The bite also returns: LaSalle Lake making the comeback from a significant fish kill

LaSalle Lake, the cooling lake south of Seneca, is returning steadily from the significant fish kill in early July last year.

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LaSalle Lake, the cooling lake south of Seneca, is making a steady comeback from a substantial fish kill a year ago.

LaSalle Lake, the cooling lake south of Seneca, is making a steady comeback from a substantial fish kill a year ago.

Dale Bowman

MARSEILLES, Ill. — A couple casts in, I hooked a small smallmouth bass just outside the launch at LaSalle Lake.

Hope is a good thing.

So is healing.

A year after the significant fish kill at LaSalle Lake, Pete Riedesel and I had a morning to remember on July 7.

The 10-inch smallmouth bass came on a small soft plastic worm. A few casts later Riedesel caught a largemouth bass of a pound or so.

He turned it around and, as he released it, said, “That is the size you get now. The big ones are gone. They are all these cookie-cutters.”

Pete Riedesel holds the first largemouth bass, one of dozens roughly that size caught, at LaSalle Lake a year after a substantial fish kill. Credit: Dale Bowman

Pete Riedesel holds the first largemouth bass, one of dozens roughly that size caught, at LaSalle Lake a year after a substantial fish kill.

Dale Bowman

Cookie-cutters are a blast to catch, even if they are not trophies. And we caught them by the dozens, a nice salute to the resiliency of LaSalle, the cooling lake south of Seneca.

The morning confirmed the recuperative power of cooling lakes, which are designed to cool water for power plants. Because of the year-round warmth of cooling lakes, they become fish factories where fish grow big and fast.

That makes the healing process faster.

Over several days in early July last year, a significant fish kill hit LaSalle.

In the preview for the opening of LaSalle in March, district fisheries biologist David Wyffels said, “The fish kill was pretty substantial, it put a hurting on our larger-sized fish and big blues and larger catfish, especially. The fall survey for blue cats showed good numbers of fish in the 20-inch range. Those fish were able to get into a thermal area they could survive in.”

LaSalle Lake is steadily rebounding from a substantial fish kill in early July of 2020, part of the aftermath shown here. Credit: Dale Bowman

LaSalle Lake is steadily rebounding from a substantial kill in early July of 2020, part of the aftermath shown here.

Dale Bowman

This spring Wyffels did another survey because he struggled with numbers of largemouth and smallmouth in the fall survey.

“We had better numbers of fish, but there is nothing I could draw on because it was the first spring survey,” he said. “Those 14-, 15-, 16-inch bass were definitely present in those surveys.”

What Riedesel and I caught were primarily largemouth of 14 to 16 inches.

“I did notice a pretty good shad spawn and the threadfin shad are still pretty good,” Wyffels said. “Numbers of fish left could be very full.”

If they were full, the bass still chased our mix of lures—soft plastics, ChatterBaits, spinner baits, blade baits—with aggression. The only lures that didn’t produce were topwaters.

Traditionally, I target bluegill on opening day at LaSalle, but did not this year because I was recovering from heart surgery.

“The bluegill looked phenomenal in the spring survey, plenty of them were over 8 inches,” Wyffels said.

With my health back, apparently I should focus on bluegill again.

“We have to get you to quit worrying about your heart and to thinking about fishing,” Riedesel said.

That’s life advice for healing

Riedesel, who fishes LaSalle regularly, said, “I haven’t caught a hybrid all year.

We didn’t change that. Wyffels said the bigger hybrids were hurt in the kill, but growth of smaller hybrids should spike with fewer big fish to dominate the forage base.

“No hybrids and you don’t get the [blue] catfish or sheephead (drum), either.” Riedesel said.

Pete’s lone smallmouth of the day was a 16-incher (our biggest fish) on a spinner bait.

“My nicest smallmouth so far this,” Riedesel said. “ That’s nice.”

My last fish was a smallmouth, back near the launch, bracketing my catches for the morning.

It was time.

I like to end on a fish. Riedesel has a different theory. After he catches a final fish, he makes three or four more last casts.

Riedesel caught 35 fish, 34 largemouth and the smallmouth. I caught 13, 10 largemouth, the two smallmouth and an eater-sized channel catfish.

American white pelicans take off from a dike at LaSalle Lake, a year after a substantial fish kill. Credit: Dale Bowman

American white pelicans take off from a dike at LaSalle Lake, a year after a substantial fish kill.

Dale Bowman

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