Illinois Fish Hatcheries Keep Waters Stocked for Fishermen
From Lake Michigan in the north to Kincaid Lake in the south, Illinois hooks anglers. With more than 1.5 million acres of water in the state, Illinois boasts some of the best recreational fishing in the country – and plenty of fish to boot.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources actively monitors and manages the fish population. That work starts with the efforts of 29 district fisheries biologists across the state. One such biologist, Wayne Herndon, grew up fishing on the Illinois River. For 43 years, he has worked to sustain a healthy and growing fish population for seven counties along that river north of Havana.
“We sample the fish populations and investigate environmental problems that may be impacting their size or numbers,” Herndon says. “Next, we design plans to meet the challenge of limited fish resources and to improve the quality of fishing across the state.”
The biologists accomplish this by stocking the waters. Three fish hatcheries in Illinois work with Herndon and his colleagues to produce the numbers and species of fish needed to ensure a healthy and growing fish population for the recreational fishing public.
“It’s aquaculture,” says Steve Krueger, manager of the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery in Mason County. “It’s a form of agriculture, but instead of growing in soil, we grow things in water.”
Since its inception more than 30 years ago, the hatchery has produced more than 500 million cold-water fish. La Salle Hatchery near Marseilles and Little Grassy Fish Hatchery in Makanda also contribute to the effort. In the last five years alone, the three hatcheries together have stocked 25 million fish of more than a dozen species for state and public waters. They include muskie and crappie for Evergreen Lake in McLean County, blue catfish for Powerton Lake in Tazewell County, largemouth bass for Pierce Lake in Winnebago County and northern pike in Lake Eureka in Woodford County.
SEE MORE: 5 Favorite Lakes for Fishing in Illinois
Why do the lakes need stocking?
“It may be that fish are needed to stock a new reservoir or a new lake that’s been drained for some reason,” Krueger says. “Or the biologists may determine that we need to supplement the fish population at existing lakes or provide a species that might not be typically found in Illinois or won’t spawn in our lakes.”
While many Illinois anglers confine their fishing to the summer months, work at the Jake Wolf hatchery continues year round.
“Late in the fall, the biologists request what they want to stock, and the hatcheries work together to fulfill the orders,” says Krueger.
Every month, the hatchery staff either spawns, incubates, feeds or stocks one species or another. At Jake Wolf, things start a little early because this hatchery rests on top of the Mahomet Aquifer, which Krueger says guarantees a steady supply of cool, clean water “that is the perfect temperature for cool-water fish like northern pike, salmon, trout, walleye and muskie.”
He explains that in the case of smaller fish, such as pike, hatchery staff squeeze eggs from the females and add sperm and water. About 90 seconds later, the fertilization concludes. With a typical female producing almost 29,000 eggs per spawn, and half of them surviving, it won’t be long until the staff starts feeding tens of thousands of pike in the fishery’s tanks.
Larger fish, like muskie, are harder to handle. In fact, says Krueger, it can take two or three people in complete rain gear to extract the eggs. But the process and the end result are the same.
“The Illinois hatcheries help supplement what Mother Nature already provides, with the ultimate goal being a great experience for the recreational fisherman,” Krueger says.