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Survey goes swimmingly

Vacation to some people means escaping to a faraway place for a little while, to leave the real world for a brief time in search of rest and relaxation.

Even as a few buddies and I trekked around the Dallas-Fort Worth area last week, I still couldn’t completely leave work behind. Though, a phone call I received during my first trip to the Lone Star State led to an exciting past Tuesday for me.

A friend from the Sauk Valley asked me if I’d like to join three Illinois DNR officials in a muskellunge survey at Morrison Rockwood State Park’s Lake Carlton. Driving an hour from Freeport early in the morning wasn’t exactly easy, but it turned out to be an opportunity too good to pass up.

I met up with my friend, IDNR Fisheries Biologist David Wyffels, Karen Rivera (a wildlife biologist and the Streams Program Manager for Illinois’ Region I), and IDNR officer Rick O’Neil at 9 a.m., equipped with plenty of warm clothes to deal with an air temperature of 41 degrees. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the sun embraced us with warmth.

Wyffels hooked me up with some waterproof gloves, a life vest and a huge raincoat, and we were off like a herd of turtles.

The IDNR sets out five nets in different locations throughout Lake Carlton, three on the eastern half and the other two to the west. Locations are picked based on depth – the more variety, the better. Muskies and other fish species will work their way up the net’s lead and into the trap despite no bait being used.

Once the net is reeled into the boat, whatever fish are caught are dropped into a huge tub on the boat deck. IDNR officials then take a small net to fish out any species that isn’t a musky. All fish caught in the nets are released immediately, while muskies’ size and weight are documented before they are placed back into the lake.

The action didn’t take long to arrive as we started on the eastern half of the lake. The first net was about 100 feet from the boat ramp, and contained two nice muskies in it, as well as some nice saugeyes, bluegills and redear sunfish. Net two provided a handful of saugeye and sunfish, but not one musky.

The third net proved to be the motherload, as we pulled in five muskies. The largest musky of the day came from net three, a 42-inch, 16-pound female. Wyffels told me that they typically average about one musky per net in Lake Carlton, so to have five in one net was a surprise to us all.

Net four – described by the three IDNR officials as normally the most fruitful one – brought in just two small bluegills. However, we pulled in four muskies from the fifth and final net. In total, we had eight males and three females. Thus, we all concluded that the cold lake temperatures certainly have not slowed any musky activity in Lake Carlton.

I had never been on any IDNR survey previous to Tuesday morning, and I sure hope it isn’t my last time. Being hands-on in the boat was certainly a better option than kicking back with a pen and paper.

Coming home to temperatures in the 40s from the 70-degree temps of north Texas wasn’t easy, but a morning on the water beats almost anything else.

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