How Zebra Mussels Are Ruining Our Waterways | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
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Your favorite fishing hole may be under attack

I’ve fished Kentucky Lake at least once a week for the past 20 years, first as a co-angler in my father’s bass boat and in a kayak for the past six years. I’ve seen the lake change over time between man-made structures and habitats naturally evolving, but one of the most alarming changes is the infestation of zebra mussels. 

Originally from Eurasia, zebra mussels were first discovered in the U.S. in 1988 on Lake St. Clair near Detroit, Michigan. They had attached themselves to ocean-going ships that ported in the Great Lakes. They spread throughout the Great Lakes and by 1999 had made it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Just this week, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists have classified Lake Georgetown as infested with an established, reproducing population of invasive zebra mussels and have also changed the status of Lake Livingston to fully infested. (The Fishing Wire.)

At around two-inches in length zebra mussels attach to hard surfaces like rocks, piers and indigenous mussels, unfortunately the hull of boats are also a prime location for the mussels to attach to. They will attach to the hull of barges and make their way from river to river, spreading to new locations. They can also attach to the hull of your fishing and sport boat. After your day on the water, the zebra mussels can live for days out of water on your boat. Then, when you take your boat to a new location they can detach and live in a new body of water. 

Zebra mussels also spread like wildfire. A single female mussel can produce 30,000 to 1-million eggs a year. Those eggs will drift in the water for a few weeks and then attach to the nearest hard surface. The mortality rate of those eggs is very high, and can reach up to 99-percent in some areas. But a 99-percent mortality rate still leaves 10,000 eggs that will attach to the nearest hard surface and begin reproducing themselves. The average lifetime reproduction of a female zebra mussel is around 200,000 living spawns. 

So other than the insane reproduction rates, what makes the zebra mussel so dangerous to your eco system? Zebra mussels are “filter feeders.” They pump water over their gills, filtering out small plants and animals for food. An adult zebra mussel can filter up to a liter per day. These small plants and animals are food for the natural species in the water, and the prolific breeding of the zebra mussels dry up the food source. 

Filter feeding also makes the water more clear. Some may not see this as a problem but it can be detrimental to natural species. When the water is more clear, the sun can penetrate deeper and warm the water up. Species that are sensitive to light, like walleye, will move deeper into colder water. 

Increased water clarity will also hurt the fishing industry in areas that have historically had slow moving, murkier water. On Kentucky Lake for instance, I have personally noticed areas that used to have clear water down to about three-foot deep move to six or seven-foot deep before the water gets murky. This affects how you have to get your lure to a fish. You will have to place your boat farther from the fish, your lure presentations will have to have much more finesse and your line size will have to be drastically lowered. The deeper the sun penetrates the water, the deeper your fishing line will light up in that sunlight. 

Zebra mussels have the ability to completely change the ecosystems of any waterway, from the Great Lakes to local ponds. When you take your boat out of the water, check it bow to stern for any plants. The eggs could be living in those plants. Do not let those plants get into a new waterway. Disinfect live wells, anchors or any other accessories that have come in contact with the water before using them again. And finally, let others know about zebra mussels and their affect on our waterways.

Special thanks to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife for the information on zebra mussels.

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