Fisheries project a potential ‘changer’

Springfield — Long-standing but little-known “Project F-69-R” could turn out to be an Illinois angler’s new best friend.

With a name that sounds more like a classified military op, it is actually a program designed to be a “game changer” in Illinois – a program to help fishermen understand which bodies of water in the state are best for catching which species of fish, while assisting fisheries biologists manage hundreds of lakes and rivers.

What has fish managers particularly excited these days is development of a Fishing Quality Index, which will be used for largemouth bass and other sport fish in the state.

Research partners DNR and the Illinois Natural History Survey have been collecting and crunching data as part of the project titled “Sport Fish Population and Sport Fishing Metric.”

“This project under Dr. Jeff Stein at INHS is directed at developing sport fish metrics which can be used by fish biologists to model, characterize and compare sport fish in reservoirs, lakes and rivers in Illinois,” explained Jim Mick,” DNR Rivers and Reservoirs Program manager. “It’s pretty exciting stuff because the data can help produce a system that will allow us to post information on websites that will benefit both anglers and those of us who study fish.”

Mick provided a sample of the data – a spread sheet that broke down each species of sport fish and which lakes and rivers in the state are best for that particular fish. For example, Carlyle Lake received the top ranking for blue catfish, the second best ranking for channel catfish (the Fox Chain was tops for channel cats) and fouth best for bluegills.

Another example is Clinton Lake, which received the No. 1 rating for largemouth bass and the No. 1 rating for bluegills. Spring Lake South was top-ranked for northern pike, while the Fox Chain, along with being tops for channel cats, also received the No. 1 ranking for walleyes and the No. 1 ranking for smallmouth bass.

What lake does the data crunch suggest is tops for muskies? Kinkaid Lake, which also pulled a No. 3 in the state for crappies.

As any angler can understand, the Fish Quality Index provides plenty of fishing fodder.

“We plan to post all of this – what will end up being the Fish Quality Index – on the DNR and Ifish websites in a way that will really help anglers,” Mick said. “Technology has really taken off in the fish research world and the result is good news for people who fish.”

Where did all the of the numbers used in Fish Quality Index come from?

In 2011, DNR biologists began entering data during electrofishing surveys of lakes and rivers all over the state. Mick said the 2013 data has just been entered, giving the project three years of solid data to crunch.

“The next step for us is to determine the correlation with other fish population quality metrics such as proportional stock density and relative stock density. Once the fish population metrics are developed and correlated, then the relationship  with fishing quality [based on creel survey data] will be established.”

Fisheries data was assembled using creel survey data from 1990-2009 and collected in previous segments of Project F-69-R. Creel survey estimates for angler effort, angler catch, and catch biomass of largemouth bass were transformed to normalize their distributions, and a 0 to 5 scoring system was developed based on the standard deviation of each distribution.

Project F-69-R, which is funded by the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Fund, has been around for more than two decades. It has helped fund projects to collect and analyze Illinois fisheries data.

In the last three years, research topics have included an evaluation of urban stream restoration on the DuPage River, an investigation into largemouth bass recruitment dynamics as affected by spring angling, an assessment of land-use practices and their impacts through the Fishes of Champaign County and an investigation into natural reproduction of lake trout in southern Lake Michigan.

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