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Blues big and plentiful enough to study? At LaSalle Lake, you bet

BoRabb Williams sent this photo of another fine blue catfish caught this year at LaSalle Lake.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

Not even summer heat waves and fish kills stopped the run of big blue catfish at LaSalle Lake this year.

Big blues started coming from LaSalle, the cooling lake south of Seneca, within a couple years of the experimental stocking beginning in 1999. But this year was special, from opening day March 15 on.

Darryl Turner had the right feel for LaSalle Lake Tuesday on opening day.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Darryl Turner had the right feel for LaSalle Lake on opening day, before a long season of catching more than 300 blue catfish.
Credit: Dale Bowman

I bumped into Darryl Turner of Matteson, maybe the top shore fishermen for blues, on opening day. He started his season just fine and it kept going. The last time he checked in his blues count was 340 earlier in August.

He is not alone. I could run a Fish of the Week every week from blues caught at LaSalle. There’s both numbers and size.

It might be the successful fish stocking program in Illinois.

There have been rumors of blues to 60 pounds, but I haven’t seen any make a certified scale.

Fisheries biologist David Wyffels is noticing.

“The past few years there are lots of fish in the high 20s during surveys,” he said. “[Being] originally stocked in 1999, there are chances of a really big fish being there.”

But it is a cooling lake, which means during hot summers, such as this one, extremely hot water can stress even blues. The oddity this year is that even during the two biggest heat waves of the summer, people continued to catch good blues.

“I really can’t explain why they are doing so well during the heat,” Wyffels said. “Maybe their metabolism is so high and they are looking for food.

During one heat wave, water on the hot side reached 120 degrees. There were some fish kills at LaSalle, primarily of larger bass and hybrid striped bass. The good thing for avoiding a major kill was that dissolved oxygen levels remained good.

“That thing is so regulated by water temperatures, if it gets hot and the fish get stressed, what happens?” Wyffels wondered.

If this year is any indication, blues keep on eating and growing.

The food sources—threadfin and gizzard shad—are good.

The number of big blues has Wyffels interested in studying the age and growth of the blues.

“It is a project I would like to look at it,” he said. “It would be nice to get some data on how fast they grow.”

Problem is not much is known on properly aging fish from the unnaturalness of cooling lakes.

“Fish in cooling lakes can be totally different animals,” Wyffels said.

I would love to see that study done.

HIGH WATER HOLIDAY: High water may limit parking at Starved Rock Park for Labor Day weekend. Some trails will be closed at nearby Matthiessen State Park. Click here for details.

ILLINOIS HUNTING: Dove (see prospects box) and early Canada goose seasons open Thursday. Teal season opens Saturday and runs through Sept. 18.

DU RACE: Ducks Unlimited has a special ticket package for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway. Deadline is Tuesday. Call Ricky Campione–(815) 722-4865—or enter the promotional code DUCKS2016 online.

STRAY CAST: The Bears season already feels like watching those guys launching opening day at LaSalle without their drain plugs.