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2012 fishing forecast: Jim Edgar Panther Creek

February 20, 2012 at 10:03 PM

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

This is the fourth installment of the 2012 fishing forecast. This report on lake population surveys was submitted by Dan Stephenson of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Prairie Lake- Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area, Cass County 210 acres

Largemouth bass
Prairie Lake, one of the new lakes built on the old Commonwealth Edison ground known as Site M, remains a very good largemouth bass lake. 

It was excellent a few years after the initial stocking but it is hard to maintain that very high level. 

The initial bass year class moved through the fishery providing excellent fishing in 2003-2006 but those old fish are gone now. 

The Spring 2011 survey revealed a good bass population - not quite where it has been but still good. 

Seventy-three bass were collected per hour with 63 percent over 15 inches and 14 percent over 18 inches. 

In addition three percent were over 20 inches, so large bass are still prevalent in the lake.

I’m a little concerned about the apparent lack of small fish but we have seen population structural indices that look like this for years so the smaller fish must be there just not susceptible to our electrofishing. 

Smallmouth bass
In the fall of 2009 the on-site nursery pond was drained and 720 smallmouth bass were stocked into the lake from it. 

Those numbers are not what I had hoped for but the fish averaged 9.2 inches so their survival should be excellent. 

In 2010 the nursery pond produced only a handful of “smallies” but the hatchery supplemented the stocking with 10,000 two-inch fingerlings and will continue to do so unless future evaluations show that they are unsuccessful. 

I hope to build up their numbers within three years to provide and additional species for the bass anglers. 

They probably won’t reproduce naturally so they will always need to be stocked. 

Again in 2011, 10,000 smallmouth were stocked and more were raised in the nursery pond but the pond hasn’t been drained this year so no numbers are available yet.

Muskelunge
The muskies are doing pretty well. 

The as was the case in 2010, the 2011 survey produced 14 fish in the boat with another 16 seen but not captured. 

They explode out of the water when hit with the electric field and are difficult to net. 

The largest was 46.5 inches long but weighed only 23 pounds, far below the optimum weight for a fish of that length. 

Gizzard shad have been stocked each of the past two years in an attempt to build a better forage base. 

Those stockings will continue as necessary until a shad population is established. 

I have reports of fish over 50 inches being caught but I haven’t seen anything approaching that yet. 

We will continue the current stocking regime of 200 10-inch fingerlings every other year to maintain that fishery. 

Incidentally, there have been reports of tiger muskies in the lake. 

Tiger muskies are a cross between a muskie and a northern pike. 

They are produced in hatcheries (and can occur naturally where their populations overlap)  for stocking into lakes. 

They have heavy dark bars down their sides, hence the name. 

These muskies in Prairie are not tiger muskies, they are simply heavily barred pure muskies. 

DNR has not produced tiger muskies at our hatchery in more than15 years. 

Crappies
There are a few black crappies in the lake that were not stocked by DNR. 

Those few present are very large providing quite a trophy – up to 14 inches. 

My plans are to begin stocking them from the on-site nursery pond but in order to feed all the predators, such as the largemouth, smallmouth bass, muskies and crappie, we will need a stronger forage base. 

To that end I have begun and will continue to stock gizzard shad.

Catfish
The channel catfish are excellent, in numbers, population size structure and body conditions. 

Bluegill
The bluegill and redear sunfish are not good at all and probably never will be for reasons to long to go into in this forum. 

For large bluegill and redear sunfish go to Drake and Gridley lakes.

The lake is open to boats with motors over 10 horsepower but there is a lake-wide no wake zone.

For those boats with 10 horsepower motors or less, they can operate full throttle if desired. 

There is a concrete ramp, parking lot, restroom, handicapped fishing pier, playground, pavilion, camping area including rental cabins, docks near the campgrounds and a 17-mile hiking trail around its perimeter.

Gridley Lake, 25 acres

Gridley Lake remains about where it’s been for several years. 

It started out pretty much textbook in 1997 when it was first stocked. 

After a couple of years the bluegill and redear sunfish were very good-to-excellent. 

The bass and channel catfish were very good as well. 

Over the past several years however things have been falling off. 

The largemouth bass are stunted (stopped growing due to high density), which is not good for the bass angler who wants large fish, but having such high densities creates heavy predation on the sunfish (bluegill and redear) keeping them thinned out. 

By thinning out the sunfish population those not eaten by the bass have more food and space so their growth rates improve. 

In a nutshell, lots of skinny little bass mean big bluegill and redear sunfish, which is the management goal of this lake. 

The bass are stunted as desired but we are not seeing the large bluegill and redear we should. 

In the Spring 2010 survey we collected some redear up to 9.5 inches and a handful of bluegill seven inches long. 

So things aren’t as good as we would like. 

The channel catfish population is very good. 

Gridley Lake has a handicapped fishing pier, concrete ramp, rest rooms and parking lot and a walking path around the entire lake for bank access. 

No gas motors. Only electric trolling motors are allowed

Drake Lake 35 acres

Drake Lake remains pretty much unchanged. 

It the last lake built on the site and is progressing as expected. 

It, like Gridley Lake, is being managed for large sunfish (redear and bluegill). 

The largest redear collected in the Spring 2011 survey were nearly 10 inches and the largest bluegill were about 9 inches and there were very good numbers, so they look good. 

The bass started out great but growth rates are starting to slow indicating, an overpopulation. 

As mentioned in the Gridley Lake narrative, stunted bass lead to high quality pan fish so with a little luck we should get there. 

Drake Lake is, in my mind, the prettiest of the lakes on the site. 

It is completely surrounded by mature hardwoods. 

It has developed a severe underwater vegetation infestation.  I will treat that with herbicide but it will be hard to control. 

Hit this lake in the spring for the big panfish. There is a 10 fish per day limit on bluegill and redear. 

It too has a concrete ramp, rest rooms and parking lot.  No gas motors. Only electric trolling motors are allowed.

Gurney Road Pond 1.5 acres
 
The Gurney Road Pond has a catchable trout program in the spring at this site. 

The first Saturday of April at 5 a.m. the pond will be open to trout fishing. 

An Inland Trout Stamp is required of all licensed anglers. 

There are also some bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish in the pond and can be caught anytime.
 
The DNR heavy equipment crew renovated several of the ponds on the site during the Winters of 1999-2001. 

Because the fish populations in most of those were out-of-balance or had undesirable fish species, they were eradicated and restocked. 

Those ponds completed and fishable are: Geiss Road Pond, Gridley Road Pond, North Bike Trail Pond, Philadelphia Road Pond, Otter Pond, Bullfrog Pond, South Highway 11 Pond, Edward Lane Pond, Painter Pond and Herrmann Road Pond.  For more information on pond location contact the site office.

Related stories

2012 fishing forecast: Lake Springfield

"The largemouth bass population continues to be one of the better populations in the state. Excellent numbers and body conditions are found in the bass in the lake."

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