fish in net

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Fishery Biologist Mike Mounce shows the fingerling smallmouth bass being reintroduced into Lake Shelbyville.

In a few years fishermen may well be hooking into a smallmouth bass in Lake Shelbyville. Smallmouth, sometimes called a “bronzeback” for its brassy brown hue, is one of the strongest fish for its weight. Many anglers who hook a 2-pounder will swear it’s twice that big until the fish is in the net.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) team up to reintroduce smallmouth bass to Lake Shelbyville.

IDNR Fisheries Biologist Mike Mounce said smallmouth are native to the Kaskaskia River and were in Lake Shelbyville at the beginning, but in such small numbers they did not thrive like their cousins the largemouth bass.

“Usually you get one species that dominates over the other and the lake is better for largemouth than it is for smallmouth,” said Mounce. “So, when the lake was initially impounded, the largemouth certainly predominated and that could have driven the smallmouth down to such low levels to compete, they subsequently died out over the years.”

Smallmouth bass look very similar to their close cousin, the largemouth. Often they are found in the same waters. To tell the two apart, look at the closed mouth. If it extends only to the middle of the eye, it’s a smallmouth. If it goes way beyond the back of the eye, the fish is a largemouth.

Mounce said he caught the parent fish in the Kaskaskia below the dam. Those fish were then put into a brood pond at the Corps Fin and Feathers Nursery pond to spawn. The fingerling baby smallmouth were transferred from the brood pond to the lake on Thursday, August 31.

Mounce went on to say IDNR tried this same scenario last year, but it did not work, the smallmouth did not spawn.

“There was possibly a couple of reasons, there was some contamination of some other fish in there that we were not aware of at the time, and this year in addition to getting rid of the other fish we added some swimming pools with gravel in them and hopefully provide the ideal sub-strate for them to spawn in,” Mounce said. “They did pretty well this year.”

Mounce said this program was set up by the previous fishery biologist.

“We are just following through with his plans,” continued Mounce.

Corps biologist Lee Mitchell said the hope is the smallmouth will stay in the south end of the lake.

“Lake Shelbyville is unique is that the upper part of the lake is murky water and the southern part of the lake is a lot clearer so the smallmouth and the largemouth kind of separate themselves out,” said Mitchell. “The smallmouth like the clearer water so they will be down in the southern parts of the lake and should not impact any of the largemouth fisheries in the northern end of the lake.”

Mounce said he does not expect large numbers on the smallmouth.

“This may just be kind of a bonus fish that adds to what we already have,” Mounce said.

Several volunteers from around the area showed up to help with this process, including Shelby County Extension Office Unit Manager Jim Looft.

“I just thought if they are working to keep the population of the lake up, the least I can do is be here to help do that,” said Looft. “I would like to catch some of these smallmouth in the future.”

Another volunteer Ken Cottet from Mattoon said he came to help and to learn something.

“I have never seen this done before and I thought it would be interesting” said Cottet.

Mitchell said this project is another good example of how the IDNR and Corps of Engineers partner together for the betterment of Lake Shelbyville.

Trending Video

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you