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Stocking of channel catfish good news for the CAWS



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Updated: July 12, 2014 6:36AM

When the construction wall was placed on the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and Dearborn, engineer Tim Ersfeldt said they rescued big common carp, channel catfish, bluegills and smallmouth bass.

There was more rescuing or resurrecting of fish Tuesday on the Chicago Area Waterway System.

On the bank of the Chicago River across from the Sun-Times and Wolf Point, 10,000 1-year-old channel catfish poured down a pipe from a hatchery truck and into the river. They were part of a stocking on the CAWS that included 20,000 catfish on the Little Calumet River earlier in the day.

It was a cooperative effort between the Friends of the Chicago River and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the first step in a spawning habitat-restoration project funded by the new Chi-Cal Rivers Fund.

IDNR tech Rick Webb left far southern Illinois at 6:15 a.m. from the Little Grassy Fish Hatchery. He said that the fish were 3 to 4 inches long and that the 10,000 weighed about 270 pounds. In his 15 years of working for the IDNR, Webb said he never had seen the cameras and TV crews he saw Tuesday.

IDNR director Marc Miller noted channel catfish are native species endemic to the CAWS.

‘‘And they are also consistent with the stockings we do for our urban fishing programs,’’ he said.

Miller said the key will be the artificial fish habitats, which will mimic hollow logs and will be the next step.

‘‘They are a popular sportfish, and people enjoy them,’’ Friends of the Chicago River executive director Margaret Frisbie said. ‘‘Also, [the biologists] tell me they are relatively hardy. And they have experience in using man-made structures for spawning.’’

I asked streams specialist Steve Pescitelli what he thought the survival rates would be.

‘‘[At] this size, they have a darn good chance,’’ he said.

Pescitelli said he expects them to be 6 inches by the end of the year and grow
3 inches a year until they are about 18 inches.

‘‘Yes, they’ll be delicious snacks for all of the flathead catfish I put in there,’’ a dedicated Chicago River fisherman replied when asked about his opinion of the stocking.

While he was cracking wise, there’s truth there. Beside impromptu flathead stockings, there have been unsanctioned stockings of walleye and numerous illegal dumpings of all kinds of tropical fish in the CAWS.

Among the natural and unnatural anomalies of the fishery on the CAWS are a mix of hybrids, primarily of the sunfish family. There are enough that veteran Chicago River fishermen Carl Vizzone and Ken ‘‘The Lakefront Lip’’ Schneider dubbed the hybrids ‘‘idiot fish.’’

The day is here when stockings are official and sanctioned. Change on the CAWS is part of the 21st-century reality.

Asked what other species might be stocked, Miller said smallmouth bass, walleye or sauger.

The future is officially not the past.

Stray cast

Enjoying the World Cup is like fancying fly-fishing.

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