Monday, May 31, 2010

Smallmouths, Walleye, Monster Bluegill

Friday morning up at the crack of dawn and off to a 5 acre smallmouth pond west of Peoria. This pond was stocked with fathead minnows, smallmouth bass, hybrid redear sunfish, bluegill, and walleye. The smallmouth took off real fast and grew like crazy the first couple years, but than ran out of preferred forage the last couple years. We stocked yellow perch 2 years ago and last year the owner bought golden shiner fry and raised them in his 1/3 acre wetland up above his lake. In the fall he opened er up and flushed 250,000 3 inch golden shiners into his lake! It was an incredible forage stocking experiment gone right! His entire 5 acre lake is completely full of these little tasty morsels and his smallies are gonna put on some serious weight over the course of the summer. Here are some pics from our electrofishing survey:

These golden shiners are everywhere!

Walleye are growing nicely

These smallies are nice fish, but just wait 3 months and they will be obese!

There is a little bit of smallmouth reproduction going on:

This hybrid redear is an absolute monster!

Then we headed straight over to Oak Run for round two of the electrofishing surveys. Our main goal was to try and get a good sample of the carp population so we focused on looking for carp, but it was like everywhere we went tons of nice walleye, big bass, and awesome crappie where eveywhere:

Surprisingly there is a nice population of golden shiners in oak run as well! They are just an awesome forage for gamefish!

We did eventually find some concentrations of carp, but we had to work alot harder at it than I expected.

After the survey I did some carp research and found out that actually electrofishing for them during the spawning season is not a good time to get them. The nations leading carp guru from South Dakota State University said that during the spawn, carp swim around chasing each other all over the place and that makes em hard to electrofish. They should be done spawning in most places, but at Oak Run they were still full of eggs. Anyhow once the spawn is done the fish dont move around as much and are much easier to dial up.

Moving on, I headed straight for the lake friday evening and did just a bit of fishing with my uncle Spark Meister. Spark is an electrical genius and I am guessing his nickname has stuck with him his whole life. Anyhow he puts in big wind turbines to generate electricity as kind of a hobby I guess. So we just went down to the dock and threw some big 5 inch golden shiners out for bait in hopes of catching a big hybrid striped bass, but all we got was a catfish, one walleye, and this huge bluegill. Yep, this bluegill ate a 5 inch shiner!

Then on Saturday we worked like crazy fixing the road, beach, boat docks, rope swing, waterslide, landscaping, spring cleaning, etc to get the place ready for summer camps. We will have 200-300 people and kids up at the lake every weekend in June.

Sunday I went scuba diving with my brothers around the lake. We checked on all the fish structures, the fish populations, and did a little catfish fishing with our hands for fun and dinner. Here is a pic of our two biggest:

Monday morning I went out fishing with my dad out in the boat for an hour. I knew where all the fish where from scuba diving the day before so we didnt have to waste anytime looking for them. Here are some really big bluegill we caught:

We also caught a 7 lb rainbow trout and a handful of smallmouth and largemouth bass. Then we started working again for the day. Over the weekend we had well over 100 people coming and going and helping get everything accomplished for the upcoming camp schedule. Chef Todd came and took some guests fishing for me and had a couple big muskies follow his lure up to the boat. Justin also caught a 5 lb muskie and my nephew caught a little muskie as well. People fished off the docks and such off and on all weekend and caught a whole bunch of hybrid stripers, walleye, yellow perch, and of course bluegill. I was too busy to take pics.

By Monday evening I was exhausted. I think it will take till about friday of this week to fully recover from the weekend. It was hot, but the water sure felt nice.

Tuesday I spent in the office just calling people back and answering emails from the weekend and then I headed out to a consultation in Pekin at 4 pm. Then straight to my softball game for a double header.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Building Floating Docks

This week was a race against Memorial Day weekend to get 3 floating dock projects done. Like usual we battled the rain, but this week a new dimension of heat and sun was added to the mix. Whew boy was it ever hot!

So Monday we headed out towards Secor bright and early. We finished up a floating dock, added a sliding board and jump platform to the swim platform and built a platform and staircase to the rope swing. No clouds in the sky for this scorching hot day, but of course we got rained on, even without clouds??? The rain was welcomed though with the heat, and the jump platform and rope swing got several trial runs....You know just to make sure everything was working smooth for the season. Doesnt this just look like the absolute perfect pond setting:

Then tuesday we headed out towards Henry, Illinois to convert a stationery dock into a floating dock. We met up with my food plot guys out at the property as well. They have been hanging deer stands, trail cameras, and put in several food plots on this property for our client. They finished planting the last food plot just as a thunderstorm came rolling in about 2:30 in the afternoon. Here is a pic of the clover plot:

We also put in a couple acres of round up ready beans, and disked up and prepared some fall plots for late season planting as well. A couple Texas Hunter tower blinds, several ladder stands strategically placed, and a handful of cuddeback cameras and this property is ready for some serious hunting this fall!

So anyhow Allen and I worked with Ed Reed Excavating to pick up this massive dock and put floats underneath it. Was a much bigger project than anticipated, but even with the hour long thunderstorm and several turkey spottings we were still able to get er all done. Once put in the water we built a big gangway, some bench brackets, and anchored er home onto some big 6x6 posts. While Ed was there we had him dig out the beach, place a few loads of sand, and even dig out about 100 foot of shoreline from the dock to limit the weed growth and attract some fish! Let me just say that Ed I think is part tractor. Its like his brain is operating that machine like we move our hands and fingers!

Wednesday Justin and Allen delivered a whole truckload of feed trained smallmouth bass to Ipava, some feed trained largemouth and hybrid bluegill to Fiatt, and some walleye, hybrid bluegill, and smallmouth bass to Washburn. I had the pleasure of sitting in the office and trying to answer some emails, voicemails, and other crappy office stuff. Then I headed out to pond consultation at 4 pm over near Mapleton. This consultation was a bit different than most. The 3 acre pond was built rock solid 14 years ago, the fish were big and plentiful, the vegetation was native and diverse, and the homeowners around the lake were generally tickled pink with their little gem of a pond. The reason I was there was well I guess just to reassure them that their pond was perfect.....a very rare thing these days.

Thursday we headed to Mapleton to build a fun floating dock for Troy. His 4 acre pond is well aerated and boasts some serious fish potential with his aggressive stocking strategies over the last 2 years. Cast a line out and you could catch any one of the 10 different species of well fed fish! Anyhow we started building the 16x16 floating dock with 7x12 gangway at 8 am. I headed out to Drakes appointment with the Ear, Nose, Throat specialist at 9 am and returned just in time for lunch. Justin, Allen, and Troy were going to town the whole time and by 4 pm we had the dock done, mounted, and even a nice little jump platform finished for Owen by the time he got home from school. Even with the chilly temps he just kept jumping off!

Friday hasnt come yet, but I will be electrofishing a 5 acre smallmouth bass pond at 6 am, and then heading back over to Oak Run for some more electrofishing and fish management work. Straight from Oak Run I am heading out to the lake for the entire weekend!!! Got tons of work to do out there, but if I can keep my eyes open I will be fishing after dark! Hopefully I will get some good fish pics. Texas Hunter fish feeders is looking for some kids fishing pictures for their 2011 catalog and I could use some for some stuff as well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Electrofishing, Rain, Electrofishing!

This week can be summed up with two words repeated over and over again: Electrofishing and Rain, electrofishing and rain. I guess I could throw a few other keywords into the mix like fish stocking, rain, consulting, rain, carp, rain, and you guessed it: RAIN! I mean come on is it ever gonna just stop raining?

Despite another soggy week here in Central Illinois, we were still able to get out and get most of our work done. Every day started out before the sun came up and every day ended well after the sun went down. I just might have bitten off a bit more than I can chew, but some way some how I am going to get everything done- eventually. Here is just a recap of the weeks highlights:

Monday I took some clients to go see the new golf course in Metamora. My dad and older brother are building the clubhouse and I am hoping to stock some fish and come up with some management plans for all the ponds throughout the golf course. Lots of water, gonna be neat! Then I headed over to Dallas City to meet up with Dan Molsen and talk about his ponds on his fairly new property. Turned out to be a pretty good meeting for me, Dan is the president of a fundraising firm for non-profit organizations. I have a non-profit organization called Hooked On Fishing Park and am always looking for ways to raise funds so we can take even more kids and seniors fishing. Last year we took 800 folks fishing and this year we have over 2500 kids lined up to come and catch fish at the park. Needless to say Dan provided me with some real good advice on how to get volunteers and support! Gonna be an awesome summer at the park, anyone looking to help teach kids how to fish or help out in anyway please let me know.

Tuesday Allen and I headed out super early to Vermilion Fishing Club near Oakwood, Il to kill some nuisance vegetation and electrofish for their 120 acre lake. The lake is very unique to say the least. It is actually a private power plant cooling lake that fluctuates quite a bit depending on the water needs of the plant. Boasts a world of unlimited potential for growing monster fish, just needs to start turning the trash fish biomass into something a bit more desired. The lake is full of these pesky yellow bass, gizzard shad, and common carp.

I would estimate that 3/4 of the fish biomass in this lake are not desirable species. Currently working on the management plan to convert that biomass into something a bit more desirable.

Wednesday Chef Todd and I went out shocking a couple lakes while Justin and Allen went out killing nuisance weeds for a few clients. Chef is surprisingly good at electrofishing whenever I need an extra hand. We started out a 4 acre pond in Metamora where we dialed up some real nice bass, redears, and crappie. Chef called that little scenic pond a gem!

The kicker to that story is that the new owner was told the pond was 60 feet deep, but in reality it had an average depth of 7 feet and a max depth of 13 feet.

Then on Wednesday afternoon we headed out to Oak Run Lake near Dahinda to electrofish. This 600 acre private lake is completely full of fish, and some big ones to boot. I am sure there are still some memberships available and actually would recommend one if you like fishing big water. We are working on a plan that is going to transform this lake back into a World Class fishery as opposed to just the really good fishery it currently is.

There are a few changes happening in the lake as it gets older, but one of the main ones is that most of the original structure in the lake is gone. The lake really didn't have much structure to begin with. Because of this, the fish have moved around a bit, but they are still there you just need to search around for them. Crappie, Bass, Bluegill, Catfish, and Walleye all had good size and numbers. Here are some pics of some monster walleye:

There are quite a few real big bass, but a vast majority of the bass are about 11-12 inches long. In all honesty, the average size of a mature adult bass in Illinois is 11.75 inches long. Most folks dont realize this, but to grow a bass past 15 inches long is not common, very very few bass ever grow bigger than that. The biggest limiting factor to growing bass bigger than average is overpopulation. If you want them to get bigger you need to thin them down just abit. Kind of hard to talk bass fisherman into killing bass, but it is a very necessary evil. Back in the old days folks were meat fisherman and fish grew big, nowadays folks are tournament anglers and recreational fisherman and sure there are more fish around, but they have been caught multiple times, are overcrowded, and they just dont grow in these big lakes like they used to. Here are some good pics of monster bass though:

Catfish is another species doing real well at Oak Run. Lots of real nice 3-8 lb fish!

Crappie and Bluegill are very plentiful and just average for their sizes. Lots of 9-1o inch crappie, in fact there were so many 9 inch crappie that they are going to need to eat lots of them! For the bluegill I was actually surprised with the numbers of 7-8 inchers. Ideally I would love to protect all the bluegill for 2010 and give them a chance to really get going, but that probably isnt realistic. Bluegill are the backbone to growing big bass, crappie are not.

Here are some nice carp pics. I would rate the lake as one of the top carp fisheries in Illinois. Size and numbers are both real strong. Keep in mind these are 250-300 lb men holding these fish:

Obviously there is quite a bit of Carp biomass in the lake, but we are all working on a plan to start reducing that annually and the fishing is only going to get even better as the carp biomass gets transformed into something a bit more desirable. There is no fish that ruins bass, bluegill, and crappie more than the common carp. They just absolutely devastate habitat and take up precious biomass. I estimate that half of the lakes fish biomass is being wasted in the form of common carp. We have some ideas for a longterm management plan.

Thursday the heavens opened up and it really rained. I was able to squeeze in a lake consultation super early thursday morning before heading to Drake's Easter Seals appointment, but had to cancel my afternoon plans due to the rain. Mon-Wed was just scattered rain workaroundable, but we had to reschedule our electrofishing surveys planned for Washburn Thursday afternoon and Northern Illinois on Friday because of this downpour. So instead I took a load of big male only bluegill to a new pond up near lacon (in the rain).

That pond is going to be the best one acre ice fishing pond ever come winter. Here is the ice fishing stocking plan: 500 big male only bluegill, 500 hybrid bluegill, 200 big female yellow perch, 100 walleye, and 25 smallmouth bass. Sounds interesting doesnt it?

Friday I had a Hooked On Fishing Park meeting, worked on office stuff, and then went to Canton to plant some white water lillies, yellow and blue iris, and some other plants for a pond turned wetland. Got wet and muddy with the rain, but was gonna get wet and muddy anyways. Then off to the lake to spend the night. Before going to bed I worked a bit on our VIP dock. This is where we film all of our underwater videos and have trained the fish to eat from our hands. Rainbow trout, smallmouth, stripers, largemouth, crappie, walleye, and bluegill will come eat right from our hands. We filmed some real good footage that wont get edited for a long time.

Here is a video from last year at the VIP dock:

Saturday Justin and I headed out at 5 am towards Cuba. We had 9 lakes to electrofish for a client. Bill lives up near Chicago, but found his dream fishing property down here in God's country. His lakes are full of trophy fish of all kinds of species. Here is a pic of the biggest fish we found on the property:

Anyhow, Bill had some of his employees come down to get some time out of the office and help sample the lakes via angling. All the rain and flooding and fronts moving through didnt make the fishing easy, but they still caught some real nice fish. We were able to catch some real nice fish as well. By far the best redear sunfish fishing lakes I have ever seen! One pounders are just everywhere and occasional beasts like the second pic below are not that uncommon:

One of the lakes was completely full of these monster redear x bluegill hybrids. These arent stocked fish, but since the water is pretty murky the male redears just get kind of mixed up when fertilizing eggs. The resulting natural hybridization is just really cool and those fish just grow abnormally large!

With 9 different lakes, we are coming up with specialized management plans for each one to focus on each lakes potential, existing habitat, current fish population, and Bill's goals for each one individually. The lakes range in size from 4 to 31 acres. Some of the lakes will be managed for taking guests fishing for lots of fish, some of them will be managed for experienced anglers to have a chance at catching a monster fish, and some of them will be managed for toothy critters like tiger musky, pure musky, northern pike, and walleye. Here are just a few more pics. Electrofishing 9 lakes in the same day is not an easy task by any means so we just didnt have much time to take pics, but here are what we got:

Sunday I actually had trouble waking up in the morning. We were a bit late for Church and had to come home early cause I couldnt keep my eyes open. I literally crashed for 3 hours until Brook made me get up to head out to a friends cookout. I could of kept sleeping all through the night. Anyhow we went out for the evening and had a great time and ate lots of great food. I am actually not a very social person, but Brook enjoys spending time with regular people and not talking about fish for a change.

Looking forward to this upcoming week! We will be building a dock in Secor with a waterslide on Monday, building some bench seats around a dock in Henry on Tuesday, and building a dock in Mapleton on Thursday. The rest of the week will be spent killing algae, watermilfoil, and curly leafed pondweed. Gonna be hot, but bring it on, I am ready for swimming season and Memorial Day Weekend!