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Moving right along after dam removal

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Updated: June 20, 2013 3:59PM

I can’t decide if it’s a dam miracle or what we should have expected all along when the Hofmann Dam was removed last year from the Des Plaines River.

In October, months after the dam removal, broodstock smallmouth bass, of a size that makes fishermen fantasize, were tagged and stocked by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

And they are on the move in remarkable ways.

‘‘Hooked up with one of those tagged smallmouth bass from last fall’s stocking near Riverside and Lyons,’’ Marcus Benesch emailed last week. ‘‘Only this guy was miles north of there in the Catherine Chevalier Woods on Chicago’s Northwest Side, right along the Kennedy Expressway.’’

‘‘The smallmouth are moving up there,’’ streams biologist Steve Pescitelli said. ‘‘It is really cool.’’

It is really cool.

Where Benesch caught his smallmouth is 15 miles upstream of the former Hofmann Dam. Pescitelli expects them to reach the full 17 miles to the Devon Dam, which also will be removed eventually.

The smallmouth have traveled just about as far downstream, if my calculations are right. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found one at Willow Springs Road, and a fisherman reported one at Lemont Road.

‘‘These fish do move around a lot, especially in the fall and spring,’’ Pescitelli said.

‘‘Amazing how in just a short winter season, this fish could migrate so many miles north,’’ Benesch emailed. ‘‘I reported the fish using the phone number on the tag.’’

When the fish were stocked, Pescitelli and fellow streams biologist Bob Rung clipped colored-fin tags on each smallmouth, then charted their data. The number to call is (630) 553-0164.

‘‘There is no way this fish could have made it up here without the recent removal of the Armitage and Hofmann dams,’’ Benesch emailed. ‘‘I am glad we are starting to understand how much these fish migrate. That catch was just amazing on so many levels, I just had to share.’’

As fishermen, we find the movement of the tagged smallmouth amazing. From the biological side, Pescitelli is more amazed by some other signs.

He is much encouraged by the spread and return of channel catfish upstream of the former dam. Before the Hofmann Dam was removed, they surveyed the pool upstream of the dam and found no channel catfish. Shortly after dam removal, John Mach, president of the Hofmann Dam River Rats, was catching channel cats there.

Benesch, a River Grove man who supplies the Des Plaines report for the Midwest Fishing Report, has reported catching channel catfish all the way to the Devon Dam.

‘‘That is very encouraging,’’ Pescitelli said.

Upstream of the dam, very quickly there was a return of northern pike and darters, among other species not found there in years.

‘‘We knew these things would work, but it is nice to get the documentation,’’ Pescitelli said. ‘‘We expected it to happen pretty quickly. It is one thing to say it, another thing to document it. And, more importantly, to know the fishermen are catching them where they weren’t catching them before it.’’

He is looking forward to the sampling this year along the Des Plaines River from Joliet to the Illinois-Wisconsin line.

‘‘The nice things about dam-removal projects, it is pretty easy to demonstrate the benefits because it is such a remarkable change,’’ Pescitelli said. ‘‘Dam pools are not very hospitable to fish. . . . It is pretty easy to show they are moving back in [after dam removal].’’

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