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Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois River’s fertility amazes

August 06, 2009 at 05:00 PM

The Illinois River never fails to amaze.

And not just because of all those pesky flying carp.

Ever since Asian carp numbers started skyrocketing in the late 1990s I’ve been expecting the worst.  Surely all that invasive bio-mass had to take a toll on native gamefish.

Amazingly enough, we’re still waiting to see the bottom drop out of the Illinois River fishery. That’s true even though silver carp made up 51 percent of all fish sampled by the Illinois Natural History Survey in the river’s LaGrange Pool in 2008.

Illinois hunting and fishing

With the notable exception of gizzard shad, most native species appear to be coexisting with carp.  Several gamefish are actually thriving.

That’s an amazing testament to the fertility of the Illinois River.

The other day I went out with fish biologists to conduct annual surveys at Henry and Lacon. To gauge the aquatic population, biologists run electric current into the water that temporarily stuns fish.

In just 22 minutes of sampling at Henry, we netted 29 species of fish. You name it, we saw it —  from gar to crappie to longear sunfish.

Particularly noteworthy were the abundant largemouth bass, a trend I’ll write more about on Sunday. That’s just one of several gamefish doing wel.

While we didn’t see them in great numbers that day, sauger are also surging by all accounts. Though weights were not overly impressive for last weekend’s FLW Walleye League event out of Spring Valley, numbers of sauger caught bodes well for the future.

Limits were plentiful, including David Kleszyk’s winning sack of five sauger weighing 10 pounds, 4 ounces. The best technique was trolling crankbaits at speeds of 2 mph or more.

Anecdotal evidence also shows white bass are running better in the Peoria area than they have in years. Duck Island remains a hotspot and creek mouths, dams and backwaters up and down the river are producing white bass in impressive numbers.

Not surprisingly, channel catfish are thriving as well. Tournament weights have been consistent this summer, with 36-46 pounds needed to win most events with six-fish limits.

In recent days cut baits have been producing big cats. So cut baits figure to be popular during Saturday’s Tri-County Catfish Association event (6 p.m. to 1 a.m. out of Pekin) and at Sunday’s Spring Valley Boat Club tournament (6 a.m. to noon out of Barto Landing).

But that leads us to the one indicator that has me worried. More and more anglers have been forced to dissect Asian carp for bait instead of gizzard shad, which for years has been the preferred food source for most predator fish.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Once plentiful in the river, shad have become scarce — a troubling point on which biologists and anglers agree.
“Everybody up this way is having trouble catching shad,” said Darrell “Buster” Culjan, a guide who runs Cajun’s Bait Shop in Utica. “It’s even worse in the Ottawa pool. Something has happened to the shad. Maybe we’re finally seeing the effect of all those carp.”

The same is true at Henry and Lacon. We saw only a handful of large shad and encountered a few schools of 2-inchers while electro-fishing. That had veteran biologists Wayne Herndon and Ken Russell shaking their heads. “Used to be you’d see lots of 7- and 11-inch shad this time of year,” Herndon said. “They’re just not here any more.”

Downstream is no better. Tom Alcorn of Tom’s Bait Shop in Beardstown once netted shad by the thousands to supply bait dealers in southern Illinois. No longer.
“They’re just non-existent. It used to be we could make a seine haul in the marina here and catch 150 or 200 pounds of shad in one haul,” Alcorn said. “You don’t see that anymore. It’s terrible.”

Alcorn wonders if pelicans are eating the shad.

Maybe. More likely Asian carp are out-competing shad.

And while native species seem to enjoy eating small silver carp, one problem is that those fish grow faster and larger than shad.

“They’re not vulnerable as long as shad,” Herndon explained.

Long-term, that may still be cause for worry. But in the short term, the next few months look like they should offer excellent fishing on the Illinois River — not to mention all the Asian carp you want to shoot, snag or net.

Et cetera: The Boat Tavern in Bath has a pole-and-line carp tournament Saturday at 7 a.m. Call (309) 546-2545. ... Bartonville’s chapter of Ducks Unlimited has a Hunter’s Night Out event Saturday at Bartonville American Legion starting at 4 p.m. Call (309) 369-8733 or visit Presley’s Outdoors for tickets. ... Duck decoys are featured items at the Illinois Valley Sporting and Fishing Collectibles show Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Celebrations 150 banquet hall in Utica. Call (815) 223-8764.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Excellent artical Jeff.I think we have to factor in this years weather before writing off the shad.Last falls IWT tourneys brought in the biggest weights in some time.I’m not giving up yet.I saw alot of shad around Hennipen last week.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/07 at 05:30 PM

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