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Buzz at Busse: Muskies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

IDNR will stock lake today with 800, but questions remain

I'm not alone in wondering if the first official stocking of muskies in a Forest Preserve District of Cook County lake is a net gain.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources hatchery staff will make history today by stocking 800 12- to 14-inch muskies in the main pool of Busse Lake in the near northwest suburbs.

Muskellunge are a top predator in northern waters and occasionally reach 40 pounds in Illinois.

The muskie stocking was the brainchild of district superintendent Steven Bylina Jr., notorious for his outdoor pursuits. He wanted fishermen to have an opportunity to catch the most fabled northern fish nearby.

''I'm actually on the fence on the idea of stocking Busse with muskies,'' e-mailed Zach Arnold, president of the Chicagoland Muskie Hunters. ''Pro -- fishing for muskie in near northwest Cook County!''

His three ''cons'' were the relative shallowness of Busse (maximum depth of 14 feet) and needs for a retention net and angler education on handling muskies.

That's probably my greatest concern. I think Illinois has gone overboard dumping muskies into too many bodies of water where ordinary fishermen are ill-equipped to handle the shock of catching a
large toothy muskie.

Muskie fishermen, like the fish they pursue, make up a special group. They're more often Type A personalities or compulsive sorts than any other sportsmen. Pursuit of muskies often becomes a quest that borders on an addiction. For them, handling muskies becomes second nature; not true for most fishermen.

Normally, I would consider Busse a perfect example of muskie mania run amuck in Illinois. Except, I think it provides a unique test case.

Fisheries biologist Jim Phillips said Busse's main lake will receive the muskie stockings while the south pool will continue with stockings of northern pike, another top toothy predator.

''I like the idea of being able to have a control group,'' Phillips said.

My second question is whether muskies will survive the pressure at the most heavily fished water in the forest-preserve system long enough to reach a decent size. Biologists will track that through identification chips, planted in 200 muskies from the initial stocking. During surveys, biologists will record growth and overall health of the fish.

Another legitimate concern any time muskies are stocked in new water is the impact on smaller fish, especially the panfish most pursued at Busse. Phillips didn't think it would be a problem.

''Busse has a very healthy shad population and a healthy white sucker population,'' he said.

''On a selective basis, muskies can aid prey overpopulation and stunting, plus offer urban anglers a unique opportunity,'' said Ray Thompson, chairman of Illini Muskies Alliance, which supported a similar stocking at Mallard Lake in DuPage County in 2006. ''My biggest fear, personally, is that the size/creel limits will not be enforced effectively.''

That's very realistic.

The minimum length for muskies at Busse is 36 inches. Phillips thinks it will take three years for the first stocking to reach 36 inches. In many muskie waters in Illinois, the minimum length is 48 inches.

''We may have to re-evaluate the regulations in a couple years,'' he said.

On the fishing side, adding muskies alters the approach to other species. As muskies survive and grow, they displace other top predators, such as largemouth bass, from the best ambush spots like points and inside weed edges.

Fishing will change. Whether it's for better or worse at Busse, we'll have a couple of years to figure it out.

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