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J.C. Murphey Lake renovation

J.C. Murphey Lake is a reservoir that was created in 1951 to provide an area for migrating waterfowl to use. It is currently an excellent location for a variety of recreational activities, including hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife watching. But its fish and wildlife species and recreational opportunities are declining because of degrading habitat quality and rising populations of undesirable species. Therefore, J.C. Murphey Lake will undergo a renovation to improve lake conditions, habitat, and native wildlife populations.

The renovation began on March 21, 2022 with the removal of the water control structure boards. Once the water has fully drained out, the habitat work will begin. While the lake is being drained, anglers can use the fish collection baskets throughout the lake to assist in collecting fish for salvage. These fish will be restocked once the lake returns to full water level.

This page will be updated periodically to provide updates. For more current information, contact Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area at 219-285-2704.

Why is the lake undergoing renovations?

J. C. Murphey Lake is a constructed lake. A large portion of the lake is shallow, less than 3 feet in depth, and is a wetland-type habitat. Due to this wetland component, J.C. Murphey Lake will always require renovations to mimic the wet/dry cycles found in nature that provide optimum habitat for fish and wildlife species. Past renovations traditionally occurred about every 12 years. The last renovation was 19 years ago in 2003. That drawdown benefited roughly 20 species of greatest conservation need in Indiana along with a host of other species, including game species.

Since the last renovation, the habitat at J.C. Murphey Lake has declined. Habitat deteriorates naturally with stable water levels, but the two years of extreme weather/rainfall (2014-2015) accelerated the decline. Higher water does not allow wetland plants to grow, and many wildlife species depend on these plants for food and shelter. The spread of invasive plants and undesirable fish species, typically introduced by people and flooding, has led to degraded habitat and reduced fish productivity. Because of this, J. C. Murphey Lake is experiencing:

  • Decreased waterfowl hunting opportunities, due to declining waterfowl usage
  • Fewer muskrats, leading to fewer trapping opportunities and fewer muskrat mounds that other animals use for shelter or nests
  • Less desirable fish and smaller fish body sizes
  • Degrading habitat for secretive marsh birds or other species of greatest conservation need

What are the benefits of the renovations?

Renovations will be used to improve lake conditions, habitat, infrastructure, and attract native wildlife. These improvements include:

  • Increased opportunities for waterfowl hunters, anglers, and trappers
  • More wildlife viewing opportunities
  • Boat ramp, fishing piers, and aeration system maintenance and improvements
  • New or improved habitat for rare and endangered native wildlife

Timeline

  • 2022
    • Remove fish from the lake and store in the waterfowl management units
    • Draw down the lake
    • Remove trash and clean up the lakebed
    • Treat invasive species
    • Reinforce the lake with new ditches and shoreline stabilization
    • Conduct habitat enhancement projects (see details below)
  • 2023
    • Finish reinforcement and stabilization work
    • Continue invasive species control and removal of undesirable fish
    • Repair infrastructure, including boat ramps, piers, and dam controls
    • Finalize habitat enhancement projects
    • Begin to add water
    • Stock fish from the hatchery system
    • Relocate fish from waterfowl units back to the lake
    • Open the lake for some public use, including limited waterfowl hunting
  • 2024
    • Return lake to full water level
    • Open the lake to boat fishing and other recreational activities
    • Monitor fish, wildlife, and habitat response to the renovation
    • Continue targeted treatments of invasive species

Habitat Enhancement Projects

  • Aeration System

    An aeration system has been used in the bay near the boat launch to protect the piers while providing fish with oxygenated water during severe winters. The current system is no longer functioning properly and needs to be replaced. The new aeration system will help fish species survive extended periods of cold weather.

  • Catfish Nesting boxes

    Catfish nesting boxes will consist of open-end tubes and constructed wooden boxes. They will be placed into ditch banks throughout the lake. The boxes will provide nesting areas to enhance channel catfish reproduction, which will reduce requests for hatchery stocked fish.

  • Erosion Control

    Throughout the lake, various banks and shorelines have eroded, degrading habitat for fish and wildlife. In these areas, logs will be placed to break the wind and waves, which will protect the shore from erosion while also creating habitat for fish and wildlife.

  • Fish Cribs

    Fish cribs will be placed in locations that benefit shore and boat anglers in historically important fishing areas. These structures will consist of stacked log structures filled with smaller branches. The cribs will provide habitat for fish and improve opportunities for anglers.

  • Stake Beds

    Stake beds are a diverse composition of vertical oak stakes and black locust posts. The beds will provide spawning or ambush habitat for fish and will be easier to fish in and around compared to other structures that can snag baits. These structures will be placed close to shore, so watch for volunteer opportunities to help with installation.

  • Tree Piles

    Treetops, log sections, and root wads will be placed in various parts of the lake. Portions of these structures will extend beyond the water’s surface to create basking spots for turtles and perches for birds. Clusters of trees will be placed in various shapes with dense sections to provide refuge while allowing some portions to be accessible to anglers.

Interested in helping?

Throughout the renovation, volunteers will be needed on multiple projects, including fish salvage, lakebed cleanup, fish structure construction, and more. To get on the notification list and sign up to help, please email Gus Nyberg at gnyberg@dnr.IN.gov.

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