The elusive muskie -- now at a lake near youMallard Lake, Busse Woods now stocked with the fish
Thursday, September 13, 2007
by Kimberly Pohl
Dave Parrish has just driven more than 200 miles from the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery in western Illinois with 1,000 muskies in a tank on the back of his truck.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources conservation technician inches his way through the brush leading to the shores of Mallard Lake in Hanover Park, where he measures the water temperature. The 85-acre lake reads 76 degrees, two fewer than where the fish are currently wading.
With DuPage County Forest Preserve District fisheries biologist Don LaBrose, Parrish counts out 176 of the spunky fingerlings and releases them into the lake Wednesday. They assure each other that the dozen or so floating near the edge are in mild shock, which does in fact subside in a few minutes.
It's the second year of the district's muskie-stocking program -- an event on par with Christmas for local enthusiasts.
"This is an opportunity for urban anglers that traditionally would have to go out of state," said Ray Thompson, chairman of the Illini Muskies Alliance. "We've been working for about 20 years to get some lakes stocked."
The Cook County Forest Preserve District debuted its own program Wednesday, stocking about 800 muskies into the 400-acre main lake of Busse Woods near Elk Grove Village.
The purpose of both programs is mainly recreational, since the muskie is an extremely popular gaming fish.
Muskies are known as the "fish of 10,000 casts," because that's how infrequently you'll land one. They're aggressive, and their mouths are filled with razor-sharp teeth that easily bite through lines.
But don't have your taxidermist on call just yet.
These muskies now are little more than 11 inches. They have to grow to 36 at Busse before anglers are allowed to keep them, and 48 inches at Mallard Lake. It'll take a few years to reach those sizes.
Beyond the recreational benefits, introducing a feared predator also has an effect on the ecosystem.
Frank Jakubicek, a state fisheries biologist overseeing the Busse Woods stocking, said the lakes can sustain diversity.
He says the muskies will help control the gizzard shad and white suckers populations, which have grown exponentially in the last six years at Busse. And only two muskies per acre were stocked at the lakes, which were chosen because they're both the biggest in their respective districts.
"Relative to the entire (ecosystem), this is a drop in the bucket," he said.
"This will help bring the lakes into a more natural balance," he said. "Anglers tend to keep the big predators, so there usually aren't enough to control the smaller fish."
The biggest concern of LaBrose is that anglers will keep the muskies, thinking they're northern pike.
The two look eerily alike, so he's posted signs throughout the forest preserve with illustrations showing their differences. The ranger police will strictly enforce license requirements and keep a close eye on daily catches. The same goes for Busse Woods.
They're also counting on self-policing.
Most muskie enthusiasts are catch-and-releasers and typically aim for the 50-inch mark to consider it a true trophy. They're not going to deprive a lake from something that could one day be worthy of a spot on their mantel.
"If they want the program to be successful," LaBrose said, "they'll have to put them back."
• Don't grab a muskie by the mouth. It's filled with razor-sharp teeth. Use a net or grab it on the back.
• Get a rod with some backbone when it comes to full-grown muskies.
• Use steel leaders to prevent the fish from biting through the line. They also lessen twists and tangles.
• Use pliers to remove the hook. If you can't see the hook, the fish probably swallowed it. Don't pull it out. Doing so will damage the stomach and probably kill it. Instead, clip off the line close to the mouth. Most hooks are designed to dissolve in a fish's digestive system.
• Big muskies can take some time to reel in. Fight them slowly and gently.
• Make sure you know licensing requirements, creel limits and release rules.
Sources: Frank Jakubicek, Illinois Department of Natural Resources; Don LaBrose, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County