I am always fascinated by Ray Thompson's thoughts on muskie fishing in Illinois, even when we don't agree.
Below are his comments on the 1987-2008 Voluntary Illinois Muskie Creel Survey. It is jammed packed with nuggets. Thompson heads the Illini Muskies Alliance.
My one addition to Thompson's thoughts is that an explanation for the high ranking of the Chain may be related to the number of strong Muskies Inc. clubs nearby--Chicagoland, Fox Valley, SOB, etc.--whose members focus on the Chain and report their catches.
Comments on the 1987-2008 Voluntary Illinois Muskie Creel Survey
By Ray Thompson, Chairman-Illini Muskies Alliance
Joe Ferencak recently released the 1987-2008 Creel Survey. Joe is the biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who correlates all of those "Green Card" entries and produces a comprehensive report each year. The 26 page report is jammed with invaluable graphs and statistics and helps area biologist gage the muskie fishery on the waters that they manage in their respective districts.
For the past few years Jim Bunch (the Muskies, Inc. Lunge Log guru) has been providing a list of MI member catches to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The IDNR combines the MI list and entries from other non-MI clubs, provided by the Illini Muskies Alliance with their Voluntary Muskie Creel Project, sorts out the duplicates and produces a report on the Illinois Muskie fishery. The combined listing helps to give a more comprehensive set of data that local biologist use to help manage the Illinois muskie fishery. The biologists realize that since most of this information is given voluntarily, it is not all encompassing and only an estimate of the actual numbers of muskie being captured each year in Illinois. Also, unlike the MI Members Only Fishing Contest, which only includes entries of fish that are thirty inches or larger, the Illinois survey includes data on muskie of all sizes.
The survey had 852 entries in 2008 compared to 1,054 entries the year before. That's about a 20% reduction. Of those, 673 (79%) were from MI members. (This percentage is actually higher since the MI contest only lists fish ≥ to 30".) No reason is given for this reduction, but angler education is a factor. The IMA and Tri-Esox has ordered creel survey signs that will be erected at Illinois lakes to alert anglers about the survey and help increase participation.
In the report Joe lists the top eight bodies of water in terms of percent catch from 1987 thru 2008. Those bodies of water are:
However, taking a closer look at that list, if we add the Kaskaskia River and Fox River entries to Shelbyville and the Fox Chain, respectively, the figures change somewhat (This can be justified by the fact that only the lakes were stocked and the river fisheries can be considered extensions of the lakes.):
If we look at the numbers of muskies ≥ 36" from the 18 reporting bodies of water (the minimum size limit on Illinois lakes and 54% of all reported fish), the top eight lakes in 2008 were:
1 Includes the Fox River
2 Includes the Kaskaskia River
3 Includes Johnson, Shovel and Wheel Lakes
If we look at the top eight bodies of water as far as productivity (the most muskies ≥ 36" captured per acre) we can gleam some surprising information:
Many factors go into how many fish are captured on a body of water. For example the Fox Chain is within one hour of the vast majority of muskie anglers in Illinois. But the chain is also the second busiest inland waterway in the United States, so angles must share this body of water with jet skis, ski boats, power boats, etc. Kinkaid is a long ride for most Illinois muskie anglers and does not get anywhere near the pressure of the chain. Pierce is a small lake with a ten horsepower limit, which keeps many anglers away. Crystal is a private lake with restricted access. Shabbona, like the Fox Chain is very heavily fished and has a 10 HP limit. Evergreen requires a user fee and has a 10 HP limit. Sterling is the smallest lake on the list and only has shore fishing access. Most surprising is McMaster. While being small and having a 10 HP limit, this lake only offered shore fishing last year. Not only that, McMaster is second only to Shelbyville for producing documented 50" Illinois muskie and also produced the longest Illinois muskie at 54". Shelbyville led all Illinois lakes in numbers of muskie the last few years, however, due to the 2007 fish kill, many anglers did not fish Shelbyville last year.