Given a little time on one of our island trails, most folks could probably point out a bird’s nest. Many could identify a squirrel’s nest, too. But if I asked you to show me a fish nest, would you think I was crazy, or perhaps that I might be joking?
I promise that fish nests are quite real, and that they are plainly visible in nearly all of our local ponds this time of year. In this part of the country, one might hear the nests referred to as “beds” while people out West, especially when referring to salmon or trout, usually call them “redds.” Appropriately, this word derives from the verb redd, which means to clean or clear out.
So, how would one identify a fish nest? I learned how from my paternal grandmother, or “Nanny.” She loved fishing beyond measure. In fact, she could be found paddling one of her tiny aluminum boats on the lakes of the family farm at every opportunity, usually alone, and she couldn’t even swim! But back to finding fish nests.
A fish nest is unlike a bird’s nest or a squirrel’s nest. Birds and squirrels gather sticks, moss, etc. to construct a nest. Fish sweep it all away. And fish typically nest in the shallower areas of a pond, meaning many beds are visible from shore. This is especially true in a place like Smythe Lake where much of the bottom is a sandy, white color. Simply walk along the shore and look at the lake’s bottom. If you see a white, circular area from which the moss, sticks, etc., have been removed, it’s probably a fish nest. Some species create large colonies with many beds grouped closely together. As for size, I would guess the average nest I have seen in Smythe Lake is between one and two feet across.
As an example of spawning behaviors, let’s take the largemouth bass, a popular freshwater game fish here on Daniel Island. Once water temperatures warm to near 70 degrees, male largemouths will clear out a saucer-shaped area over which one to several females will lay 5,000 to over 100,000 eggs. After fertilizing them, the male will guard and fan the eggs for several days, until they hatch. This fanning serves to move water, and therefore oxygen, across the eggs and to remove waste and sediment. He will also continue to guard the young bass, or fry, for several weeks, until they can swim off on their own.
So, all of those round, white spots on the bottom of our lakes and ponds aren’t discarded paper plates after all. In fact, they are quite beneficial. From them come thousands of young fry, a critical food source which helps sustain our aquatic ecosystems. And the survivors will become the next generation of fish for us to watch, study, catch, and enjoy.