Wolf Lake: The wonders keep coming, walleye come up strong during northern pike survey
Walleye starred during a survey this month of northern pike at Wolf Lake.
Two nights of surveying northern pike on the Indiana side of Wolf Lake this month produced bonus wonders. Try 14 walleye heavier than six pounds, including one nearly eight pounds. Throw in lots of crappie in the 10- to 12-inch range.
“Wolf Lake is a pretty neat resource, in the middle of a city, that has nice fish population,” said Tom Bacula, fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
That assessment is notable because Wolf Lake, whose 804 acres straddle the Illinois-Indiana line between Hammond, Ind. and Chicago’s Southeast Side neighborhood of Hegewisch, has a notorious history of industrial pollution and impact from urban sprawl.
But locals have long fished it. In the late 1990s, Perch America began raising money each year, then buying advanced growth walleye fingerlings to stock in Wolf Lake. They have done it for 21 of the last 22 years. It’s the longest running citizen’s effort I know of its sort in the Chicago area.
It’s a model of donations from community organizations, citizen effort and supportive collaboration with the Indiana DNR and Department of Animal Health.
“I feel really proud,’’ Perch America’s Bruce Caruso said. “I grew up on that lake. For an organization like Perch America, with around 40 members, to raise funds and do it for [more than 20 years], I just think it is super for such an organization. As long as you put an effort toward it, you don’t know what will happen. It is just so super, a little grassroots organization like ours could make a difference out there.”
So understand why Caruso was absolutely bubbling after he had the opportunity to be a volunteer and go with the Indiana DNR during the net checks for northern pike. Indiana is in the process of studying northern pike on lakes across northern Indiana. This year, it was Wolf Lake’s turn.
“It’s a periodic study, hopefully, we will be back in another 10 years or so,’’ Bacula said.
``You really don’t know what is going on in this lake, until you get a study like this,’’ Caruso said.
Bacula, who covers 14 counties in northern Indiana, said they used a trap-style net with a 300-foot lead to a bag about 20-feet long. For northern pike, the window to do these studies is within two weeks after ice out. There were what Bacula called eight total nets (two nights of four).
In terms of northern pike, he said they found a lot in the 20- to 24-inch range with the biggest going 31 inches.
“It was a pretty good catch overall,’’ he said.
What really made the survey special were the bonus fish, such as crappie, largemouth bass,, bluegill and yellow perch, things not normally sampled this time of the year. Bacula said there is a good prey base in the lake.
As to the crappie, he said, “There’s good habitat for crappie, laydowns and stickups for spawning, and relatively hard-to-get-to areas. They are cyclical spawners, so it could be related to a year class, but there is good habitat for those crappie to reproduce and grow to a nice size.”
“That lake, for being in such a highly populous area, and the pressure it gets, I am really impressed,’’ Caruso said.
But walleye stole the show.
As to what made Wolf Lake special for walleye, Bacula said, “There’s a good prey base, lower fishing pressure and lower harvest. There are some boats, but most are bass fishing.”
He wondered if people were scared of contaminants from Wolf Lake’s past. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management was along one day to take fish samples. But he also thinks there is more of an ethos of catch-and-release at Wolf Lake that has made it something of a trophy lake.
“When you seen the size of them fish, man ...,” Caruso said, letting his voice trail off in wonder. “They were healthy fish.”
There were a lot of walleye 20 inches and longer.
“Other thing that biggest fish was 26 1/4 inches and it was over 7 1/2 pounds,” Caruso said. ``These fish are growing fast. Their bodies are big.”
The smallest walleye was nine inches, but there was also those of 11 and 12 inches.
“So the different year classes are doing well,’’ Caruso said.
They had 35 walleyes first day and 22 the second day.
One net produced so many fish that Caruso said. “When we pulled that net out, I thought I was on the `Deadliest Catch.’ They are just solid fish, Dale, just solid fish.”