Posted by Andrew Ragas On October - 17 - 2012 0 Comment

On October 9, 2012, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources introduced over 100 breeding size adult smallmouth bass into the newly-revitalized section of river in Riverside/Lyons, IL. My local watershed news and fishing is something I am usually on top of. But due to extensive travels this summer and fall, and interests elsewhere, I’ve been out of the loop on the recent removal of Hoffmann Dam, the fishing, and all of the habitat restoration and fish stockings that have recently taken place.

Photograph Dale Bowman / Chicago Sun-Times

Here is one version of the story, published by The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark:

IDNR releases fish to create habitat near Hoffmann Dam site
Agency introduced more than 100 smallmouth bass to the Des Plaines


The Illinois Department of Natural Resources last week acted to help “kick-start” the fish habitat near the site of the former Hofmann Dam on the Des Plaines River.

On Oct. 9, a half-dozen members of the Hofmann Dam River Rats met with IDNR personnel to release 126 smallmouth bass in the river, above and below the former dam site.

The specimens were “brood-size” adults, ranging in weight from 3.5 to 4 pounds. Half were released in the river just east of the Barrypoint Road bridge, while the other half were released upstream of the dam at the boat launch in the Plank Road Meadow forest preserve area in Lyons.

“We’re hoping they can spawn for a few more years upstream and downstream of the dam,” said Steve Pescitelli, a stream specialist for the IDNR’s Division of Fisheries.

The smallmouth bass came from the IDNR’s Jake Wolf Fish Hatchery in Topeka, said Pescitelli. It’s the first time since 2010 that the IDNR has stocked fish in the Des Plaines River and the first time ever they’ve stocked fish immediately upstream of Hofmann Dam, which was considered a dead zone for fishermen.

“We never bothered fishing there because we would never catch anything,” said John Mach, a member of the Hofmann Dam River Rats, who was on hand Oct. 9 to help release the fish into the river.

“Now there’s a really good spot near [the Des Plaines Valley] Mosquito Abatement [District property in Lyons], and also by Salt Creek it’s gotten better.

“I’ve been up there 6-8 times [since the dam was removed] and except for one time, I was extremely successful.”

In August, Pescitelli reported that the ecosystem in the river above the former dam site had already changed dramatically. In the area that once formed part of a stagnant lagoon behind the dam, the IDNR found more than 20 species of fish, including a channel catfish.

Mach said the movement of channel catfish from below the dam area was continuing to occur and that one such fish was caught since August near Cermak Road. Previously the catfish were unable to move upstream because of the dam.

The introduction of the smallmouth bass near the dam is an added push to improve the fishing habitat.

“It’s an opportunity to kick-start the whole thing,” said Pescitelli.

Each of the fish was tagged prior to being released. The tags include a phone number, which anglers are asked to call when they catch the fish. That way, said Pescitelli, the IDNR can track the movement of the fish and whether they’re being caught.

Mach believes that the fish, because they have spent their entire lives in a hatchery, will be easily caught. But there are enough, he said, to begin repopulating the river next year.

“They’re very vulnerable to being caught, but it’s an effort to get a population going back in the river,” Mach said. “These will be spawners next spring. If they were smaller fish, it could take three or four years for them to spawn.”

While fish will move up and down the river, Pescitelli hopes they’ll stick around the dam area.

“There’s a good habitat right in that section, so it should hold,” Pescitelli said. “They’re not quite as migratory as some species.”

He added that the IDNR hopes to restart its sauger stocking program next year, which could bring additional fish to the Riverside/Lyons area of the Des Plaines River. And that’s good news for fishermen like Mach and the River Rats.

“It’s good for us that the DNR is actually doing something with this river,” said Mach. “The DNR could have put those fish in anywhere in the state.”

Photograph Dale Bowman / Chicago Sun-Times

Although the Des Plaines is a barrier-free river again, I must question why smallmouth bass were stocked into this portion of the river. Apparently the Illinois Department of Natural Resources failed to realize what a failure their massive 1996-97 stockings of smallmouth bass were in the nearby conjoining Salt Creek…. I repeat, a MAJOR failure.

For instance on the Salt Creek, poor water quality, quick flooding, and pollution from run-off slowly depleted and killed off what was once a population of 20 to 40,000 stocked fish. The habitat is there, but the water isn’t. Haven’t caught one since 2009. It was never meant to be. And back then I fished the place almost 100 times/yr.

With some exceptions to the southernmost stretches of the Des Plaines River, the same can also be said for majority of it. The habitat is there, but the water isn’t.

Upstream where the former Hoffman Dam site was located, the river contains too much mud and sedimentation. Smallmouth bass in general do not like mud. Mud and siltation is mainly prevalent in the presumed shallow water spawning sites and in the case of smallmouth bass, their spawning would take place in calm hard bottomed shallow shoreline areas in a natural, non man-made environment. As far as I’m concerned, the Des Plaines River contains very few such areas anywhere upstream of Burr Ridge.

Good luck to any spawning fish populations.

Smallmouth bass have been occasionally stocked downstream in Romeoville/Joliet area, where this river contains a faster gradient flow, and have made their way up through Lemont, Burr Ridge & Riverside. However, there is a good amount in the three-rivers area and where Hickory Creek dumps in (natural & self-sustaining population).

That’s the lone exception.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources clearly must be seeing something that I’m not. But in comparison to other better known rivers in the region such as the Fox, Kankakee, Kishwaukee and DuPage, water quality and habitat of the Des Plaines in this particular stretch of river for sustainable smallmouth bass populations is not on the same level.

I don’t see a strong sustainable fishery establishing itself in the foreseeable future but I hope I am surprised. The biggest predators to the few and will-be-struggling fish will be the folks currently unaware of the CATCH AND RELEASE ONLY regulations this stretch of river has on bass – including the ones who take home everything they catch. If you were a first time visitor fishing the Riverside/Lyons stretch of river, would you know that area is catch & release only from the former dam site downstream to the 47th street bridge?

Doubt it.

It would be one thing if regulations were made with greater enforcement. Then this stocking wouldn’t seem like such a waste to me. It would also be an even better thing if our statewide conservation organizations such as the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance and other watershed groups actually got involved with this project in trying to revitalize this river as they’ve done with the fish populations and fishery & habitat improvements done on the Fox and DuPage Rivers….. Like seriously…… You’ve got your pets in those two rivers but you make no effort to get involved with this one which actually needs the help way more than those two?

I just don’t get that.

Although the Des Plaines is a quick five minute drive away from me, I’ll refuse to fish this river for its vulnerable newly-stocked smallmouth bass until there’s any chance or proof of them establishing themselves. I express this from a conservationist standpoint.

Till then, it’s nighttime walleye wading season anyways. There’s ten pounders in there.

I’ll admit….. The river looks much, much nicer now.