Near a dozen people turned out for a public meeting in Fowler Park on Thursday evening to hear and question the proposed plan for rehabilitating Ruble Lake.
In what has turned out to be a stroke of fortuitous timing, as both Vigo Parks Superintendent Adam Grossman and Indiana DNR Fisheries Biologist David Kittaka described it, Ruble Lake needed draining between five and seven feet for the repair of Irishman’s Bridge near the park’s Pioneer Village.
Grossman said the bridge is in near disrepair and will undergo a major renovation this summer.
“The ends of it are near falling in. At least two of the ends aren’t touching anything,” Grossman said “We’ve got the opportunity to restore that bridge completely this summer and, as it turns out, that project is helping facilitate a restoration of fish habitats in Ruble Lake.”
This is where Grossman and Kittaka said that draining the lake becomes both beneficial for bridge repair and lake management.
The problem with the lake, Kittaka said, is that is has become “infested” with gizzard shad, an invasive species of fish that stunts the growth of native fish and disturbs the growth of natural vegetation on the lake bed.
Kittaka said gizzard shad are prolific breeders and can quickly overtake a lake. And while that may be a net positive for growing and maintaining a healthy population of large bass, it comes at the detriment of smaller pan fish populations and the lake’s overall health.
“Think of them like you would ragweed in a corn field,” Kittaka said. “When you’re growing something like corn, you’ll do everything you can to achieve the highest yield. And if you have a bunch of ragweed crowding your crop, you’ll either wind up with a little bit of both, or a lot of one and not much of the other.”
When the lake is drawn down the five to seven feet by the end of July, Kittaka said, that’s when he and the DNR’s fisheries crew can come in and begin electroshocking the lake to recover desirable bass and channel catfish for relocation.
He said the most likely destination for relocation is Burns Lake in Hawthorn Park.
After much of the sport fish have been salvaged and relocated, Kittaka said his team will apply rotenone to the lake on Oct. 21.
Rotenone is an EPA-approved toxicant and is the most common chemical used to eradicate fish, Kittaka said. But out of an abundance of caution, Grossman said, Fowler Park will be closed during and immediately following rotenone treatment.
Kittaka said as water levels begin to rise back to normal in early November, the DNR will test the water quality for livability and then begin restocking the lake with bass, bluegill and crappie shortly after.
He said it may take up to five years before sport fishing really takes off again at the lake, but said once the fish take hold and start living and reproducing at a normal clip, the fishing should be better than it has been in years.
“Whenever you do a fish renovation and create that space, on the extreme end, like we’ve seen in West Boggs, you’re seeing fish with two to three years above average growth,” Kittaka said. “We’ve got a great opportunity here to kill two birds with one stone.”