Thanks, Jim. I doubt there are too many of us that didn't learn something by reading your response. My take-away is "keep on fishing".
It's great to see positively pointed discussion by concerned anglers. I believe that many factors combine in every fishery to bring it to its current situation. This lake is incredibly productive and as many have said, "time will tell". In the meantime it's (my opinion) most important to continue to persue all of our outdoor sports in the most positive ways possible.
Tried to post this a few times and it keeps getting lost when the site locks up and I hit refresh....all gone....so here we go one more time .I tried to make the evening fishing but a commitment came up and couldn't . Then the flu ran through the house...UGH.. well I'm back up and running . I was curious if the lack of sunlight would help the crappie stay unbothered by the large schools of shad . By the reports ,it didn't matter.
Let me start by stating this is my opinion and based on my experience on this and other bodies of water. I'm trying to keep this light, because honestly only a biologist will have hard data ,statistics and tables to make sense of it all . Stocking reports, year to year recruitment , creel data ,angler pressure which includes (over harvest , delayed mortality),even tournaments and guiding the lake, factor into daily creel limits. Although some of this wasn't brought up , it does factor into the whole picture . I guess it would help if you knew where my opinion comes from .For those not aware ,I've fished this body of water since 1984,and have guided on it for the last 17-18 seasons. With that being stated I've seen the lakes crappie population cycle several times . Sometimes better than before sometimes not , only time will tell on this current cycle . Do I think the lake is fished out ? No. Do I agree we may see a down size in the upper size and number of big crappie ? Perhaps...Here's my opinion on the current fish cycle .Some biologist tell us that most lakes run on a 7 year cycle. Influenced by weather ,predation of fish , diseases, available food , water temperature ,quality and host of other influences determining it's length . From '09 until '11 while out ice fishing at Shabbona I spent 3-4 day's a week on the lake. Work was slow and I could afford to do so. We didn't run into many people on the ice, and had our pick of many prime locations .By the years posted I really mean,2009 leading into 2010,2010 leading into 2011 and 2011 into 2012 , covering three ice seasons to be specific . We saw a huge change in both average size and numbers on most spots we fished. Better for us were the areas less than 25 feet. Most were black crappie. As the bite progressed deeper the size again increased but we started to see less black crappie and more white crappie in the mix . By the height of the cycle like others stated anglers were catching limits of very nice sized ,and numbers of crappie. Angler awareness of this bite and lake was definitely at a peak. Now we're seeing smaller fish with less large fish ,what's to be blamed ? More important what changed ? Or is it a cycle ? Let's look at what we have in the way of conditions . Two years of back to back very wet (cold rain) muddy water for the crappie to deal with . On top of that we experienced two years of very short , warm winter seasons . We were in t-shirts last February . The bait shop could give us the actual day's of ice and shortness to the seasons. I personally spent more time traveling north . With that mild weather the lakes shad population was not dying off under the ice but living through winter putting a strain on the already reduced lower portion of the food chain. With reduced water clarity the lakes weed beds ,crucial to the formation of phytoplankton and zooplankton were greatly reduced . I also noticed the bass catch rate was reduced for me. Again my experience/opinion . Now moving on to the other points brought up . Are there more anglers on the lake than years ago ? I don't have those numbers. It has been awhile since a creel report was performed on the lake. Personally I don't think so. I remember some spring days when the crappie bite was in full swing the wait line stretched back to where the path crosses the road in the grove of trees before seeing water on your way in . I also remember having to park in the back row because of the crowded parking . If not numbers of anglers could it be perhaps better educated anglers , better gear , with all the side imaging , down imaging and phone apps with gps and current up to date reports at your finger tip's. Remember I fished here when cell phones did not exist , computers in homes were not common and the gps was still regulated to us by the government.(not that accurate). So yes , we as a group are better equipped and more proficient than anglers before us. Is it the guides on the lake ? I think there are far less guides working the lake than in the past. I made a list off the top of my head and came up with 14 guides that I've known over the years working the lake. Presently myself and one other guide target crappie. The other guide only targets them part time.(meaning he targets multi species and only targets crappie part-time) .So ,yes there are less guides than years ago. With all this being said it's not just one "thing" being at fault , and please remember it may just be a slight hiccup , this lake fails to surprise us . I'm also going to include at the end of this ,a sheet that I made years ago noting the tendency /preference of black vs. white crappie that might shed some light on some of this . I also will include a link to a book that covers lake and pond management . In conclusion the last two years of very cold muddy water has hindered recruitment (bad spawn) photosynthesis didn't occur at the normal depths ,weeds were down from years past. (production of zooplankton, phytoplankton) not seeing them swimming around with the aqua view as much ,and water clarity isn't as clear as years past(under the ice) this season. The building blocks at the bottom of the food chain are affected. The over abundance of shad competing for the limited same food source could be a reason for stunted and lower numbers of big fish. Black crappie can survive on the small food source by filter feeding,while white crappie change to minnows sooner . Now the majority of shad are too big for them to fed on. Now you factor in angler pressure ,be it a guide or yourself , yes the lake has changed. Is the sky falling ? No. It has happened before . The lake is resilient. It may all be good come spring time , if winter can hang on . Again this is my opinion .When the bottom of the food chain has a crack ,your foundation is off to a bad start . And when you have a bad foundation everything else in the food chain follows. So the water is muddy , the small phytoplankton are off , which affects the small fish, which affects the crappie and bass , which affects the larger sport fish as well. So the change in fish size is not something that happened over night ,it's the opposite , there have been indicators of change in the environment for several seasons. And as someone who has fished the same lake for many seasons , I have seen indicators of change the last three seasons. Without the intervention of true Biologists , it's hard to pin down any one "cause" for the change. And at the end of the day there are so many things that affect the health of the lake and it's fish, understanding the larger biology and cyclical nature of the spawn is our key.(crappie have only been stocked twice since the lake was formed and filled back in the early 70's) Another thing worth mentioning is the striper fishing. When the striped bass stocking program was at it's peak we saw in our creels the striped bass reaching the 30 inch mark, this coincided with the crappie population reaching it's apex of 12-15 inch fish. The state can no longer afford this program, and I'm not sure of that tie-in but a biologist may be able to shed some light on that.(if there is even a tie in) The only constant in the environment is change, and you have to look back to look ahead and see what's coming for the year...sorry I got long winded but I wanted to cover everyone's comments
76 page download (pdf):https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications/documents/00000271.pdf
I fish Shabbona,all the Fox Chain Lakes and the Chetek Chain ever year for a very long time. I get out 3-4 times a week.This year on ALL the lakes the Crappie catch was small.Bluegill bite was amazing all the way into mid summer. Two warm winters,heavy spring rains have affected the fish. No shad kill off,they muddy the water more and spook Crappie.Flasher lights up with shad.No over harvesting is too blame. It is just a off year. Back seat biologists are not needed. If you want fish go to Pier 14 at Jewel.
MOON PHASE (12%)
I am also waiting to hear from the crappie professor. I know that he keeps a count of the number of fish caught on each outing on his clicker. And keeps track of the amount keepers taken home that day. I am curious to hear if he keeps a count of Fish taken for the year. Don't mean to sound as if I'm blaming him just wondering if he is counts have gone down over the past couple years?
I've been hoping to see Crappie Professor's take on the size situation. He seems to be as good an authority on that water as there is. I've fished Shabbona for a good number of years and the past few seem to be worse than just part of a 'down-cycle'.
It's not unusual to see guys unloading limits of potato chip size crappie and announcing what a great day they had. I'm a firm believer in slot limits. I've seen it take a poor to OK walleye fishery to a dynamite spot where you have to work really hard to get your limit because the fish are too big!
I don't know what the right answer is exactly, but JSW84's proposal seems like a very good place to start. Oh, and like JSW84 I'm not a certified expert either in case you feel the need to tell me that.