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Wading into a muskie rescue (& bonus fish): Below Shabbona Lake

Netters work the downstream pool Wednesday in the muskie rescue below Shabbona Lake.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The muskie rescue below the Shabbona Lake spillway Wednesday crescendoed to a conclusion as corralled fish roiled Indian Creek.

Only a Wagnerian opera blaring from speakers dangling in the trees could’ve made the scene more cinematically complete.

People with fish in their nets called for help. Others grabbed nets with fish or the fish, then rushed them from water to land. Another rush came to the waiting oxygenated tanks on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources boat. Repeated dozens of times.

This spring’s rescue–necessitated by heavy rains, which allowed big fish to breach the barrier above the dam–began quietly.

Only a handful of people gathered at first by the downstream barrier, several hundred yards below the spillway. That barrier is to keep escaped fish from continuing downstream.

The wet spring meant no one could drive down. It also meant biologist David Wyffels could only make one trip down to the creek’s edge, then back to the lake.

Wyffels’ biggest concern was that fish could be trapped in the small area between the spillway and downstream barrier.

“Better to do it now, water temperature is cool (64), so there is much less stress on the fish,” Wyffels said.

He expected they would find mostly male muskie of 36 or 37 inches and walleye up to 24 inches. He was right on.

While waiting for more volunteers to walk down, it was decided to sweep the small pool, immediately downstream of the barrier.

Most volunteers carried good muskie nets, some had regular fishing nets. Most had breathable waders, a few young men wet-waded.

The youngest helper was Tony Richard Schnupp, 7, grandson of one organizer, Rich McElligott. Shabbona Lake Sportsman Club and Quad County Hawg Hunters chapter of Muskies Inc. were the lead groups.

The initial sweep started quietly. The walkers, lined shoulder to shoulder with nets overlapping and touching the bottom, began slow walking upstream. At first nothing, then water boiled as muskies figured they were being herded.

At the shallow end, Mark Setchell of DeKalb netted the first muskie from the small pool. Three others were netted.

By then, dozens of volunteers had gathered around the downstream barrier. About 20 walked back up and waded into the pool immediately below the spillway, then herded all the fish they could out into the creek and began pushing them downstream.

The idea was to tighten a corral between the netters coming downstream and the downstream barrier.

Jake Peterson scrambles out of the way as Corbin Landmeier rushes one of the biggest muskies to shore during the rescue below Shabbona Lake.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Jake Peterson scrambles out of the way as Corbin Landmeier rushes one of the biggest muskies to shore during the rescue below Shabbona Lake.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Eric Peterson, who owns a machine shop in Genoa, designed the barrier.

“Debris has been killer,’’ he said. “This is the third revision.”

Clint Sands from Lakeside has the barrier powerwashed every week or so to keep the water flowing through.

Peterson custom welds 3 x 3 squares to make the barrier. It works fairly well, though I saw a few nice muskies and walleye squeezing through the barrier when the corral tightened at the end.

At the end, there was about 10 minutes of pandemonium as old men, kids, young women and young men netted the fish, then rushed them to the tanks.

The two biggest muskie looked to be 42 inches or longer; the biggest walleye was about the 24 inches; and three hybrid stripers were 5-pounds-plus.

For the evening, 52 muskies, 53 walleye and the three hybrids were returned back to the lake.

A good return came from a night of volunteering.

The pandemonium of the final moments of the muskie rescue below Shabbona Lake.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
The pandemonium of the final moments of the muskie rescue below Shabbona Lake.
Credit: Dale Bowman