Sport Fish Management on Crab Orchard NWR
BY SAM FINNEY, CARTERVILLE FWCO
Historically, the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) was almost solely dedicated to managing sport fish on federal lands including national wildlife refuges and military installations. Times have certainly changed, and now Asian carp management and large river fishery issues such as the recovery of pallid sturgeon take up the majority of our time. But thankfully we are still in the sport fish game, mainly in conjunction with Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And it makes sense. After all, we are located on Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and are in the same office as the Illinois DNR. We have the water, hatcheries, and biologists and technicians to share, and Illinois DNR has the jurisdictional authority over the fisheries and the expertise in the form of their district biologists. They scratch our backs and we scratch theirs. It’s pretty nice.
There are three primary lakes on Crab Orchard NWR that are actively managed- Devil’s Kitchen (810 acres), Little Grassy (1000 acres), and Crab Orchard Lake (6965 acres). Devil’s Kitchen is a beautiful lake; it is deep, relatively clear, filled with standing timber, and lies partially in a wilderness area. The fishery is quite unique. Anglers target the very good bluegill and red ear populations, trout are stocked annually, and a budding yellow perch fishery exists- the only one in the region. And if you want to catch a 10 pound bass, this is the place. Bass are generally numerous and small, but the occasional whopper exists. Little Grassy is also a fairly clear but not as deep as Devil’s Kitchen. The shores are weedy and there is some standing timber. It has numerous camps (boy scouts, environmental groups, and church) along its shores and receives a lot of recreation. The fishery is well balanced with good opportunities for bass, bluegill, and catfish. Crab Orchard Lake is large, shallow, and muddy. You will find skiers, houseboats, and sailboats on Crab Orchard. Crab Orchard is known as a big bass lake, with numerous tournaments fished each year including one last year with a five fish stringer of over 30 pounds taking the win. Catfish, bluegill, and crappie are also popular on Crab Orchard. If you get a chance to make it down to Crab Orchard NWR, fishing opportunities abound.
Carterville FWCO has been active in managing the fisheries and aquatic habitats of Crab Orchard NWR. We help with the annual sampling of each lake, assist in fish habitat improvement projects (brush piles), and coordinate bass stocking efforts from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatcheries. Recently we have been involved in public meetings concerning regulation change and have done some aquatic invasive species prevention activities. We are always happy to participate in annual outreach and kids fishing opportunities that arise. And of special note, we recently helped to coordinate a special stocking of surplus yellow perch from Genoa National Fish Hatchery to help jump start the yellow perch fishery in Devil’s Kitchen.
Managing the sport fish on Crab Orchard is very rewarding for us. While we often receive positive feedback from the public in the field, it is rarely more offered than it is on Crab Orchard. This feedback is always welcome and appreciated. Anglers are happy that we are actively managing these important resources for them. Carterville FWCO staff not only enjoys this feedback, but also the break in the usual Asian carp and big river work. Some staff have even stumbled upon a few potential fishing holes through our sampling activities- a nice fringe benefit of being a biologist.