By Walt Heck
One main problem I have had in this lake is a foreign species of shad. They are a pan fish that gets about 10 inches long and were over populating at a rapid pace. I believe they were introduced to the lake about 10 years ago and put in the lake by people that were using live bait. If they didn’t catch anything and had left over shad, I believe they were let go in the lake and then overpopulated the lake. There are other natural means of this fish being introduced to the lake by other means but don’t have a theory on that currently.
Blessed by mother nature, we had a very hard freeze on this lake about 5 years ago which created a situation (lack of oxygen) where the weakest fish (survival of the fit) died naturally. Fortunately and after careful examination, the fish in this lake that died were indeed the foreign pan fish (shad) that died. There were 1000’s of them. A few older larger fish had died as well but it was nominal.
After the freeze, we still had a problem with the foreign species multiplying rapidly but with mother nature and the way I have been stocking this lake with a more aggressive fish, we have currently gotten this situation under control.
My main focus was to get this lake to fish like no other lake and today it is like this.
You might be aware, if you have too many fish in one lake it can create a natural stunt growth or a “freeze” growth on fish. Meaning, if you are over populated, certain species will not have a wide variety of size. Stocking this lake with research and knowledge of the fish in this lake help me counter this natural occurrence.
I have a budget of around 4 to 5 thousand a year and currently spend around 3 thousand a year to purchase fish.
Gathering information to stock lake is key.
I am an active fisherman on this lake. I make notes on what sizes I catch, how many, species of fish, time of year and where I catch them. In addition, when I see people fish this lake, I always boat over to them and talk to them while they are fishing and get all there information. I talk to hundreds of people each year to get this information while they are fishing. This gives me information on quantities, sizes, and species caught in this lake.
Gathering information is key. I also have IDNR out every 3 years and they go around with me and shock the lake in certain areas to gather information on species and their health. This process shocks the fish up to the surface for about 30 seconds and then we net them for testing. After the 30 seconds, they swim away if we don’t net them. IDNR says this lake is in perfect condition due to the variety of species and the variety of the same species being different sizes. This is key and this lake is fishing perfectly.
I also put indirect fishing guideline pressure on people that fish the lake. I make it seem like playing poker. If you cheat in poker then your integrity is at stake. Translation into fishing the lake=if you keep too many fish or keep fish that are at perfect reproductive size then you are cheating this lake out of the perfect balance of the way this lake fishes for other people. Meaning with one species….bass…don’t keep a 3 to 8 pound bass. Keep the 1 to 2 plus bass if you want to eat but let the others back into the lake for others to catch and for the reproductive balance to keep it’s cycle going.
In short, be very educated what species and sizes are in the lake, apply indirect pressure to people over fishing the lake, understand what foreign fish are in your lake and stock the lake based on this information.
Crappie: Black crappie…normal crappie. They are up to 15 inches in length best case. I don’t stock this fish as they multiply on there own and reproduce in this lake perfectly. Never stocked this fish. They got over populated about 10 years ago and created a stunt growth. How I countered this issue. Stocked a more aggressive fish that would naturally take them out and talked to all the dedicated fishermen that fish for the breed to keep all the crappie they catch and not release. I had reports of 30 or 40 crappie being caught by one person at a time. This helped tremendously. I lifted this crappie “keep” about 3 years ago and this is why we have crappie that are 15 inches in length in this lake today and stopped the growth stunt.
Bass: Large mouth. This fish is producing naturally like the crappie and I don’t stock. There is an outstanding population of bass. It is fished the most on this lake so the poker analogy of applying pressure to people is the most important way to keep this fish flourishing. I tell all…if you want to eat the bass…keep the bass but larger bass should be let back for other people to catch and to reproduce. I believe just my instinct that a bass between 2lbs and 4lbs reproduce the best. There are bass in this lake up to 8lbs and I caught a large mouth bass over 10lbs 7 years ago. Perfect balance with this fish the way I see it and the way IDNR see’s it through shocking this lake.
WALLEYE: I stock this fish and usually on average put about 400 to 800 in on any given year. This fish today is flourishing in this lake. The last IDNR test revealed walleye up to 30 inches. They were more abundant and are being caught much more just in the last 2 years. This fish is a bit more aggressive and I believe are having a part in keeping the foreign fish in check and helping keep the crappie population in check to a certain extent.
Blue gill…never stocked and is reproducing at a quality rate.
Hybrid Stripers: In introduced this fish to the lake to counter the foreign shad in this lake specifically. I have been stocking this fish every year and I put in anywhere from 600 to 1100 hundred in every year. I believe this fish is the neutralizer of the lake. They feed off the foreign shad (I have cut open bellies of these fish and have seen strong evidence of this) and some of the crappie. I also aggressively fish for these (all catch and release unless research is necessary). There are sizes ranging from under 1lb to 12 lbs. I am currently monitoring this fish the closest as they can change the balance of this lake by adding too many. So far so good. All other species are flourishing in size ranges since I introduced this species to the lake. The foreign shad are under control and the stripers are fantastic to catch. They are not easy to fish for them unless you know there feeding habits and areas and your pole has to rigged for this fish to catch..especially the 7lb range and up. In addition, they don’t multiply in this lake which is another great control for me.
TIGER MUSKIE: Have to be real careful with this species. It’s them most aggressive fish we have by far although the stripers are a close second. I currently don’t have any evidence of them multiplying in this lake. I have been informed that I am only permitted to stock one per acre. My initial stock on this fish was 10 years ago and I put in around 220 of them based on our lake size. Since then, I stock anywhere from 25 to a dozen a year to further my careful approach with this fish. They CAN throw a balance off in this lake if I stock too many! I have reports of about a dozen being caught a year so this is why I stock about 20 a year or so to balance it off. 90 percent of the muskie I have caught have killed themselves by the aggressive way they attack your bait. The end up gilling themselves and are bleeding out when pulled in the boat.
CHANNEL CAT: Another fish I stock. Anywhere from 50 to 200 a year. They are up to 8 to 12lbs and are a very tough catch as well as they are a powerful swimmer.
BLUE CAT: Not many in the lake and was introduced to the lake by people catching in other lakes and then letting them go in this lake. Scary concept as I don’t want anyone letting foreign fish go in this lake but it has happened. Two years ago, a couple young boys hooked a 74 lb (yes ..74 lb) blue cat with 8 lb test line! I have pics and it was an amazing story for these kids! There are a few in here.
CARP: Don’t stock and don’t want but previous to me starting they were stocked. I have been squeezed by non fishing board members to stock grass carp but after my research of this fish and the lack of help they would provide eating moss out of this lake I proved it would not be a smart play to stock this fish as it could jeopardize the entire balance of this lake. There are some old timers still in this lake and they are large but not too many. I could be stocking about a dozen every other year in the future but current plan is to stock none.
Hope this helps you with your information and if you want to go striper fishing sometime with me…give me a call on my cell phone at 618-558-7325.
Good luck with your undergrad in fisheries and aquatic sciences and hope this information helps you.