Minnows are no small things.

“There has been nothing like the last year,’’ said Steve Krueger, manager at Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery. “Nothing compares to not having money to operate. I am sure I echoing many. We don’t have money to fix things.’’

The budget impasse in Springfield is a big deal, done to the minnows. It’s why in Krueger’s 31 years it is the most memorable.

Minnows are essential for finishing northern pike and muskie at Jake Wolf.

That almost didn’t happen.

“They are into me for $115,000 or $120,000,’’ said Pete Reiff, owner of Logan Hollow Fish Farm in Murphysboro. “That kind of debt can put a small business out of business.’’

He hesitated but finally said he had to get some pay.

“Through [fisheries chief] Dan [Stephenson], they were able to pay the vendor what he was owed or most of it,’’ Krueger said. “This is wonderful news not only for muskie and pike fishermen, but the bass fishermen, too. It would have had a devastating impact.’’

Minnows also feed the broodstock bass kept at Jake Wolf.

Reiff, trusting the promised payment will show, will keep delivering minnows. Invoices will pile up again.

“Basically, he delivered minnows at great cost to himself,’’ Krueger said. “He is a fish culturist at heart and understands the impact. But he is a businessman and also needs to get paid.’’

Because of sitting on the Mahomet Amplifier in Sand Ridge State Forest, Jake Wolf can raise cold water, cool water and warm water fish. In a typical year, there is about 15 species, totaling 4 million.

At about 6 inches, pike are transitioned from pelleted food to minnows. They are fed on minnows for about a month and reach 8 inches.

“Muskie start on [a special] pelleted diet, they are very persnickety about what they like to eat,’’ Krueger said.

At about 5 inches in early July (this week), muskie are transferred to three netted one-acre ponds. The nets protect surface-lounging muskie from gulls, egrets, herons and cormorants. In the ponds, muskie are fed minnows and by the end of August reach 11 inches, ready for stocking.

“The point of putting them on minnows is that it produces a more normal fish and survival is better,’’ Krueger said.

“One reason I hesitated to cut them out is those fish are at critical size,’’ Reiff said. “If they tried to stock [the muskie] right now, they might as well throw them away.’’

Biologist Steve Pescitelli released excess northern pike fingerlings from the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery into the North Shore Channel in May, additional larger minnow-fed pike from Jake Wolf are expected shortly. Credit: Dale Bowman

Biologist Steve Pescitelli released excess northern pike fingerlings from the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery into the North Shore Channel in May, additional larger minnow-fed pike from Jake Wolf are expected shortly.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Without being switched to the minnow diet, the small muskie would be nothing but forage for largemouth bass.

When stocked the minnow-fed pike and muskie are not just lounging by the shoreline waiting to be fed, easy pickings for largemouth, instead they head off to hunt.

Logan Hollow is vital for more than minnows. Reiff’s truck is well known around Chicago. He delivers the channel catfish (45,000 pounds, mostly in Chicago) and hybrid sunfish/bluegill (136,230 annually) used in the Urban Fishing Program statewide.

What’s particularly galling is that the money is in the Illinois Fish and Wildlife Fund, but it hasn’t been appropriated for Fiscal Year 2016. The fund is supported by the sale of Illinois hunting and fishing licenses, stamps and permits, and by the federal excise taxes of Dingell-Johnson (Sportfish Restoration Fund) and Pittman-Roberts (hunting).

ILLINOIS HUNTING: Thursday is the deadline for the second lottery drawing for firearm and muzzleloader-only deer permits. Click here. . . . Friday is the deadline for residents to apply for Illinois free dove hunting permits at select sites. Click here.

HOLIDAY: If headed to Starved Rock State Park over the long holiday weekend, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is recommending checking social media for updates on parking status and availability.

STRAY CAST: Too many days I fish like James Shields pitches.