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Illinois hunting and fishing

Willie Schrader takes the first net-full of blue catfish to release into Lake Springfield, Tuesday. Photos by Chris Young.

After a year’s delay, blue catfish stocked in Lake Springfield

November 10, 2011 at 10:43 PM

The State Journal-Register

Try to imagine the small fish cupped in Trevor Miller’s hands someday giving a catfish angler an unforgettable fight.

That is the fondest wish of the 16 people who showed up to help stock 7,000 six-inch blue catfish at Lake Springfield on Tuesday.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Miller was one of the catfish anglers to carry a net full of fish from the stocking truck to the lake.

Blue catfish are the larger cousins of the channel catfish. They are found in large river systems like the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Trevor Miller releases blue catfish into Lake Springfield, Tuesday.

They can grow big enough to put a team of lucky catfish anglers at the top of just about any tournament.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said one of the anglers as the wriggling, squirming catfish were released into the water at the Lindsay Bridge Boat Ramp.

“I’ve completed my mission,” says Willie Schrader, who has coordinated the Lake Springfield Open Buddy Catfish Tournament Series for the past 13 years. “Mission accomplished.”

Tuesday’s stocking was delayed a year.

A private hatchery in Tennessee that supplied fish for stocking was unable to deliver on its promise of 7,000 fish in 2010, so Schrader says the contract was carried over until this year.

This was the second batch of blue cats stocked this fall.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson reported back in September that Lake Springfield received 8,000 five- to six-inch blue catfish from the Little Grassy Hatchery near Carbondale.

La Salle Lake received 23,268, Braidwood got 5,500 and Powerton received 8,000.

Illinois hunting and fishing
After a year’s delay, 7,000 blue catfish were stocked Tuesday.

A new home

Bringing blue catfish to Lake Springfield has been a five-year process that started with catfish anglers bringing fish back from the Alton area to stock into the lake. The Alton area has a reputation for producing big blues. For a time, Tim Pruitt of Fosterburg held the world record for blue catfish, landing a 124-pounder near Alton in 2005.

Introducing blue catfish was undertaken in cooperation with DNR and Lake Springfield.

Schrader says over the past five years, catfish anglers have painstakingly transported 170 breeding age fish from the Mississippi River to Lake Springfield.

Now those have been supplemented with the two stockings totaling 15,000 young blue catfish.

It is uncertain how well the blue catfish will reproduce in the large lakes with less current than large rivers. If the fish do not breed in Lake Springfield, periodic restocking would be necessary to maintain the population.

With state hatcheries already at capacity and the state’s budget position precarious at best, it might be up to anglers to keep the program going.

“It’s about time to have a catfish stamp, just like the state has a trout stamp that pays for the fish produced each year,” says Pete Ochs, one of the anglers who helped relocate blue catfish from Alton to Lake Springfield.

Funds generated by a stamp could help fund stocking and more research.

“Nobody studies catfish,” he says. “They only study the glamour fish like largemouth bass.”

Fishing for catfish remains popular.

The Lake Springfield Open Buddy Catfish Tournament Series drew an average of 34 boats over six tournaments from April through September this year.

Including the year-end classic held Oct. 8-9, 1.74 tons of catfish were caught and released this year.

Ochs says he thinks those anglers are willing to support the sport they love.

“Sportsmen have never shied away from paying their way,” he says.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

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