Outdoors: Low water level threat to Fox River ecosystem
By Bob Maciulis For Sun-Times Media August 8, 2014 11:28PM
Updated: September 11, 2014 6:37AM
Before the dam was rebuilt, the shallows below the Yorkville dam usually were a complex mix of riffles and runs, of shallow pools and deep eddies of well-oxygenated water swirling around exposed boulders and falling off into deep troughs along the islands along the south bank.
It was an area that produced more walleye during an IDNR creel survey some 30 years ago than the rest of the Fox River combined.
Since the dam was rebuilt, there always is well-oxygenated water flowing into the deep, fishable pools that the Route 47 bridge straddles.
Yorkville is not the only place one can see changes in the river.
Some gravel areas below the Montgomery Dam, areas that usually are submerged beneath a sheet of oxygen-laden current, are sitting high and dry, grass and weeds a foot high growing on their tops.
There barely is enough water flowing over some dams to keep their concrete faces wet.
How can that be when we have had so much rain this year?
“I think they’re holding up the water for the Fox Chain,” Greg Freeman said some 15 years ago when he took me to the dam to see how low water barely provided enough current to spill over the deteriorating dam.
Pool after pool, from the deeper upper Fox River south through the shallow, wade-able island-studded lower river, the combination of reduced flow, a scorching unshielded sun showering the river with UV rays combined to put an inordinate strain on the river’s ecosystem.
About the only ones who enjoy the low water are the herons, the kingfishers and the unscrupulous anglers who are having a field day.
Short of oxygen, suffering from unusually high water temperatures, fish are gravitating to the deeper holes and the tailouts where they seemingly are stacked like sardines in a can, gasping for relief.
Fish that need to feed are locked into the deeper troughs or piled up in the wash-outs at the mouths of feeder streams and below culverts draining street water, where there is some respite from the sun and from the warm, oxygen-depleted side river channels.
“Oh, the catfish are still feeding up below the dam,” Freeman said.
He is as optimistic as anyone along the river. His family-owned Freeman’s Sports has been in business below the Yorkville dam for more than four decades, and Greg understands that the river has good days and bad, high water and low.
Late-summer rains will cool the river and raise the water levels. There are few places as beautiful and picturesque as the hardwoods in full autumn colors along the bluffs on the lower Fox River or on the Kankakee below where Rock Creek flows into it.
“I’ve learned one thing about low water,” Freeman said with a smile. “It’ll come up as sure as it went down. Just have to be patient.”
That bit of homespun philosophy is more to the mark than it seems at first.
Unfortunately, for anglers who rarely catch many fish on the usually generous Fox River, stumbling into a pool of cooperative smallmouth or walleye after a frustrating season often is more than they can handle.
Self-restraint is an important part of the code of Fair Chase that is deep within the fabric of the American outdoors traditions. Whether hunters or anglers, we understand that over-harvest when game is vulnerable is a dangerous practice for the long-range protection of our natural resources.
Catch a few and move on. An angler’s ethics may be the most important ingredient in determining the future of the Fox River fishery.