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Fishing & Outdoors: Removal of dam has transformed Des Plaines River

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:22AM



Honors went to Dale Penkava. The 78-year-old from North Riverside carried and released the first of 126 broodstock smallmouth bass, tagged with No. 367 by streams biologists Steve Pescitelli, on Tuesday into the Des Plaines River near the site of the former Hofmann Dam.

The Des Plaines again looks like a river, with riffles, pools and bends. It sounds like a river, with the sound of running water.

‘‘I have been excited since July 20, when that jackhammer was poised
6 inches above the dam,’’ said Janine Prorok, a director of Hofmann Dam River Rats.

The change already has been dramatic. But Pescitelli and fellow streams biologist Bob Rung wanted to help and oversaw the stocking of the broodstock from Jake Wolf Hatchery. The River Rats provided help from Rich Rogoz, president John Mach, Penkava and others as the afternoon went on.

‘‘Since we have taken the dam out and have that new habitat upstream and it doesn’t have smallmouth on it, we figured we would give it a kick-start,’’ Pescitelli said. ‘‘Hopefully they will spread out and make more smallmouth, even downstream.’’

If fishermen catch one of the smallmouth, they should note the identification number and call (630) 553-0164. And release the fish.

‘‘They will give fishermen something to catch because hatchery fish aren’t the wiliest,’’ Pescitelli said.

When a similar stocking was done on a restored stretch of the DuPage River his year, the first four weeks saw many smallmouth caught and reported.

‘‘The Des Plaines is bigger, and there should be some deeper holes,’’ Pescitelli said. ‘‘They will spread out and go wherever the hell they want.’’

By existing regulation, fishermen must release smallmouth caught below the site of the former dam. Biologists also are asking that they release any caught above the dam, too.

‘‘The main thing is we got the dam out, and hopefully this will be a kick-start,’’ Pescitelli said.

Biologists already have seen changes. Highly migratory channel catfish already have returned to the pool above the former dam.

‘‘In the pool behind the dam, which has recovered and has pools and riffles, there were tons of minnows already,’’ Pescitelli said.

He said the three primary ones they found were bluntnose minnows, sand shiners and spotfin shiners. They also found a few darters, rock bass, sunfish and northern pike.

‘‘It’s noticeably more productive,’’ Pescitelli said.

Mach oversaw the process of getting the fish to the river with happy thoughts.

‘‘At times, I had my doubts [the dam would come out],’’ he said. ‘‘But we got things aligned.’’

‘‘The river is still there, and it turned back to a river the way we said it would,’’ Pescitelli said. ‘‘Hopefully this will show people what can happen. This will help recreation. . . . Just an exciting project.’’

That change already is coming.

‘‘I like birds,’’ Prorok said. ‘‘There are blue herons and night herons now. I told people to watch for the birds.’’

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