CLINTON, Ill. (WAND) – Clinton Lake is known as Crappie destination in central Illinois. So, maintaining a health population takes a lot of work.
"We're picking up Black Nose Crappie today. What we do in the springtime is collect adults from Clinton Lake, put them in the rearing pond. And we just wait,” said Mike Garthaus, a Biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Anywhere from two to three years. We'll come back and harvest those crappies out of the rearing pond."
So, what is Black Nose Crappie?
"Classified, if you look up genus species the scientific name, a pure black crappie. It just has a morphological characteristic of having a black stripe on its head. I'm sure it had a little genetic difference because it has the color on it, but it's classified as a pure black crappie," Garthaus said.
Historically, crappie species populations have fluctuated.
"Crappie population is pretty good. When the lake was built in 1979 it had an excellent white crappie population and the black crappie were a little less in the lake. And after about ten or so years it switched over to black crappie and the white were barely hanging on," Garthaus said.
These rearing ponds at one time were being used for largemouth Bass and Walley at one time. But that changed when the Crappie populations fell several years ago.
"We started utilizing them because crappie recruitment was low, and we didn't know where the bottle neck was. We couldn't figure out. We still don't know why recruitment is really low in the lake. But we found out if we could raise them in the rearing pond and stock them in the lake, they would survive. So, they kind of get over that restriction they have in the lake. And boost those numbers," shared Garthaus.
Unlike Bass and Walley or other sport fish, Crappie are an inexpensive and low maintenance fish to raise.
"We don't spend any money. We collect the adults in the springtime, stock them in here. We don't feed them any minnows. So, with a little manpower we can raise crappie for the lake," said Garthaus.
Black Nose Crappie were chosen for a specific reason.
"That's a way for us to have a mark on a fish. So, if you raise these fish and stock them in a lake, you get instant feedback when you do fish surveys or from anglers knowing that your stockings are actually working," shared Garthaus.
The feedback should be coming in soon, considering the size and amount of Crappie that were stocked.
"Pretty successful today. We weigh the fish on the hatchery truck. I haven't counted those numbers up yet but I'm guessing well over six hundred pounds of crappie. Thant's a pretty good number of fish," said Garthus. "On average they were four to five inches coming out of this pond. Probably in a couple of years they will be legal. The black nose tends to grow about the same as pure black crappie so in a couple more years they should be legal."
For now, the angler harvest limits will remain the same.
"Nine-inch size limit and fifteen per day. Been that way for twenty something years. Works well for this lake especially when it was dominated by black crappie because black crappie grow slower than whites. So, it takes a little longer to get to nine inches. That's a heavily fished crappie fishery so we want a minimum length limit, so people don't over harvest those smaller fish out."
The IDNR’s work in this lake has made some significant improvements in the fishery as a whole.
"The crappie fishing has improved a lot on Clinton Lake and the white crappie fishery is coming back strong. Now in our surveys for the last four or five years we're getting a lot more white crappie than black crappie. So, the population has switched back to what it was. So now it's dominated by white crappie. They tend to grow faster and get bigger."
Another Crappie harvest was done just after Steve Nichols shot this story and over 800 pounds were harvested and stocked into Clinton Lake. For more information on the fish in Clinton Lake, click here.