to go when building fish attractors. Again, we go to the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture’s comprehensive study on More Effective and Environment-Friendly Fish Attractors Do Not Contain Plastics:
“Even before it reaches an ocean, some of the plastic breaks apart into small particles and fibers called “microplastics” that are ingested by freshwater fish and other creatures…The impacts of microplastics on the health of fish and other aquatic life is not fully understood, but, for example, there is evidence that microplastics can harm Daphnia, microscopic animals that are an important food for many fish species.
“These and other results suggest ingestion of microplastics by prey species may eventually contaminate game fish in recreational and commercial freshwater fisheries. Although our understanding of exact sources and fates of microplastics is still developing, it’s clear that any plastic material has the potential to negatively impact aquatic ecosystems.”
Is PVC OK to Use? If Not, What Materials?
In Texas and many other states, it is perfectly acceptable to build fish attractors out of plastics materials—though there exists recent and accumulating research theorizing that microplastics breaking apart from the PVC and other plastics have the potential to harm marine life, even though it takes a long time. What you build DIY fish attractors with is an individual decision.
Fish attractors made with wood, rock, or concrete-based materials prove long-lasting and functional, and when they do decompose, they do not pollute the environment. A lot of people build small fish attractors by filling plastic buckets with concrete to anchor tree limbs with branches. Untreated wooden boxes will work instead of plastic buckets.
These attractors are called fish trees. You can inexpensively build several of these types of attractors to make one big attractor or use one or a few for a pond. Fish manufacturers make fish trees with metal limbs anchored to a pole. Many manufacturers of fish trees label PVC as green. PVC will eventually break down into microplastics.
Rock piles, broken up concrete chunks, brush piles, and Christmas trees will not harm the marine environment. However, collecting enough rocks to create a fish structure is time consuming, and muscle-taxing. Jackhammers and pneumatic jackhammers are expensive for breaking up large concrete blocks, and using a sledge hammer is sure to run you to the store for some IcyHot. Green is surely not easy or convenient.
How Do You Make PVC Fish Attractors?
Starting with a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) model, a PVC cube attractor consists of PVC pipe connected at corners to make a box frame with corrugated drain pipe twisted throughout the frame, creates tight spaces for small fish and bigger spaces for larger fish to hang out and ambush the smaller fish. Additionally, numerous DIY PVC fish structure designs are available.
Corrugated drain pipe comes in different sizes, but 4” to “6 inch bends easily enough to wrap around the PVC cube. Many state fish and wildlife departments use and recommend spider blocks. They use PVC pipe, bamboo stalks, or irrigation tubes inserted and cemented in quick-set concrete. Fish trees and spider blocks are also popular manufactured choices. Just buy them and heave ho.
For sunfish, The TPWD recommends a limestone or river gravel bed of 1-inch average diameter limestone of 5- to 6-inch thickness in a wooden frame and six-feet wide and long or so. You can line them underneath with any waterproof material to keep the beds from sinking if your lake bed comprises soft sediment.
How Do You Make a PVC Crappie Bed?
The TPWD recommends what it calls crappie condos. How to make a crappie habitat like this is to fill 3- to 5-gallon buckets with concrete and anchor bamboo stalks, irrigation tubes, or PVC pipes in the wet concrete. The TPWD reports these types attract all types of sport fish and support forage. Bamboo is the best material though for making crappie condos and brush piles because bamboo stalks hold air pockets, and the concrete’s weight keeps the stalks standing upright.
How Do You Make a Fish Brush Pile?
Brush piles are great for crappie habitation but also for other fish species too. But, there are decomposition issues with brush piles. Older trees are not as effective as green trees. As green trees soak, they lose their effectiveness over time. But that is easily solvable; you just need to add more brush to your proverbial pile.
Design—fish prefer form over fashion and brush piles need to stand up vertically. Composition—time always tells, hardwood trees make for much longer-lasting brush piles. Location—what game fish are you seeking? Laws—ALWAYS know your federal, state, and local laws. Depth—10, 20, 30, and 40-feet deep for ultimate year-round angler productivity.
When designing a brush pile, first, never mess with the tree stumps left behind when the authorities impounded your lake some odd years ago. Make a new brush pile. Christmas trees only last about a year and are not ideal. If you use Christmas trees, ensure they stand up as tall as they did on Christmas Day. Tie cinder blocks to the base of the tree and a floating device to the top of the tree, like styrofoam blocks. A plastic jug will leak in time.
With the original trees and stumps from before the lake, they can be established fish habitats, and you could be competing with or disturbing a perfectly productive fish domain. Christmas trees are effective additions to augment existing brush piles, and you can just drop them on top, which works well since they quickly deteriorate. Also, Christmas trees trap lures because of their tightly woven limbs.
Hardwoods are the best composition and last longer underwater. The best hardwoods to use are oaks and sycamores. We have to caution at this point—design and build your brush pile in secret. If other anglers see you building it, they will know where your honey hole is. If you have a small-sized boat, it is easiest to gather your tree limbs on the shore before building your brush pile, but competing anglers can easily witness that activity.
Great big brush piles are easy to find. Brush piles about 10- to 20-feet long and four-feet high will do nicely. Use rope (we discuss ropes in a following section) to tie cinder blocks to the branches or bundles of branches and overboard they go. Location depends on where your species of fish like to live. Do they like slow-moving water, faster currents, warm water, colder water, or clear water? And at what time of year? Like with spawning bed seasons vs. the rest of the year, and in what water temperature?
Almost every lake in the U.S. has an official governing entity. Usually, that entity is a state or federal governance. Cities govern some lakes, but those cities usually follow state or federal guidelines and tack on extra fees to cover their expenses of operating their lakes. If you want to build brush piles in your lake, you must consult your governing authorities to make sure you are not violating any laws or statutes.
How Deep Should Fish Attractors Be?
This invokes a deep question. You can place fish attractors as deep as you want them to be anywhere you want to catch fish depending on the species, the depth they are hanging out in at what time of year, and in what temperature of water. It is time consuming to build and maintain fish natural attractors, but not as much so for man-made ones. Place them as deep as your fish species are.
The PVC cubes and the spider blocks recommended by the TPWD work for almost any species and depth. Sunfish beds work in 2- to 6-feet of water from spring to fall. If you buy manufactured fish attractors, just ask the manufacturer. Fish attractor manufacturers conducted comprehensive research before they sank money into their fishy businesses.
How Do You Build a Bass Pond Structure?
How old is your pond? If your pond has been there since who knows when, it may not provide the habitat fish need. To survive at a bare minimum, fish need food and clean oxygenated water. Additionally, most fish need cover, like bass, bream, catfish, and crappie, which are popular pond-dwelling fish.
What if you are building your first pond? That involves pond fertilization, pond liming, pond construction, and pond stocking. Chris Blood, marketing manager for Texas Hunter products, and Southeastern Pond Management (SEP) headquartered out of Calera, Alabama, collaborated with pond construction and fish attractor research. Chris worked with Auburn University’s School of Design.
These collaborations, pond fish attractor research, and development experiments resulted in 185 different pond fish attractors and structure designs for Texas Hunter products. Then Chris used six designs. There are so many experts available to help you with your pond construction or pond management plans. In North Texas, it would be well worth your while to check out Brad Metzler’s operation, owner of Pond King, in Lindsay, Texas.
Are Tires OK to Use for Fish Attractors?
The reports about using tires as effective fish attractors come out as mixed. Tires used as fish habitats are inexpensive. However, research from 1991 theorizes that tires leak chemicals harmful to marine environments. We will leave this subject here. The U.S. National Science Foundation reported in 2020,
“A tire-related chemical is largely responsible in urban streams…researchers started noticing that, especially after a big rain, returning [coho] salmon were dying before they could spawn…we…need to worry about the environmental effects of products like rubber and plastic, but also the many other chemicals that are part of the original mix…”
Can You Buy a Fish Structure Kit?
Many fish attractor manufacturers are anglers who found a way to earn some extra dough. Numerous manufacturers offer easy to assemble fish attractor kits. They have done their field research on what worked for them and figured out what did not attract their preferred population of fish. These manufacturers are usually one-owner, small businesses, and you can easily find some of them on Amazon.
Fish attractor kits come in different makes, models, and sizes. You can buy several smaller ones over time and continue to add to your fish attractor. The kits are expensive and start at about $150 for limbs and shade that offer big, not tight spaces to fish and promote and attract forage sources. By adding to them over time, you eventually create a honey hole.
What Rope Materials Work for DIY Fish Attractors?
Synthetic ropes made of nylon, polyester, polyesteel, polyethylene, and synthetic hemp work in marine environments because they resist rot and mildew. Each has its pros and cons. Below are descriptions of a few of these materials and their qualities.
Nylon rope typically pulls the heaviest loads and bears the most weight in marine industries:
- Pros: Abrasion resistant, can withstand higher temperatures, low-friction, more malleable, smooth, strong, UV resistant.
- Cons: Absorbs water, weakens in water.
- Commonly Used For: Towing lines, anchor lines, pulleys, winches, tie-downs, fall-protection systems.
Polyester rope is a general purpose rope in the boating world with 3-strand construction. Polypropylene is stronger than nylon, and allows more resistance to stress.
- Pros: Does not float, softens when wet, low stretch properties, made from synthetic fibers, made in Europe, retains strength when wet, and water, abrasion, rot, and UV resistant.
- Cons: Polyester rope does not float, some braids of polyester rope are considerably stiffer and will not work in blocks. Polyester is taut, does not give much, and polyester rope is not suitable if a load wants to jerk, like towing a car. Usually, towing boats is a smoother pull on a rope than a vehicle.
- Commonly Used For: Towing lines, anchor lines, pulleys, winches, tie-downs, fall-protection systems.
Polysteel rope is tougher and stronger than polypropylene and polyethylene. It comes in different measurements of thickness in millimeters (mm).
- Pros: 40% stronger than standard polypropylene, abrasion resistance, does not absorb water, durable, excellent UV resistance, floats, lightweight, made in Europe, no loss of strength when wet, and rot, mildew, and water resistant
- Commonly Used For: Agricultural and marine applications including mooring pendants, lines, fishing nets, potting rope, and towing.
Polypropylene rope does not rot and resists mildew.
- Pros: Cost effective, dielectric/insulator, does not absorb water, floats, lightweight, and repels UV rays.
- Commonly Used For: Aquaculture, placed around electric lines, marine applications, moorings, net lines, and swimming-lane barriers.
Kevlar™ Rope is much stronger than steel and it will not rust. Kevlar™ rope has very low stretch and is used when complete stability is needed.
Strongest rope, freeze resistant, flame resistant, chemical resistant, water resistant, low-stretch, cut resistant, UV Resistant Coating.
- Cons: When damage appears, it may be deeper than the eye can see.
- Commonly Used For: Winch lines, mooring lines, helicopter slings, extreme temperature situations.
If you live in Texas, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) maintains fish attractors in certain lakes in Texas. You can be sure these are popular locations with anglers.