Crews work to fill waters with trout for fishing season
MAHOMET – If your kids ever ask you, "Mommy, where do fish come from?" now you can tell them.
Fish come from a big white truck that has "Fish" painted on the side. The man takes a fish funnel that leads into a pipe, drains the truck, the fish jump into the lake and they live fishily ever after.
Case in point: Tuesday morning at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet, where 1,925 rainbow trout, each about three-quarters of a pound, found a new home.
Every year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sends a truck around to replenish the stocks at state parks and county forest preserves. The truck with the generic name has already been to Kickapoo State Park.
The state has to replenish the lakes every year because when water temperatures reach 70 degrees in the summer, the trout die off, sink to the bottom and become fish food, said the appropriately named Tom Pike, the site superintendent at Lake of the Woods.
"It's nice for us that they sink instead of floating to the surface," Pike said.
Also, the trout would outgrow the lake, given time.
"A scientist told me a lake is like a pasture," said Gerald Pagac, the executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. "If there isn't enough food, you can't support any more life."
But let's concentrate on the life cycle of these 1,925 fish waiting to be caught (or 1,925 McTroutwiches, from the consumer point of view.)
"They taste really good," said Charles Arbuckle of Mahomet, who fishes nearly every day at the forest preserve.
A catch-and-release man, he doesn't actually eat the fish that come out of the truck and into the lake.
"I don't enjoy cleaning them," Arbuckle said.
The trout come from Crystal Lake Fisheries in Ava, Mo.
Brad Smith, the fisheries' truck driver and funnel operator, has united fish and water so many times that he barely looks up as he hooks the pipes together that will free these fishies.
You can hear them flapping down the pipe; at its mouth, they explode into the lake, creating a churning center. They stir up the mud at the bottom as they follow the curve of the lake.
At 10 inches, they're legal, but fishing is closed at Lake of the Woods until April 5, so it's a pretty sweet time to be a trout.
Smith fishes a netful of trout from the top of his truck for inspection.
"That's the way to catch a fish," Arbuckle said.
There's one in there that's about 1.5 pounds, Smith estimated.
Pagac helps a couple that have fallen from the net onto the boat ramp make their way into the lake.
They looked pretty limp lying there on the asphalt, but once they were in the water, they were jumping.