I made a beeline toward the DNR Division of Fisheries tent.
Specifically, I visited the large tanks of fish collected each August by DNR that help showcase the various species swimming in the state's waters — and help educate the general public about those species.
Missing this year were the monster flathead catfish that always seem to be crowd pleasers. But in place of the flatheads I was pleasantly surprised to find a few rather large alligator gars.
The presence of the ancient fish caught many fair visitors by surprise, as the phrase "What the . . .?" was heard more than once as I stood near the tanks.
According to DNR's Chris Young, DNR recently collected several alligator gars from Powerton Lake, just south of Peoria. Three of the fish are now on display in tanks in the fisheries tent in Conservation World.
Young explained that the fish are now six years old and have been tagged with microchips to help biologists measure their growth rates. The nine fish collected account for about 10 percent of the original 78 fish that were stocked in Powerton Lake.
Prior to the start of restoration efforts, the last Alligator Gar was caught by an angler in 1966 near Cairo. Alligator Gar are river fish, but also can thrive in large lakes. As part of the project, IDNR biologists released them in several other locations where habitat was suitable. Alligator Gar are not being released at this time. DNR biologists are monitoring fish from the initial stocking.
See the Sept. 4 issue of Illinois Outdoor News to learn more about the alligator gar from the perspective of anglers who have come face-to-face with the odd creature.