The Illinois Department of Natural Resources last week acted to help “kick-start” the fish habitat near the site of the former Hofmann Dam on the Des Plaines River.

On Oct. 9, a half-dozen members of the Hofmann Dam River Rats met with IDNR personnel to release 126 smallmouth bass in the river, above and below the former dam site.

The specimens were “brood-size” adults, ranging in weight from 3.5 to 4 pounds. Half were released in the river just east of the Barrypoint Road bridge, while the other half were released upstream of the dam at the boat launch in the Plank Road Meadow forest preserve area in Lyons.

“We’re hoping they can spawn for a few more years upstream and downstream of the dam,” said Steve Pescitelli, a stream specialist for the IDNR’s Division of Fisheries.

The smallmouth bass came from the IDNR’s Jake Wolf Fish Hatchery in Topeka, said Pescitelli. It’s the first time since 2010 that the IDNR has stocked fish in the Des Plaines River and the first time ever they’ve stocked fish immediately upstream of Hofmann Dam, which was considered a dead zone for fishermen.

“We never bothered fishing there because we would never catch anything,” said John Mach, a member of the Hofmann Dam River Rats, who was on hand Oct. 9 to help release the fish into the river.

“Now there’s a really good spot near [the Des Plaines Valley] Mosquito Abatement [District property in Lyons], and also by Salt Creek it’s gotten better.

“I’ve been up there 6-8 times [since the dam was removed] and except for one time, I was extremely successful.”

In August, Pescitelli reported that the ecosystem in the river above the former dam site had already changed dramatically. In the area that once formed part of a stagnant lagoon behind the dam, the IDNR found more than 20 species of fish, including a channel catfish.

Mach said the movement of channel catfish from below the dam area was continuing to occur and that one such fish was caught since August near Cermak Road. Previously the catfish were unable to move upstream because of the dam.

The introduction of the smallmouth bass near the dam is an added push to improve the fishing habitat.

“It’s an opportunity to kick-start the whole thing,” said Pescitelli.

Each of the fish was tagged prior to being released. The tags include a phone number, which anglers are asked to call when they catch the fish. That way, said Pescitelli, the IDNR can track the movement of the fish and whether they’re being caught.

Mach believes that the fish, because they have spent their entire lives in a hatchery, will be easily caught. But there are enough, he said, to begin repopulating the river next year.

“They’re very vulnerable to being caught, but it’s an effort to get a population going back in the river,” Mach said. “These will be spawners next spring. If they were smaller fish, it could take three or four years for them to spawn.”

While fish will move up and down the river, Pescitelli hopes they’ll stick around the dam area.

“There’s a good habitat right in that section, so it should hold,” Pescitelli said. “They’re not quite as migratory as some species.”

He added that the IDNR hopes to restart its sauger stocking program next year, which could bring additional fish to the Riverside/Lyons area of the Des Plaines River. And that’s good news for fishermen like Mach and the River Rats.

“It’s good for us that the DNR is actually doing something with this river,” said Mach. “The DNR could have put those fish in anywhere in the state.”

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