MOROCCO — Starting in the spring of 2022, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will begin draining J.C. Murphey Lake in the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area as part of a periodic renovation.
“We have seen a decline in a lot of the wildlife population and fisheries at the Slough,” said Property Manager Mike Schoof. “Our primary goal for this renovation is to provide a large benefit for a wide host of animal and plant species. Renovations like this not only provide a boost to the lake’s ecosystem, it will also improve opportunities for waterfowl hunters, anglers, trappers, and wildlife viewers.”
This will be the fifth renovation of J.C. Murphey Lake since the man-made lake was created in 1951. Willow Slough and the lake are currently used for a variety of recreational activities including hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife watching.
“The last restoration was done in 2003 and it is usually done in 12-year cycles,” added Schoof. “This time we were able to extend the life cycle of the lake to 19 years.”
A meeting was held Aug. 21 to get input from the public on the renovation plan.
“The main concerns were what we were going to do with the fish,” said Schoof. “At some point before we start draining the lake, we will relax our fishing restrictions so anglers can catch and keep more fish.”
Schoof also said that the DNR will do some fish salvage operations to save as many fish as possible and transport them to other fish and wildlife areas.
Once the lake is completely drained, DNR will begin work on deepening ditches and channels in the lake’s bottom, replacing the aeration system installed in 2003, cleaning out the lake’s bottom and repairing its dam, boat ramps and docks.
Schoof estimated that fishing will be suspended at the lake for about a year and that the work will be completed and water levels restored by spring 2024.
The DNR believes this plan will help several species including about 20 considered endangered in Indiana.
“The muskrat population, a keystone species for this ecosystem, has really dropped over the past decade,” Schoof added. “In 2008, licensed trappers caught more than 3,000 muskrats here. Here recently, less than 25 have been caught in a year. With the renovation and the restoring of its habitat, hopefully, the muskrats numbers will increase and we expect that to be the case.”
Willow Slough has about 1,000 acres of water including J.C. Murphey Lake. The DNR stocks a variety of fish in the lake including largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill, and channel catfish.
“We are still in the top 10 for fishing in the state, but there are signs of decline,” Schoof said. “Due to bait dumping and historic rain events, we are seeing increasing numbers of undesirable fish like carp and golden shiners.”
Why is the lake undergoing renovations?
According to the DNR, J. C. Murphey Lake requires periodic renovations to maintain habitat for the maximum number of species and recreational opportunities. Because the lake is a manmade body of water, it will always require renovations to mimic the wet/dry cycles that would occur in a natural system. Since the last renovation, the habitat at J.C. Murphey Lake has declined due to elevated or consistent water levels. Higher water does not allow wetland plants to grow, which many wildlife species depend on for food and shelter. The spread of invasive plants and undesirable fish species introduced by people and flooding has led to degraded habitat and reduced fish productivity.
What are the benefits of the renovations?
Renovations will be used to improve lake conditions, habitat, and attract native wildlife. These improvements include:
- New or improved habitat for rare and endangered native wildlife
- Increased opportunities for waterfowl hunters, anglers, and trappers
- Increased opportunities for wildlife viewing
- Better fishing opportunities post-renovation
J.C. Murphey Lake Renovation Timeline for Complete Renovation
- Fall 2019 – Change fishing regulations to statewide regulations
- Fall2019 — Notify fish hatcheries of projected needs
- Fall 2019 — Farm contract written so that Rookery and Salisbury waterfowl units are available for fish
- Winter 2019 — Begin permitting processes
- Winter 2021 – Have permits in hand for all aspects of the drawdown
- Spring 2022 – Begin to dewater lake
- Spring 2022 — Fish salvage operations begin
- Spring 2022 – Remove trash and debris from the lakebed
- Summer 2022 – Public Access mobilized to site
- Summer 2022 -Lake closed to public access
- Summer 2022 – Treat herbaceous invasive species
- Summer 2022 – Aerial seed desired wetland plant species
- Summer/Fall 2022 — Ditch cleaning
- Summer/Fall 2022 — Shoreline Stabilization
- Summer/Fall 2023 — Boat Ramp and Pier repairs
- Summer/Fall 2023 – Finish any remaining work on ditches/islands
- Summer/Fall 2023 — Dam Control Repairs
- Summer/Fall 2023 — Work with conservation groups on habitat enhancement projects
- Fall 2023 — Complete treatment to remove rough fish from watershed
- Fall 2023 — Begin to refill lake
- Fall 2023 — Stock Fish
- Fall 2023 – Salisbury/Rookery fish salvage
- Summer 2024 — Open to fishing