Rural Missouri - July 2019 - 16

RM

| OUTDOORS

FLOURISHING FISH
Polo company takes scientific
approach to lake management

by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop

S

hawn Banks admits he was out of his mind
when he left a job as a fisheries management
biologist for a government agency in 2003 to
follow his dream, but he certainly wasn't out
of his depth. When he started Midwest Lake Management, he wanted to do two things: bring electrofishing equipment into the 21st century and bring world-class fishing to
the backyard. Sixteen years later the
Polo
Polo-based company, which is served
by Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, is
making a name for itself in both arenas.
"This is pretty niche stuff, so there
are not a lot of competitors but there
are a couple," Shawn says. "The difference is our company was founded by
fisheries biologists, so we talk the talk."
The electrofishing side of the company builds the
equipment biologists use to sample fish communities, which utilizes an electric current to temporarily stun fish so they can be measured and returned
to the water unharmed. When Shawn started his
career in the 1990s, he was using generators and
control boxes that, "looked like they came from an
Apollo 13 capsule." Frustrated with the lack of control and inability to troubleshoot problems in the
field, he decided the best way to change what had
become an industry standard was to build a new
normal. With the help of a physicist, Shawn and
staff developed controls with digital outputs that
can switch currents or dial in specific frequencies
and voltages.
"We knew that different fish react to different factors, so what if we could really fine tune it?" Shawn
adds. "It was like bag phone technology and we
brought the iPhone to the industry."
Those experiments led to a line of onboard gear,
backpack shockers for small streams and fully
loaded electrofishing boats. The Midwest Lake Electrofishing Systems division has sold equipment to
researchers in Laos, Australia, Colombia and Canada as well as universities and state and federal
agencies around the country. It's proven an effective

16

RURAL MISSOURI | JULY 2019

income source for a company whose management
season is not year-round. But during peak times,
the seven-person shop stays busy on the water in
Missouri and states as far away as Georgia.
Advanced tech aside, what anglers want to see
on the end of the line are big fish - and the management division doesn't disappoint in that respect.
On a client's lake in western Missouri, the team
pulls one lunker after another from the water.
Each fish is deposited in an aerated live well
and later measured, weighed and recorded before being returned to the murky
depths. All of the largemouth bass will
weigh in at more than 5 pounds. The
true toad of the lot, sides gleaming
a rich palette of dark green and its
bulging yellow belly resembling a
swallowed football, is better than 7
pounds.
"The detriment to most trophy bass
lakes is overpopulation, because they're eating
machines and prolific breeders," Shawn says. "We
have clients who want lots of big fish, and that's
a tough thing to do. Mother Nature, on a per-acre
basis, doesn't typically allow for it. But through
management we can do it."
In order to grow truly gigantic largemouth - or
smallmouth, hybrid stripers, crappie, walleye and
catfish - and plenty of them, the lake management
side of the company takes many factors into consideration. The geography of the lake and surrounding
area, the habitat for birds and other predators and
the genetics of fish already in a lake can determine
how many fish it is capable of carrying and how
big they will grow. For quality fishing, much of the
work involves fixing the water's nutrient load, or
the amount of microscopic algae that feed everything else in the lake's food chain. Finding the right
balance sometimes means starting from scratch.
"You want some color to your water, but too
much is a bad thing, so there's always this sweet
Top: Tyler Ruoff, left, and Jeff Slipke measure each fish caught
during community assessments. Right: The Midwest Lake
team shows off lunker largemouth pulled from a client's lake.

spot," Shawn says. "It's all based on goals, and
that's where experience and education come in."
To control those factors, the company can perform any steps it recommends to clients, including
fish and forage stocking and management, weed
control, mapping, fountain and aerator installation
as well as the design and construction of docks, fish
habitat, ponds and lakes. The team also can take
inventories on an annual basis to determine if the
plan is working and what may need to be tweaked.
That's why recording the location, species, size and
weight of all the fish caught, including forage such
as bluegill, shiners and trout, is so important.
The cost for Midwest Lake Management's services ranges from $350 for a consultation to around
$3,000 for an assessment complete with inventory
and a management plan. Travel time, the number
and size of lakes and the depth of detail in the end
report can increase the cost, but Shawn says the
company is able to work within most budgets.
"Most people just want a place for their kids or
grandkids to have a good time, and we can help with
that," he says. "I really want to help set the table for
people to do some awesome fishing."
For more information on Midwest Lake
Management and Midwest Lake Electrofishing
Systems, visit www.midwestlake.com or email
pondrx@midwestlake.com or call 816-804-5604.


http://www.midwestlake.com

Rural Missouri - July 2019

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