Fish On The Move: Huntsman Lake To Be Drained Later This Year

Contractors remove fish from Huntsman Lake.

Contractors remove fish from Huntsman Lake.

It was an unusual day for the fish. An adventurous one, too. They’ll certainly have something to talk about with their BFFs.

If they can find them.

On May 15, an estimated 800 to 1,000 pounds of fish were shocked, netted and moved from Huntsman Lake to Lake Mercer. Huntsman, a 28-acre lake in the Pohick Creek watershed, will be drained later this year to allow for dam maintenance, which would certainly have been an even larger inconvenience for the fish.

Ecologist Shannon Curtis of the county’s Department of Public Works & Environmental Services says that after Huntsman Lake is drained, the lake bottom will be dredged, and the sediment that has flowed into it in recent years because of erosion upstream will be removed. That means the lake will be deeper and, once again, more effective at trapping sediment, which Curtis says is one of the lake’s primary functions.

In addition, there will be some engineering work done on the Huntsman Lake dam.

There’s nothing wrong with the dam. The lake’s emergency spillway needs to be upgraded because there are new regulations governing dams. This is just an upgrade to meet the new regulations.

Fairfax County also is going to repair and replace the riser structure, which visitors to the lake see as a large concrete block standing out in the water near the dam. It houses the pipe that drains the lake into the stream below the dam, and it’s the work on this structure that requires that the lake be drained.

There will, unfortunately, be a loss of some fish that are in the lake. That’s why the shocking boat was on the waters saving as many fish as possible. The loss of fish means there may be a stench around the lake, and there could be visits from predators – hawks, eagles, foxes – looking for an easy meal.

There’s good news coming at the end of the project. “There’s a lake restoration plan that’s going to occur that’s actually going to improve the conditions of the lake,” Curtis said. Engineers plan to add an underwater berm, or ridge, across the upper part of the lake that will create a sediment forebay, a kind of pocket in the lake’s upper reaches. That pocket should catch most of the sediment coming into the lake and help the deeper part of the lake remain somewhat free of sediment. That also means the next time the lake requires dredging that engineers may not have to drain the entire lake. Rather, they can lower the water so that the silted-in area behind the berm can be dredged while water in the deeper, lower basin can be left in place.

There are shoreline improvement plans, water quality improvements and habitat improvements coming for the lake after the construction. Residents may notice a change in the flora around the shoreline.

Curtis says the shocking showed that the lake “currently actually has a very productive fishery in it.” Some nice largemouth bass in the two-to-four pound range were captured and moved to Lake Mercer. Once the construction work is complete and the lake is restored, it will be put on an annual stocking plan managed by state fisheries biologists.  Even better, the restoration plan includes creation of submerged habitat (structure) for fish, shoreline stabilizations and both wetland and aquatic vegetation plantings.

The entire project, “mucking up, draining, digging, dump trucks hauling dirt out, moving dirt, general construction activity” as Curtis puts it, is expected to start in late summer or fall and likely last six to eight months.

Written by Dave Ochs, manager, Stewardship Communications

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

9 thoughts on “Fish On The Move: Huntsman Lake To Be Drained Later This Year

  1. NoVAFisher

    Will there be further attempts to remove fish once the lake starts to draw down? Seems to me that this would make it much easier to save more of the fish once they have less lake to hide in. I’m very fond of Huntsman as a fishery, so would be happy to volunteer help in the relocation of fish to Lake Mercer if FCPA is limited by man-hours. I’m guessing other local anglers would be too.

    1. Fairfax County Park Authority Post author

      There are no further plans to relocate fish in Huntsman prior to lake draw-down. We estimated that we captured and relocated 90% of the fishery (sport fish) from Huntsman to Mercer. That means that Lake Mercer is the place to fish now (and it’s walking distance from Huntsman)!

      Because of the large amounts of silt on the lake bottom it is very difficult and dangerous to work in the lake once the level has been lowered. There is serious risk for entrapment in the deep sediments. It is also very difficult (and dangerous) to attempt to launch boats and equipment under those conditions. The lake will be an active construction site during drawdown and County policy restricts/prohibits volunteers on active construction sites due to the inherent risks and liability.

      Stormwater Management staff are working to create conditions which minimize potential fish mortality during the drawdown and allow the remaining fish to ride the wave downstream.

      The lake will be restocked annually by the VA Department of Game and Inland fisheries until the desired fish community structure is established.

      Shannon Curtis
      Ecologist IV
      Watershed Planning & Assessment Branch
      Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division (SWPD)
      Department of Public Works & Environmental Services

      1. NoVAFisher

        OK, I see. I was out there two weeks ago (6/2) on my kayak and had about dozen bass to nearly 4lbs, so thought there must still be a large remaining population. But perhaps more fish were removed after that date. Anyway, many thanks for the response and the information!

  2. Rick Fowler

    Hi Dave the VAFG website says that 7000 fingerling bass were stocked in 2015. I know it sounds like a lot but the research I have studied suggest four times that for a healthy fishery.

    1. Dave Ochs, FCPA

      Hi Rick, The call on stocking belongs to VDGIF. Although FCPA owns the land around the lake, the lake itself and the wildlife in it belong to the state. I was told last year that annual stockings are planned for a while. Also keep in mind the 15,000 bluegill and sunfish stocked in 2014. If you want more detail about the stocking plan, contact the VDGIF’s office in Fredericksburg. Dave


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