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Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois Department of Natural Resources field technician Rob Bartlett weighs a fish collected during the annual fall survey of Lake Springfield. Photos by Chris Young.

Fall lake surveys look good despite drought worries

November 01, 2012 at 10:00 PM

The State Journal-Register

Anglers concerned about local fish populations can breathe easier — fish numbers are strong, especially largemouth bass.

That’s the early word on fall lake surveys in central Illinois. And the news comes despite the summer drought that brought low water levels and high water temperatures that resulted in serious fish kills.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson said the preliminary report card for area lakes is excellent.

“All of my lakes have looked excellent so far, especially for largemouth bass,” Stephenson said.
Wayne Herndon, whose territory includes Powerton and Spring Lakes, two lakes that suffered significant fish kills, said the news is good — even for those lakes hit hardest.

“In Powerton Lake we were pleasantly surprised to find that the catfish population has been benefited by the loss of many pounds of fish biomass,” he said.

To conduct surveys, fisheries biologists use specially equipped boats that create an electric field to temporarily stun fish for capture. Some also may set nets to catch certain species missed by electrofishing.

Fish are weighed, measured and aged to determine the health and age structure of the population.

While the last fish surveys still are being completed and numbers analyzed, here is a preliminary look at how area lakes are faring.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Dan Stephenson steers the survey boat along the shore of Lake Springfield.

Lake Springfield

Always a popular bass-fishing lake, Stephenson marveled at the condition of the fish and the emergence of a larger class of bass.

For many years, bass over 18 inches were hard to come by. But in recent years, those fish have been showing up in surveys in good numbers.

Despite hot weather and lots of fishing tournaments, Lake Springfield bass are “super heavy,” and “in great body condition.

“I’m surprised, with as many tournaments as we have out here, we don’t see a lot of fish with hook injuries,” Stephenson said.

Crappie numbers also were looking good.

“Crappie numbers (on the first day of Lake Springfield surveys) were the best I’ve seen in a very long time, 20 plus years,” he said.

Sangchris Lake

“Lake Sangchris bass are tremendous — not quite as good as Lake Springfield overall, but hard not to call excellent,” Stephenson said.

“I had one run where I collected 229 bass in an hour there,” he said. “Overall 25 percent were over 15 inches.

“I saw quite a few five- and six-inch crappie, both black and white,” Stephenson said. “While not big enough for the anglers now, it’s nice to see fish for the future.”

Jacksonville Lake

“Jacksonville looks good for bass, channel cats and a few nice crappie, but I hate to see the loss of coontail, an aquatic vegetation,” Stephenson said. The invasive Eurasian milfoil has displaced coontail.

“It is a very sad situation,” he said. “The same is true at Prairie Lake at Jim Edgar Panther Creek. We’re losing all the native coontail to the milfoil. Please remind everyone to clean their boats before going to a new body of water.”

Pittsfield Lake

“Pittsfield bass are excellent,” Stephenson said. “The crappie and bluegill are not as good but we saw some nice channel cats, walleye and hybrid striped bass.”

Powerton Lake

“Both blue catfish and channels exhibited very good condition and growth for all sizes sampled,” Herndon said of his survey at Powerton. “Good gizzard shad and threadfin shad numbers are helping the catfish growth rate.

“We were able to sample good numbers of all catfish sizes and ages present in the lake.”

Herndon said the biggest fish sampled were blue catfish weighing more than 40 pounds.

Silver and common carp numbers, however, were down significantly.

“Also, freshwater drum were almost absent from our collection,” Herndon said.

A few 2-year-old hybrid striped bass were collected, but no white bass.

Herndon said enough 2-year-old smallmouth bass were present that 2013 should be a good year for reproduction.
“(Overall) it was much better than I expected to see, and fishermen are not going to be greatly disappointed in 2013.”

North Spring Lake

“There were excellent numbers of 30- to 40-inch muskies in our fish samples,” Herndon said. “Largemouth bass look excellent for 2013 with many 15-inch (and larger) bass in the sample along with good reproduction and recruitment of bass in 2012.

“All in all there’s good news all around,” Herndon said.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

Illinois hunting and fishing
This largemouth bass tried to swallow a shad headfirst. Only the tail is still visible.

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