Volunteers Improve Fish Habitat in Jekyll Island’s Public Saltwater Pond

Improvements will benefit redfish, trout and flounder in this 23-acre pond.

GON Staff | September 10, 2008

Ski Rixen Pond is located on Jekyll Island and is open to public fishing. The pond recently received some PVC/concrete fish-habitat units. In addition, 3 tons of granite rocks and a compressed-air aeration system were added.

Scattered along the Georgia coast are dozens of brackish ponds, both natural and man-made, that are fed saltwater and sea life through culverts and other connections to the tidal marshlands. Most are bordered by private property, making them off limits to the general public.

One exception is the man-made 23-acre pond on Jekyll Island, which is open to public fishing from the shoreline, two fishing piers and from small vessels propelled by paddle or electric motor. And, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Fish America Foundation, the prospects for fishing are looking even better in the Ski Rixen Pond — so named for the cable-driven water-ski device formerly located there.

The Alexandria, Va. based Fish America Foundation is the conservation arm of the American Sportfishing Association, a recreational-fishing-industry trade group. The foundation uses a competitive process to distribute private funds to fishing clubs, non-governmental conservation groups and others to improve fish populations and their habitat.

“We recently partnered with the Coastal Conservation Association to direct a portion of our funding to saltwater-fish habitat projects. We’re pleased the flagship projects of this partnership are happening in coastal Georgia,” said Erica George, the foundation’s grants manager.

On July 18, more than 30 volunteers from Coastal Conservation Association — Georgia and the local Glynn County 4-H organization joined employees of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division (CRD) to install 78 fish-habitat units, 3 tons of granite rocks and a compressed-air aeration system in the Ski Rixen Pond.

“Although it’s connected to the marsh by four culverts, the pond doesn’t have the same inflow and outflow of water as the surrounding estuary. In fact, the tide only rises and falls about 6 inches compared to over 6 feet in the marshlands,” explained Doug Haymans, CRD biologist and coordinator of the habitat project. “This means the pond is subject to a summertime phenomenon called stratification, during which the cooler water at the bottom of the pond doesn’t mix with the surface water. The oxygen gets depleted from the lower layer of water, preventing fish from using it as habitat. Plus, when a pond is stratified there’s a constant risk that a heavy downpour from a late-afternoon thunderstorm may cause the pond to turn over, causing a fish kill.”

The compressed-air aeration system will be operated at night during the summer and early autumn to prevent this stratification and to enhance the level of oxygen in the pond.

Since the Ski Rixen Pond was dug from the uplands, much like a typical freshwater pond, the bottom is flat sand or sand/silt mixture, and there is no structure such as submerged vegetation, oyster reefs or hard substrate for fish habitat. As part of the July enhancement project, two types of fish-habitat units were installed — concrete-and-plastic-pipe units and cube-shaped units built by the Berkley tackle company from recycled monofilament fishing line. Eight submerged mounds of granite rocks were created around the two fishing piers. Over time, sea life will colonize the habitat units and rock piles, creating both shelter and food for fish.

Despite its highly visible location between the public boat ramp and the popular Summer Waves water park, the Ski Rixen Pond draws few anglers. Those who do fish the pond tell stories of jumbo speckled trout, doormat flounder and other impressive catches. In an effort to determine whether hatchery-reared redfish could enhance fishing in the Ski Rixen Pond, CRD has released more than 2,000 juvenile redfish there as part of the Peach State Reds Initiative. Thus far, almost 3 dozen of 500 tagged redfish released in late May have been caught.

“We’re always looking for ways to enhance the coastal fishing experience whether it be improved access or more effective management of native fish populations,” said Spud Woodward, CRD assistant director. “The Ski Rixen Pond is already a good public fishing opportunity, but CRD and the Jekyll Island Authority want to make it even better. Thanks to Fish America Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association we’re able to improve fish habitat in the pond, which is a great first step toward better fishing.”

The Ski Rixen Pond is located off South Riverview Drive near the Tidelands Nature Center. Once you pay the $3-per-vehicle entrance fee to Jekyll Island State Park there is no additional fee to access the pond. Georgia fishing-license requirements and fishing regulations do apply. Tackle and bait are available on Jekyll, and the Tidelands Nature Center rents kayaks and canoes. Two fishing piers are located on the west side of the pond, and handicap parking and restrooms are available.

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