I am not a biologist, an ichthyologist or even an armchair intern, but in my 63 years I do have a ton of time on the water. That counts and I would bet many of us spend way more time on the water than any of our fisheries biologists.
With that said, we do have the best fisheries biologist around in Mike Garthaus at the IDNR, but I believe he has to wear too many hats. Planner, researcher, manager and also a guy that plants native vegetation, manages the fish and is involved in permitting to a certain extent, too. Our area is blessed to have someone like Mike on the job and caring for our lakes and streams, but he can’t do it all.
Habitat is the key to all fisheries and there is a confrontation between property owners, municipalities and anglers nationwide. The compromise between enough and too much is reaching a peak at our nation’s lakes, and a battle is raging between those that want eradication of vegetation with spraying and fishermen who want it left alone.
I have been fortunate to have been on some of the best lakes in the country and have also had my experiences on some of the worst. Funny thing is, where there is water you will find fisher people, no matter how good or bad it is from a fishing perspective.
Although my degree has zero to do with fisheries science, I read about it all day every day in my job and do see the good, bad and the ugly. It seems we try to fix one thing by throwing another at it.
Remember grass carp, aphid eating lady bugs or love bugs? They were all introduced to manage something else and honestly time on the water has shown me one thing — Ma Nature does a much better job that man will ever do.
I know one thing that I believe some biological scientists miss. In conjunction, good cover/habitat, vegetation and water quality make better fishing and overall better ecosystems. One without the other spells disaster, or too much emphasis on one can create more problems than it solves. I see it almost every day in my reading and contacts across the country.
Spraying, eradication and extermination never works. Control can, but it seems control is too costly and takes planning and forethought. Agencies who control that type of activity don’t seem to play well together in the sandbox, and anglers are the ones most impacted.
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Illinois is an enigma from a fishing perspective. Hunting is spectacular, but fishing is up and down and it is largely due to habitat, in my opinion. How do we get a compromise and how do we get all sides to work together? That is a $60,000 question, and we are not the only state that is working on it.
I have always said that we can build great fisheries in Illinois, but great habitat and catch and release has to be central to it working. If either is missing, it will never work. It seems private fisheries, especially along the Illinois River watershed and west of here, are exceptional. Strip pits and borrow pits used to build our interstates have unlimited potential, so why can’t we build private lakes as effectively? It comes down to the two aforementioned variables.
Hopefully we begin to see some prioritization of lakes and streams and our watersheds moving forward. Water is a high priority for sustainability of life, and we are seeing where it is more valuable than gold or oil in some locations like California where large companies are buying up rights for it. Don’t think that cannot happen here.
Little by little the privatization of water is taking hold and honestly that worries me. Access and use are being restricted, and much like hunting where leases have taken hunting out of the picture for many with less good public availability, the same can happen with fishing. We have to fight to keep public … public. That battle is just beginning.
You can be part of the answer, and being involved is the key. We have a large lobby and it's important that we organize to let our voices be heard. Waiting will not work and lack of action now can spell disaster down the road. Anglers are a very large group, and honestly it is more than “just fishing.” Without involvement and organization we may not have any public waters to fish down the road.