Illinois tries to help crappie in Rend Lake

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Illinois tries to help crappie in Rend Lake

By Tim Renken, St. Louis Post Dispatch

04/25/2002

Rend Lake has the reputation among St. Louis area anglers as a good place to catch crappie but a poor place to catch bass. The 18,900-acre reservoir, about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis near Benton, Ill., is, indeed, a poor place to catch bass.

The reputation as a good place to catch crappie, though, is un-deserved. It used to be a good place to catch crappie. It is barely mediocre now. It no longer has a huge population of crappie and it contains relatively few large crappie - fish of 10 inches or more.

What happened?

Several things:

* No. 1: The reservoir got old. It first filled in 1970 and as such lakes age their fishing usually deteriorates. Fishing, for crappie especially, was sensational in the 1970s and 1980s. Productivity, though, declined as organic material in the basin disappeared.

* No. 2: Fishing pressure has remained high, especially for crappie, even as the productivity declined. Reputations usually die hard, especially among creatures of habit such as crappie anglers.

* No. 3: The relentless honoring of the Illinois tradition that crappie are for catching and that the only limit is in how many an angler wants to clean. Especially tradition-minded are a relatively small number of Rend Lake area residents who considered 100 crappie to be a modest day's catch. Some of these anglers, highly skilled, often take 200 or more fish during the spring spawn.

* No. 4: The relatively high fishing pressure has bent the crappie population out of shape, a situation that has prompted the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake, to try unusual regulations. Starting on April 1 the daily limit on crappie became 25. And, further, the daily limit on crappie of 10 inches or longer was cut to five.

The daily limit was imposed, according to the DNR, to spread the harvest around. Those highly skilled anglers can still take 25 a day, which is a lot of crappie. But the ridiculous catches of 100 or more fish are now banned.

The limit on fish 10 inches and larger came in response to the fact that small crappie grow slowly in Rend Lake. Forage of a size they can handle is short because of the lake's low fertility.

If those skilled anglers are prohibited from keeping more than five big crappie, they will be more inclined to keep small crappie, the reasoning goes.

The result should be that the number of small crappie in the lake will be reduced. The survivors will face less competition food and, it is hoped, will grow faster. And the result, after two or three years, will be more large crappie in the lake and better fishing.

At least that's the hope of the DNR and the Corps. Officials said that they plan to "carefully monitor" the results and make adjustments as necessary.
 

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