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Ice-out: Fish kills not expected to be as bad as polar-vortex winter of ’13-14, but there will be some

Fish kills after ice-out are not expected to be as bad as in the polar-vortex winter of 2013-14, but some fish kills are expected on smaller, shallower mud-bottom lakes.

The weather has been warm enough to allow anglers to sit on a bucket outside on the ice, as these guys were Friday evening at Channel Lake; even with ice reaching depths of 18 inches in spots and weeks of heavy snow cover, significant winter fish kills are not expected around the Chicago area. Credit: Dale Bowman
The weather has been warm enough to allow anglers to sit on a bucket outside on the ice, as these guys were Friday evening at Channel Lake; even with ice reaching depths of 18 inches in spots and weeks of heavy snow cover, significant winter fish kills are not expected around the Chicago area.
Dale Bowman

Homeowner groups sometimes ask fisheries biologist Frank Jakubicek if having ice rinks will help prevent fish kills. It helps.

In the old days, kids and parents were more apt to clear snow from ice for skating or hockey games. By doing so, they unwittingly helped prevent winter fish kills by allowing sunlight in to help oxygen levels.

As the weather broke last week, I wondered whether the extended heavy snow cover (the fourth-longest stretch with 10 inches or more) and thick ice (up to 18 inches on the Chain O’Lakes) would lead to winter fish kills, which usually are noted at ice-out. And ice-out is coming.

‘‘Yeah, we are probably going to have some fish kills,’’ said Jakubicek, who covers Cook and Lake counties. ‘‘I haven’t heard of any fish kills yet, but we still have ice-up.

‘‘There are always marginal ponds with soft mud bottoms and relatively shallow that have kills.’’

But Jakubicek said he thinks the area should be relatively unscathed by winter fish kills.

Small, shallow ponds with mud bottoms, such as this one opening up on Monday, are are one of the few waters likely to experience fish kills after a tough winter. Credit: Dale Bowman
Small, shallow ponds with mud bottoms, such as this one opening up on Monday, are are one of the few waters likely to experience fish kills after a tough winter.
Dale Bowman

‘‘We had our ice later in the year,’’ he noted.

That’s a key distinction from the polar-vortex winter of 2013-14.

‘‘I would say if any lakes or ponds had troubles in 2013-14, they should be checked out,’’ emailed Andy Plauck, a fisheries biologist for McHenry, Kane and DuPage counties. ‘‘The ice in 2013 started early [in November] and didn’t go away until late March. I think we’ll be in the clear if the weather keeps warming up!’’

So far, the weather forecast indicates a gradual ice-out.

‘‘I haven’t heard of anything yet, but we had 13 inches of ice on McCollum Lake as of Feb. 21,’’ Plauck emailed.

‘‘All quiet in my neck of the woods,’’ emailed biologist Seth Love, who covers Kendall, Grundy, Kankakee and Will counties.

In terms of ice, there is generally a remarkable difference between the area Love covers and the far northern counties.

That’s why Jakubicek said: ‘‘I expect some dead gizzard shad on the Chain. We are going to have dead fish in some lakes and ponds, usually the more shallow ponds with mud bottoms, water retention ponds, those ponds. So, yes, we are probably going to have some.’’

The key time to watch is when the ice goes.

‘‘Sometimes fish will die, and they go to the bottom,’’ Jakubicek said. ‘‘It takes a couple of days after the ice leaves for them to float up. We will see.’’

Illinois’ fisheries biologists can be found at ifishillinois.org/FAQS/biologists.html.

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Provided

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Provided by Joseph Kalas

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