The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has a fish story to tell, but this one is true and it’s one for the district’s record books.
The district’s aquatic fishing team pulled a nearly 40-pound female carp from the Little Calumet River near Riverdale on Wednesday during an annual checkup on the health and variety of fish in the waterway.
It was the largest fish the district had pulled from a Chicago-area inland waterway in the roughly 40 years it has been collecting such samples, according to Jennifer Wasik, principal environment scientist with the district. The size of the carp was “not so unusual,” but being the biggest ever retrieved made it “a big deal for us,” Wasik, who oversaw the fishing expedition, said Thursday.
Measuring more than 38 inches, the fish “exceeded the length of our measuring board (on the boat) and we had to use a tape measure.”
Samantha Belcik, senior environmental technician with the MWRD, netted the fish.
The district annually collects, then releases, fish at about 20 sites on waterways such as the Little Calumet, Grand Calumet, and Cal Sag Channel, keeping tabs on fish health and varieties of species, Wasik said. The district has been doing the fish collections since 1974, she said.
Downstream from the district’s Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, the station on the Little Cal where the carp was captured “is one of our better fishing sites in the Chicago area,” she said.
Rather than poles and bait, the district crew uses an electric current to temporarily stun the fish in the river and bring them to the surface, where they are pulled in with nets to be examined, Wasik said.
A little more than 400 fish were retrieved Wednesday, checked for any signs of disease and released back into the river, she said. After being pulled from the river the fish are kept, temporarily, in large tubs of water with aerators, she said.
“Each decade we are not only seeing larger numbers of fish at each station, but species richness has increased as well,” indicating ongoing improvements in the health of area waterways, Wasik said.
Other varieties pulled from the river Wednesday included catfish, large-mouth bass and orange-spotted sunfish, she said.
While the size of the common carp that was recovered was cause for some celebration, “as biologists, we get more excited about diversity” of the fish collected, Wasik said.
There is also a traveling trophy for the biggest fish collected each year, which Belcik won last year, Wasik said.
She said the Little Cal collection station tends to outperform because of a variety of factors, including good water quality, large amounts of aquatic vegetation and trees and other vegetation along the riverbanks that provide shaded areas.