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Tracking Miss. River crappie

March 24, 2010 at 09:24 AM


With a wave of the hand held antenna, Kendal Hausmann zeroed in on Fish 8.86:3.  Not its formal name, of course. It’s the radio frequency assigned to the half-pound black crappie.

Since November, Hausmann and other Department of Natural Resources fisheries workers have tracked 8.86:3 and 199 other crappies caught, tagged and released last fall on the Mississippi River, between Bellevue and Dubuque. Just before ice out on the backwaters, we listened for ‘beeping’ walleyes at Stone Lake, up against the Illinois side of the river. A couple hundred yards away, four ice anglers were watching us more than their wax worm tipped jigs. “We will follow them for a full year,” explained DNR research biologist Kirk Hansen. “As the ice goes out, the idea is to see how far away they disperse from these wintering areas.” 

Crappies and other panfish have better survival rates, spending winters in nearly calm backwaters, off the channel of the Mississippi. Each year, though, another layer of sediment floats in. Dredging works well to reclaim these critical backwaters. However, it comes with a hefty price tag; sometimes a million dollars.

With funding through the Army Corps of Engineers, federal and state officials—along with anglers and other river recreationists—want to know they are getting the biggest bang for their federal buck. The whereabouts of 8.86:3 and the others, as they head toward summer ranges. “We will come in here with that dredging in the next few years; get better habitat for them,” said Hansen. “We need to learn, though, how much of the pool (above the Bellevue lock and dam) that affects; what habitat they prefer.”

That’s important winter or summer. When they zero in on any of the 200 fish, biologists take dissolved oxygen and water clarity readings; check depth and current flow.

And with deteriorating ice conditions, it isn’t easy. That’s where the 400 horsepower airboat comes in handy. Used on a variety of projects, it is valuable for crews, tracking transmitter-equipped crappies over varying ice and water conditions. Going over ice floes or from open water to a backwater sheet of ice rates only a bump as the huge fan-cage roars.

With 200 tagged fish in each of four backwater lakes off the main channel, there’s bound to be over-winter loss. However, about two-thirds of the transmitters in one area have been lost. Researchers say hungry river otters are the primary culprit. The transmitters remain active for a year, so workers have tried to affix them to ‘new’ crappies before they move out of the winter habitat.

Another transmitter was found in a boat ramp parking lot. Several other anglers have called the Bellevue station to let Hansen know they caught a tagged crappie, but turned it loose after noticing the hardware on the dorsal fin.

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2/3rds loss to river otters!

Posted by illin on 03/24 at 03:03 PM

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