Muskies, bass appear to be cohabitating in Mill Creek
By Ralph Loos
In the beginning, the mere mention of “muskie” caused regular Mill Creek Lake bass anglers to roll their eyes and watch their blood pressure rise.
But such consternation seems to have eased in recent years, as the lake’s bass population remained steady and several large muskies began showing up on those same anglers’ lines.
According to DNR, catch rates of muskies by anglers have been good, though the fishing pressure remains relatively light.
DNR noted that muskies larger than 48 inches have been caught by fishermen and collected in DNR surveys.
As for the bass, they appear to be doing quit well. DNR recently reported that in 39 tournaments held on Mill Creek Lake in 2020, a total of 2,076 largemouths were weighed in.
The largest bass was just under 6 pounds, while more than a dozen weighed in over the 5-pound mark.
A solid 731-acre fishing lake, Mill Creek is located approximately 8 miles west of Marshall, in Clark County. It has a maximum depth of 60 feet, and an average depth of 22 feet.
Public boat launching facilities are available and the Clark County Park District collects a boating access fee.
The fish population in Mill Creek Lake is surveyed by DNR every two years. Fish attractors have been constructed and placed by the CCPD for greater fishing success.
Following are notes from DNR’s most recent survey of the lake.
• Largemouth bass: Bass densities are high due to abundant vegetation for nursery habitat. Currently, high numbers of bass from 10 to 14 inches are present, while the number of larger fish is less than desirable.
“Largemouth bass virus resulted in a bass kill in 1999, from which the quality of this fishery has never fully recovered,” DNR noted. “Still, bass over 6 pounds are caught on occasion. Fishing quality is rated as excellent for number available and fair for size structure.”
New regulations were put in effect in April 2015. Harvesting the limit of bass less than 15 inches, especially from 11 to 13 inches, is encouraged by DNR to reduce bass numbers and improve growth.
• Crappies: Both white crappies and black crappies are abundant in Mill Creek and growth rates have been good.
According to DNR, anglers may catch crappie up to 18 inches and over 3 pounds.
Regulations allowing the harvest of only two crappies that are 12 inches or longer. DNR added that, “culling is illegal outside of tournaments, as culled fish are more likely to die after being retained on stringers or in containers and handled multiple times.”
• Bluegills: Recent surveys found some bluegills over 8 inches. Anglers are encouraged to voluntarily release these largest bluegills.
“Recent research has revealed that the presence of these larger males encourages smaller male bluegills to delay maturity,” DNR explained. “This improves growth and recruitment to larger sizes, improving angling quality.”
• Redear sunfish: Sunfish are present in good numbers from 8 to 10 inches long. Fishing during the spawning season (mid-May) is the best time to catch redear.
DNR pointed out that redears differ from bluegills visually by a red, orange, or yellow-colored crescent on edge of the “gill flap” and a “freckled” pattern on the cheek and body. Redear sunfish are highly dependent on vegetation to maintain a high-quality fishery.
• Muskies: Although often maligned due to their large size and teeth, muskies can be a benefit to the entire fishery on Mill Creek Lake.
“A recent muskie diet study in Illinois lakes indicates that when gizzard shad are present, like Mill Creek Lake, muskies feed exclusively on shad,” DNR reported. “Bass are never a preferred or abundant food item. Muskie predation on large adult gizzard shad is highly desirable on Mill Creek Lake to thin this size group. White suckers are a valuable diet item to enhance the growth of large muskie. Additional research indicates that lakes stocked with muskie experience improvements in bass numbers and white crappie growth rate compared to lakes not stocked with muskie.
• Channel catfish: The average catch has ranged from 2 to 8 pounds.
• Other species: Longear sunfish and green sunfish are present in Mill Creek, but are seldom attain harvestable size.
Yellow bullheads and black bullheads reach a respectable size, often larger than 12 inches.
Gizzard shad, golden shiners and white suckers are present and serve as the primary forage base. Unfortunately, Common carp were collected for the first time in 2015.
Mill Creek Lake
Nearest town: Marshall
Surface area: 731 acres
Avg. depth: 22 feet
Primary species present: bluegills, bass, channel catfish, crappies, muskies
Lake information: 217-345-2420