More flathead catfish than expected in the Calumet system during intensive invasive carp monitoring

One byproduct of the intensive monitoring for invasive carp in the Calumet system last month was finding far more flathead catfish than would be expected.

SHARE More flathead catfish than expected in the Calumet system during intensive invasive carp monitoring
Commercial fisher Travis Michael with one of the many flathead catfish observed and immediately released on Lake Calumet during the intensive two-week check for invasive carp.

Commercial fisher Travis Michael with one of the many flathead catfish observed and immediately released on Lake Calumet during the intensive two-week check for invasive carp.

Provided

The miracles of the Calumet system don’t surprise me often anymore, but a mess of flathead catfish in Lake Calumet did.

Last week I read the recap of the rapid response monitoring, initiated under the Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee’s Contingency Response Plan by the capture of an adult silver carp Aug. 4 in Lake Calumet. It all was started by bass angler Cody Bertrand’s report of a jumping silver carp in late July (Sun-Times, Aug. 13).

Mercifully, the monitoring Aug. 5-19 on Lake Calumet and adjacent waters within the Chicago Area Waterway System didn’t produce any other silver or bighead carp.

But this paragraph stopped me: ‘‘The response effort produced approximately 550 smallmouth buffalo, 137 flathead catfish, 125 common carp, 66 freshwater drum and an assortment of other native species that were captured and [immediately] released. In addition, four grass carp were collected and removed.’’

Seriously? There were 137 flathead in the Calumet?

So I checked with Kevin Irons, the assistant fisheries chief for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Before that, he was the head of the Aquatic Nuisance Species program for more than a decade.

‘‘I spoke to the biologists, and this stood out to them, as well,’’ he messaged. ‘‘While we have seen some flatheads up to 20 to 25 pounds, they were rare. In the last 10 years, we have spring and fall intensive work and have not seen these. In 2017, when we found the other silver carp, we were earlier in the year (June-July) and didn’t see numbers like this.

‘‘So, yes, in a quick assessment, we generally don’t see more than a dozen in a year. But this response saw good numbers of many fish being over 10 pounds in Lake Calumet (almost exclusively).”

Then Irons wondered: ‘‘They don’t appear overnight, but I wonder if warm summer temps and low water have them stacked up in this particular area.’’

The Calumet system, that sprawling post-industrial revival tent of restoration, has produced many surprises, including a spurt of big striped or hybrid striped bass about 20 years ago. Nobody could say for certain where they originated.

Might the Calumet now become a destination for flathead anglers?

‘‘Perhaps,’’ Irons mused. ‘‘Also, more data that all the good work by [the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and others] is beginning to pay off.’’

A recap of the monitoring is at invasivecarp.us/News/2022-Calumet-contingency-response.html.

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