Fish Beat: Fishing the Rock River after the fish kill

Ryan Hagerty of Niagra, Wis., caught this 22-inch largemouth in Timms Lake, 288 miles north of Rockford near Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Ryan Hagerty of Niagra, Wis., caught this 22-inch largemouth in Timms Lake, 288 miles north of Rockford near Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Amid the aftermath of the recent Rock River fish kill, which, by all accounts, was directly related to the June 19 Canadian National train derailment, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is restocking some of some 70,000 lost. The kill was one of the largest on record in state history.

Among fish killed were carp, catfish, walleye, northern pike, some muskie, and others. Shortly after the kill was over, the IDNR released about 50,000 smallmouth bass into the Rock. A few thousand small northern followed. Reports indicate muskie and some flatheads will also be restocked.

While a restocking measure is, in fact, the quickest way for the population to recover, angling on the Rock River will certainly not see an immediate recovery. Almost all fish released since 60,000 gallons or more of ethanol found its way into the river, a little more than a month ago, were young and hardly the trophies they may have the potential to become.

Most of the restocked northern were about 9 inches, which means survivors could reach about 20 inches in their first year in the river, providing food is ample and water is right. There is no official word about the size of 50,000 smallies released. It’s safe to assume they were around 6 to 7 inches. Generally, a 6-inch smallmouth will mature in about two years and reach optimum size in about a decade. Flatheads mature at about 20 inches and can grow rapidly thereafter, reaching 30 pounds or more in a few years.

It just may be safe to assume fishing in the Rock River for the rest of this year could be a bit spotty. Some species may take several years to recover.

The Rock River Anglers’ 17th Annual Catfish tournament managed to produce some solid fish. The largest flathead was a 33.95-pounder caught by Patrick Jones near Fordam Dam. Mike Butler hauled in a 6.55-pound channel cat.

Local fishing report

Walleye, crappie and bluegill are active at Pierce Lake. Creek largemouths have been hammering top-water and diving lures at Rock Cut while solid muskie fishing has been reported throughout the state.

The place for largemouths north of Rockford may be a haul, but worth the 288-mile trip. Timms Lake near the town of Niagara, Wis., is a largemouth haven this season with 20-inchers being the norm in shallow waters. Timms is a sprawling, shallow lake with good weed lines and cover. Two-pound bluegill are also common. Timms, known for its vacation homes, cottages and year-round camping, even welcomes “FIBS,” no matter how many boats we haul.

Send us your fishing photos

The Rock River Times is interested in seeing pictures of local fish caught in area waters. Send digital photos to us at with “Fish Beat Photos” in the subject line. Glossies can be sent to The Rock River Times, 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101.

from the July 29-August 4, 2009, issue

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