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  1. Illinois DNR
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  3. Kids for Conservation

June 2015 Archive

Fishes are aquatic animals. They have fins and gills. They have an internal skeleton for support and protection. In some fishes the skeleton is made of cartilage. Cartilage is strong and flexible, like the cartilage that supports the end of your nose. Other fishes have a skeleton made of bone. Fishes are vertebrate animals. Mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are vertebrates, too.  There are about 22,000 species of fishes in the world, and more than 200 of those species live in Illinois. Click here to see a list of the fish species in our state. You can find more information about the types of fishes in Illinois with the Illinois Fishes video podcasts.

Fishes cannot control their body temperature internally. Their body temperature is pretty close to that of the water they live in. They can move to different parts of the water, though, to help them become cooler or warmer.

Temperature is also important to fishes in another way. They breathe oxygen from the water with their gills. Warmer water contains less oxygen than cooler water. If the water temperature rises too high, many fish species will move to cooler water, if they can, where the oxygen content is higher. If the water stays very warm for a period of time, some fishes may die because there is not enough oxygen in the water for them to breathe. Other fishes are more adapted to levels of low oxygen in the water and can survive. Water generally changes temperature very slowly so fishes that can swim to another more favorable location may survive.
 
Some fishes live on the bottom. Some live along the shore. Some live near the surface. Some live where water moves quickly. Some live where water moves slowly. You can often tell where a fish lives in the water by looking at its body shape. If its body is flattened from top to bottom, like a catfish or a sucker, then it most likely lives on the bottom of a water body. Its broad belly allows the fish to rest and swim as close to the bottom of the water body as possible. Its mouth may be pointed downward, too. If the fish is flattened from side to side, like a bluegill, it can move easily in open water and can also swim through small spaces in vegetation or other structures in the water to help it catch prey and avoid predators. Topminnows are among the fishes that have a flattened back and upturned mouth, allowing them to swim and feed at the surface of the water. There are many other variations in body shape of fishes for living in their specific habitats. A trip to an aquarium is a wonderful way to see many fish species and the adaptations that they possess.
 
Some fishes eat animals. Other fishes strain tiny organisms for food from the water with structures on their gills. Some fishes are parasites, living off of the flesh and fluids of other fishes. The nonparasitic lampreys are fishes that do not feed as adults. Fishes provide food for other animals in nature, including people!
 
Fishing is a sporting activity and source of food for many people. Would you like to go fishing? Here are some tips for you. Remember that you should always go fishing with at least one adult.
 
The goal in fishing is to attract a hungry fish to bait or a lure that you provide on a hook. Your hook must be attached to a line, and the line must be attached to a pole. There are a lot of different ways to catch fish. You may be trying to catch a specific type of fish. The type of fish that you want to catch will help to determine the method you use when fishing. You may be trying to catch any fish that you can! That information is just as important for preparing to catch fish. We are going to focus on the basics. Once a fish eats your bait or lure, you set the hook by pulling hard on the line and then pull or reel in your line.
 
You can use either a cane pole or a rod and reel. The cane pole is simple, but you can't reach very far away with it or toss the bait very far from you. The rod and reel is more complex, but you can catch fishes that are fairly far from you.
 
The line must be strong because it must hold the fish as you bring it to you. It should also be light and flexible. There are many types of fishing line available. If you are using a cane pole, tie the line to the pole so that it is as long as the pole plus one arm's length. A reel can hold many yards of line.
 
You may want to add a sinker to your line, if you want to catch fish that live near the bottom.
 
By attaching a float, or bobber, to your line, you have an indicator to tell you when a fish is biting. The float will go under water and move around when a fish is eating your bait.
 
A hook is needed for the bait or lure. Hooks are produced in many sizes and shapes. If you are trying to catch fishes that have a small mouth, you will need a small hook. Fishes with a larger mouth will require a larger hook. You should always be very careful around hooks. They are sharp and can get stuck in you. Always ask an adult to help you with activities involving hooks.
 
There are many ways to tie a hook onto your line. The knot needs to be strong so that the hook won't come off when you are reeling in the fish. Watch the two “Hey IDNR, How Do I. . .?” video podcasts on tying a clinch knot and tying a Palomar knot and practice tying these knots without using a hook.
 
You can use live baits or artificial lures. Live baits include earthworms, waxworms, crickets, grasshoppers, minnows and crayfish. Artificial lures either look like live baits or like something else that the fish might eat. Doughballs can be used to catch carp. Raw chicken livers can be used for catfish. It's important to know what the species you are fishing for eats so that you can use it or something like it to attract the fish. Worms are easily obtained and eaten by a variety of species.
 
What happens when you catch a fish? You need to remove the hook from it, identify the type of fish that you caught and decide whether or not you should keep it to eat. An adult can help you with these tasks. There are laws that determine which species you can keep and how big the fish must be. There are also regulations at specific fishing locations that apply, too. If you meet the requirements and want to keep the fish, put it on a stringer or in a fish basket and get it back into the water quickly. If you are letting the fish go, gently put it into the water and release it.
 
Fishing is regulated by laws. It is important that we don't take too many fishes from our waterways and that we don't take too many of any one species. If you are under the age of 16, you don't need a license to fish in Illinois, but most other people do need a fishing license. You can find the fishing regulations here. This booklet also gives you the names of some places where you might want to try fishing.
 
Going fishing is fun, but you have some responsibilities. Follow these rules for fishing.
 
Help protect the outdoors. Don't litter. Pick up your trash and take it with you when you are done fishing.
 
Respect other people who are fishing. Fish quietly so that you won't disturb them or the fishes.
 
Be careful when casting. Look around for other people who might be in the area before you cast. Pick up all hooks.
 
If you are required to have a fishing license, buy one and take it with you when you are fishing.
 
You and the adult you are fishing with should know the size and number of fishes it is legal to catch and keep for the place where you are fishing.
 
Release a fish right away if you don't plan to eat it.
 
Fishing is fun. Give it a try!