its, success is dependant not only on
anglers returning fish within the protect-ed
slot, but also on their willingness to
harvest fish below the protected slot.
Failure to harvest fish below the protect-ed
slot compounds problems the limit
was designed to alleviate (i.e. high nat-ural
mortality and slow growth).
Angler cooperation and compliance
are essential to the successful manage-ment
of Illinois lakes, rivers and
streams. Without the support of anglers,
regulations are ineffective and fishing
Length and creel limits offer anglers
the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with
biologists to manage fisheries resources.
By obeying length and creel limits and
harvesting fish below protected slots,
anglers play an active role in improving
and maintaining quality fishing opportuni-ties—
now and for the future.
June 2006 8 / OutdoorIllinois June 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 9
Unlucky fishermen of Illinois
take heart: There is one
species of Illinois sport fish
so amazingly easy to
catch, even a bare hook
sometimes tricks them out of the water.
Meet the ever-gullible pumpkinseed
(Lepomis gibbosus), a small-to-medium-size,
disc-shaped sunfish commonly
found in northern Illinois lakes, occurring
a bit less common farther south.
The pumpkinseed is noted for its rain-bow-
like waves of iridescent color in
spawning males, which make the species
nearly as popular to see as it is to catch.
Among common sunfishes of Illinois,
including the bluegill, longear sunfish and
redear sunfish, the pumpkinseed can be
identified by its rather compressed, round
shape, its yellow-orange-to-red breast,
bronze speckled back and sides and a
pointed tip on its pectoral fin. Natural
hybridization—a mixing of species—
occurs among sunfishes, and Illinois
anglers sometimes will catch a pumpkin-seed
which bears some of the traits of
other sunfish, or vice versa.
Regardless of individual genetic lin-eage,
the pumpkinseed—whose range
extends throughout the Great Lakes—is
a favorite among anglers due to its will-ingness
to bite. Unlike the redear sun-fish,
which can grow to 10-12 inches in
Illinois, the pumpkinseed often isn’t
large enough for anglers to consider tak-ing
home for a meal; the world record is
2.4 pounds, but most pumpkinseeds are
a few ounces at best.
Anglers will find pumpkinseeds active
during daylight in shallow, cover-filled
shorelines where bluegill and other pan-fish
congregate. Department of Natural
Resources fisheries biologist Alan Bran-denburg
noted that pumpkinseeds tend
to be indicators of good water quality,
which is just fine. But the most alluring
aspect of the pumpkinseed to Illinois
anglers, Brandenburg said, is the pump-kinseed’s
interest in nearly any tiny
object dropped into the water.
“Last summer while fishing for
bluegill, I ran out of bait,” the biologist-fisherman
recalled. “After the last morsel
of nightcrawler disappeared from my
hook, I stopped fooling bluegill. But I
was still able to catch pumpkinseeds.
“Sometimes you can catch fish on a
Story By Joe McFarland
Photo By Eric Engbretson
Not only is this colorful little panfish a treat to see, anglers
can fool them with almost nothing.
Why Fish for
The success of length and creel lim-its
is dependant upon many factors—
changes in reproductive success, natur-al
mortality, growth rates and fishing
pressure. Fisheries biologists regularly
monitor these variables and, when sig-nificant
changes are detected, regula-tions
are adjusted to compensate for
their influence on the population.
For example, a significant increase in
reproductive success may result in slow
growth and high natural mortality rates for
bass protected with a minimum length
limit. Changing the minimum length limit
to a slot limit can reduce overcrowding of
small bass, improve growth rates and
reduce natural mortality.
Role of Anglers
Length and creel limits are important
management tools, but their success
relies heavily upon angler cooperation
and compliance. In the case of slot lim-the
protected slot reduces overcrowd-ing,
which in turn helps to increase
growth rates and reduce the high natural
mortality rate typically associated with a
slow-growing, stunted population. Fish
that reach the slot length are protected
during a relatively brief period of rapid
growth until they reach a quality size
preferred by most anglers.
By reducing natural mortality and
increasing growth rates, a successful
slot limit increases the number of large
fish in the population. On the other
hand, if anglers fail to harvest fish below
the protected slot, the slot limit will func-tion
as a minimum length limit with only
fish above the slot harvested. When this
occurs, overcrowding will worsen,
growth rates will continue to decline and
the slot limit will fail.
Mike Hooe is a DNR district fisheries
biologist working in Olney.
Jackson County anglers Brian Barnes
(front) and Brad Jones enjoy spring
crappie fishing at a DNR-managed lake. Thousands of individual fish are
weighed and measured annually from
Illinois lakes and rivers.
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