Weather deadly to Illinois fish

Jeff Lampe


ot weather and cold rains are proving to be a deadly mix for fish in several Illinois farm ponds and lakes.

Biologists have been summoned to nearly 30 fish kills in central Illinois in the past week alone. Hardest hit have been fertile ponds with strong algae growth and ponds with sizable populations of Canada geese.

'Unfortunately it's a popular thing for ponds to do right now,' biologist Wayne Herndon said. 'We had good phytoplankton blooms, then all that warm weather and then cold rains. When you're set up like that, (ponds) turn over real quick and run out of oxygen real quick.'

As algae dies and oxygen levels crash, fish die. Unfortunately, big fish are typically hardest hit. That means the big bass and channel catfish in a pond go belly up before stunted bluegill and small fish.

The recent rash of dying fish is unusual, Herndon said.

'Usually when we have a long run of hot weather, it's not followed by real heavy rains in late summer,' he said. 'This is kind of set up by the hurricane coming up and hovering over us and giving us so much cold rainfall.'

Herndon said he has seen one total kill and several 'moderate' kills in Tazewell and Woodford counties.

One significant kill occurred at Spring Lake in Tazewell County last weekend, where several thousand bluegill ranging from 4-7 inches died in the far northern reaches of the north lake. The kill was contained to 35-40 acres north of the Sky Ranch bridge and near Peoria Sportsman's Club.

'It was a natural fish kill. I ran dissolved oxygen levels and they were critically low on the surface all the way down to the bottom for that upper end of the lake,' Herndon said.

Biologist Rob Hilsabeck has responded to several fish kills in Peoria and Fulton counties.

To limit the chance for a fish kill, pond owners can deepen their ponds, provide aeration and treat algae well before hot weather arrives. Interestingly, biologists said ponds that have grass carp have been harder hit by the recent fish kills.

'After water temperatures heat up you are kind of in a position where you just stand and watch,' Herndon said. 'In almost every case, the fish had their gill covers flared out and their mouths gaped open. That's a pretty certain indicator the problem was (a lack of) dissolved oxygen.'

Fish that are freshly dead are fine to eat, biologists say.

Owners of hard-hit ponds may want to wait to restock until next spring. 'If you have a lot of decaying fish you can't get cleaned up, that adds a lot more nutrients,' Hilsabeck said. 'Sometimes that can lead to another algae bloom.'


This is one of the busiest weekends of the year in the outdoors world, with a huge variety of events scheduled in advance of Labor Day weekend.

My own Saturday will be a busy one. First stop is the Fur, Fin & Fowl Festival at Pekin's Dragon Dome. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The show features seminars, deer scoring, 3-D archery shooting, a casting contest, country bands and more than 170 vendors.

From there it's on to the Central Illinois Herpetological Society's annual Reptile and Amphibian Fair at Lakeview Museum. Society members showcase different reptiles and amphibians. Admission is $2 and show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Finally, the end to a busy afternoon will come at a benefit for Norma Gilles being held at the Kickapoo Sportsman's Club from 4-11 p.m. Cost is $10 for an evening of food, drink and fun that includes an auction and cow-pie bingo. There's also golf at Laurel Greens in Knoxville at 12:30 p.m. Call (309) 243-5741.


Two long-awaited pieces of hunting-related legislation are finally law. Early this week Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed bills giving firearm deer hunters an extra half-hour of hunting time and allowing anyone 62 or older to hunt with a crossbow during archery deer season.

Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria) sponsored the firearm bill, which extends legal hunting to one-half hour after sunset effective immediately.

'Hunting is necessary to keep the deer population down, but deer are not as active during the day,' Leitch said. 'This new law will extend shotgun hunting times to offer hunters better opportunities.'

Thanks to the other bill, hunters who are 62 and older will no longer need to obtain a special permit to use a crossbow during the upcoming archery season. Bowhunting starts Oct. 1.

Et cetera:

The National Park Service celebrates its 91st birthday Saturday. … Birders spotted four fulvous whistling ducks Tuesday near Quincy. Visit for information. …

Mel Johnson

of Metamora and his world record Peoria County buck will meet and greet visitors to Bass Pro Shops in Bolingbrook Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. as part of that store's Fall Hunting Classic, which runs today through Sunday.


is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail