Springfield anglers get the blues

November 01, 2009 at 09:22 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Most of the time, putting on weight isn’t good.

But in Lake Springfield, there are blue catfish that just keep on growing — much to the delight of anglers who have made the local catfish tournament series more popular every year.

Recently, about 65 participants in the Lake Springfield Open Buddy Catfish Tournament Series gathered at the Grandview Municipal Center to celebrate another successful season. Many of the top anglers were competing in other tournaments or the crowd would have been even larger.

Blue catfish weren’t on the menu — it was barbecued beef instead — but they were on the minds of everyone there.

The big fish, native to large river systems such as the Mississippi and at least part of the Illinois River as far north as Peoria, were introduced into Lake Springfield a few years ago.

They’ve been growing ever since.

They’re big enough, in fact, that if a team hooks into one of the behemoths, the fish usually is enough to catapult that team into first place.

Big enough that the tournament director asked the group to consider a rule change that would no longer count the biggest fish toward the team’s total weight.

Big enough that the tournament anglers are asking the public to please release them so more people can have the experience of landing a monster catfish.

Blue catfish are larger cousins of the more familiar channel catfish.
Those blues caught during the tournaments are tagged for identification and then released. If they are recaptured later, their growth rates can be assessed.

“My philosophy is 10 pounds and above, you turn it back,” says Tim Branstetter of Louisiana, Mo. “It can’t do anything but help the fishery.”

Branstetter and Chris Kuchar won the season-ending Willie Buedel Memorial Classic with a two-day weight of 174 pounds, 15 ounces.

The tournament’s big fish, caught by Jerry Cline II and Josh Cline, weighed 65 pounds and all by itself was 12 ounces heavier than last year’s winning two-day total.

This year’s fourth-place team still outpaced last year’s winner.

“Five blue cats were caught, which is outstanding,” says Willie Schrader, the tournament series director for the past 11 years. “Our record just keeps getting shattered. It’s from the introduction of the blue cats. They just keep growing.”

The Clines took second place with 130 pounds, while Jerry Cline and Joe Ludtke were third with 97 pounds, 6 ounces.

Twenty-four competing boats weighed 1,290 pounds of fish that were released back into Lake Springfield. For the season, a staggering 2.49 tons of fish were caught and released.

“We started something when we stocked those blue cats into Lake Springfield,” Schrader told the group Sunday. “And they are growing. We can prove that.”

Local anglers, working with City, Water, Light and Power and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, got permission to relocate some blue catfish from the Mississippi River near Alton to Lake Springfield about four years ago.

Pete Ochs, who helped coordinate the initial stocking, says all size ranges were stocked, from 6- to 8-inch fish to one weighing 53 pounds. About 250 fish in all were brought to Lake Springfield.
Tim Pruitt of Alton caught the world-record blue catfish on the Mississippi River in 2005. It weighed 124 pounds.

Ochs says he thinks the blue catfish in Lake Springfield have been growing five to seven pounds per year.

“That 53-pounder must be near 70 pounds by now,” he says.
Ochs says he would like to see the state get more involved by following up with more stocking efforts.

“To have the state help the local fishermen out with this — it would be a boon,” he says.
There is some concern about whether Lake Springfield has enough current from its incoming creeks to approximate spawning conditions on the Mississippi River.

“I don’t know if they are going to reproduce in these waters,” says DNR district fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson. “I have my doubts, but it will be interesting to see if they do.”

Blue catfish are present in Powerton and LaSalle Lakes, and Stephenson says no reproduction has been noted there yet.

It will be up to anglers — or the blue catfish themselves — to increase their numbers.
Stephenson says state fish hatcheries are too short on manpower and other resources to add another species.

“We’re pretty much limited to what we’ve been doing,” he says.
Permission still is in effect, so more blue catfish conceivably could be relocated to Lake Springfield from the Mississippi River.

Still, anglers from other communities may want to duplicate Lake Springfield’s success, Ochs says.

“If people see the size of the fish being caught, they are going to ask, ‘Can we have this in my lake?’”