Status, trends, and population demographics of selected sportfish species in the La Grange Reach of the Illinois River
Sportfish species, specifically Yellow Bass Morone mississippiensis, White Bass Morone chrysops, Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides, Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus, Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus, and White Crappie P. annularis, often drive economically valuable fisheries in large river systems, including the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). Within the Illinois River, part of the UMRS, these species are routinely sampled by an ongoing long-term fisheries monitoring program. Through this program, we investigated long-term trends (1993-2017) in catch rates and relative weights and quantified demographic rates from 2012-2016. We found all six species, with the exception of Yellow Bass, to have declining catch rates with this decline being most stark in larger, older fishes. Population demographics for Yellow Bass, White Bass, Bluegill, and Black Crappie suggest populations are dominated by younger individuals, with only Black Crappie regularly living to age 3 and older, which may be driving population declines. There are many environmental stressors acting on the Illinois River that could be contributing to the lack of older and larger fishes, including, but not limited to, navigation efforts, altered hydrology, pollution, sedimentation, lack of overwintering habitat, and introduction of invasive species. Results of this study demonstrate that additional research to understand mechanisms driving reduced abundance and stunted age structure are needed to identify effective management actions that would benefit populations of recreationally valuable sportfish species.