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Hot weather takes toll on muskies in Spring Lake

July 14, 2012 at 02:54 PM

Gatehouse News Service

MANITO — Gene Vonderheide is knee deep in the waters of Spring Lake as he pushes muskie carcasses away from the shoreline with a cracked old fishing pole to keep his dogs from rolling in the dead fish.

Vonderheide is thankful the wind is blowing away from his cabin at the top of the steep lakeside bank in the Hackler subdivision because the smell of dead fish is unpleasant, especially in the heat of summer, and he does not want that smell to penetrate his home.

What is strange about this scene is that, according to Vonderheide, he has never seen a single dead muskellunge - usually known as muskies for short - washed up on his shoreline in all the years that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has stocked them in the northern section of the lake. So seeing four of them at once is alarming.

Vonderheide is not alone, though. According to IDNR biologists, fish kills are occurring all over the state. The same heat wave that has sent everyone running for the nearest air conditioner has created lower oxygen levels in rivers and lakes and has caused the death of larger, cold water fish such as muskie and northern pike.

Wayne Herndon, the IDNR fisheries biologist for the district that includes Spring Lake, said the high temperatures during the heat wave “super heated” the water in the lake. Herndon said hot water holds less oxygen than cold water, and rotting vegetation at the lake bottoms consumes a lot of the lake’s oxygen.

“We’ve had temperatures up to 104 degrees, so we’ve had some very difficult conditions, especially for muskie on Spring Lake,” Herndon said.

Herndon said muskie tend to basically camp out in cold spots near the bottom of the lake where springs flow into the lake from the Mahomet Aquifer underground. But there is not much oxygen coming into the spring and the reluctance of the fish to leave the cool water results in their death.

Vonderheide said the IDNR needs to dredge the lake because there is so much silt at the bottom. If the silt were removed, there would be more usable water for the fish and the water would not get so hot, he believes.

Herndon said that solution would cost too much to be considered, as would raising the levee to keep more water in the lake.

“We’re going to have to live with the natural conditions we have for now,” Herndon said. “On the up note, I think the muskie that were affected were less than 1 percent of the muskie living in the lake.”

Herndon said Thursday the oxygen levels were starting to return to normal after the temperatures had returned to typical summer levels Sunday. But the arrival of a new heat wave could kill more fish, and there is little that anybody can do about it.

Vonderheide can hope, though, as he pushes fish carcasses out of the reach of his dogs who stare longingly at the rotting hunks of muskie.

“I hope that wind don’t change.”

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