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RALEIGH, N.C. (Nov. 19) – The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently installed an experimental floating fish feeder at Shelley Lake in Raleigh to help address problems lake officials have had with conventional stationary feeders flooding in the past during periods of heavy rain.

The feeder, a solar-powered prototype developed by the agency for its Community Fishing Program, floats on mini-pontoons and is tethered loosely to an anchor on the lake bottom. Conventional feeders are mounted and fixed on poles. The experimental feeder will be evaluated through March 2008.

“At one time, the stationary feeders attracted and congregated so many fish that Shelley Lake was considered a premier fishing location in Wake County,” said Bobby Glenn Kimbrell, a fisheries technician with the Commission. “But during heavy rain, water levels in the lake would quickly rise as much as 23 feet and destroy the feeders, which were valued at $400 each.”

After several stationary feeders were ruined in 2002, park officials took them down and anglers’ catches subsequently declined.

If the experiment succeeds, flooded feeders no longer will be a concern on Shelley Lake and anglers will have a new fishing hole on the 53-acre lake.

In addition to keeping fish feed dry, the floating fish feeder can hold up to 340 pounds of feed — a month’s supply — instead of the 80 pounds of feed that the stationary feeders can hold. The larger capacity eliminates the need to store feed and frees park personnel from the weekly chore of filling fish feeders.

“Filling the previous fish feeders required a minimum of two staff members and posed a potential safety hazard,” said Richard Costello, recreation program director for the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department. “The current floating fish feeder eliminates the need for storage and staffing requirements.

“The feeder is efficient and effective in meeting the needs of park management and patrons that enjoy the fishing opportunities.”

The experimental floating fish feeder dispenses feed every hour for three seconds from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. This schedule simulates natural feeding habits of fish and stimulates their appetite, which help keep fish within casting distance for longer periods, according to Kimbrell.

“Instead of feeding the fish all at once like hogs, the feeder dispenses a little under a pound an hour, so fish don’t gorge themselves,” Kimbrell said. “It’s easier to catch a hungry fish than it is to catch one that’s gorged itself on fish feed.”

The feeding schedule also creates feeding frenzies as fish quickly become accustomed to the feeder’s schedule and hang around the feeder, anticipating their next meal.

“If an angler’s average fishing trip is two hours, the feeder goes off twice, which should mean more chances to catch dinner,” Kimbrell said.

Kimbrell knows from personal experience that this feeding regimen works. “I feed the fish in my own pond every half hour from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., and I can catch them any time — day or night.”

He and fellow fisheries technician David Hart developed the prototype feeder with assistance from inmates from the Dan River Prison Work Farm and Caswell Corrections in Caswell County.

Three earlier prototypes of the floating feeder were either too heavy or too unstable, but Kimbrell and Hart are optimistic that this fourth version will work. During the test period, which will last until March 2008, they will check the feeder periodically to ensure it is dispensing feed properly and enduring the weather sufficiently.

If the feeder holds up during the test period, Kimbrell and Hart plan to leave the prototype at Shelley Lake and construct more floating fish feeders for installation at Community Fishing Program sites and public fishing areas that experience the same rapid water level fluctuations as Shelley Lake.

“We hope to start putting them up at other sites in the next year or so,” Kimbrell said. “It’ll be a slow transition because the inmates are building them one by one, and they can only produce so many at one time.”

City and county parks participating in the Commission’s Community Fishing Program benefit from monthly stockings of catchable-sized channel catfish from April-September, installation of fish feeders and, at some locations, installation of handicapped-accessible fishing piers. A cost-share agreement subsidized through the Sport Fish Restoration Program allows parks to pay for only 25 percent of Community Fishing Program materials.

In Wake County, Community Fishing Program sites are Apex Community Park, Bass Lake Park in Holly Springs, Fred G. Bond Park in Cary, Harris Lake County Park in New Hill, and Lake Wheeler and Shelley Lake parks in Raleigh.

For more information on fishing in North Carolina’s public, inland waters, visit the Commission’s Web site, Welcome to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220.
 

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