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Fisheries officials say panfish limits unnecessary on Chain O’Lakes

Ice fishing is one best ways for general public access ChaO’Lakes but it also can draw heavy pressure good ice

Ice fishing is one of the best ways for the general public to access the Chain O’Lakes, but it also can draw heavy pressure in good ice years, such as this scene from five years ago. | Dale Bowman/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 6, 2014 6:28AM

Chris Taurisano posted the question last week on Facebook:

‘‘Why not put a panfish limit on the Fox Chain? People are so abusive of what they keep. You would think they live in a third-world country. I know it sustains itself year after year, but it just makes sense to have some limits.’’

Taurisano was asking about the Chain O’Lakes, but his question goes to a broader issue. Forty years ago, fishing was keeping fish. But the pendulum has swung to catch-and-release.

First, the Chain.

Veteran district fisheries biologist Frank Jakubicek said that because the Chain is treated as a whole system, not lake by lake, ‘‘We haven’t worried about creel limits.’’

In fact, he said he considers fishermen keeping panfish part of the predator take, the same as those eaten by walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass and muskie. With prolific spawners such as crappie and multiple spawners such as bluegills, predator take is important for balance. Year after year, the size of bluegills and crappie on the Chain has been healthy.

The question on panfish came to the fore this year because ice fishing began on the Chain before Thanksgiving.

‘‘Ice fishing can impact populations, especially in small systems,’’ Jakubicek said. ‘‘But when you’re talking large systems, not so much. Fish move all over the place because it is considered an open chain.’’

During ice fishing, Chain fishermen have greater range than they do in open water.

‘‘Locally, they can cause impact,’’ Jakubicek said. ‘‘But next year, new fish will be moving in.’’

In a good ice-fishing year, areas such as the south end and the northwest corner of Channel, where there is public access to good panfish spots, are hit relentlessly. But in the system as a whole, Catherine, Marie, Petite, Fox and Pistakee see less pressure.

And Jakubicek pointed to a form of self-regulation.

‘‘I hate to have rules for stuff like that,’’ he said. ‘‘Even when bluegill fishing is really good, the typical guy is going to limit himself on how many he really wants to clean.’’

In fact, Jakubicek is worried about another change on the Chain.

‘‘Predators are starting to shift toward gizzard shad,’’ he said. ‘‘There is less predation on panfish. Fishing harvest is the best thing we have going on to offset that.’’

As to a statewide daily bag, assistant fisheries chief Dan Stephenson emailed: ‘‘We have been very fortunate in Illinois to be able to manage our lakes/waters on a lake-by-lake basis. We don’t set any regional or statewide limits on any species, except the maximum limit of six per day for black bass, which is statewide. I doubt we will change, at least for the foreseeable future. Each water body is different in so many factors and requires different management strategies. I know biologists in other states envy our ability to manage on a site-specific basis.’’

That’s interesting because I long have envied Wisconsin’s daily limit of 25 panfish. Then again, 25 is about how many I ever want to clean.

‘‘As an addendum, when I first came into the division, the use of regulations to manage the sport fishery was in its infancy, and we caught hell from fishermen every time we put a limit on a lake,’’ Stephenson emailed. ‘‘Over the nearly 34 years I’ve been on, the sentiment from the anglers has turned around 180 degrees. Anglers have learned that regulations are effective and necessary and have bought into it.’’

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