For many people, boating and fishing is a big part of life in the Illinois River Valley. With this summer’s record rainfall and the slowly receding flood levels, there hasn’t been much opportunity to do either, and it’s had an impact on area anglers, boaters and the businesses that support them.
“It’s been bad. Business is down about 75 percent from normal. Everything at Starved Rock is under water” said Darrell Culjan, owner of Utica’s Cajun Bait and Tackle. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website, the Starved Rock Visitor Center, it’s main parking lot, picnic area and loading ramp are closed until further notice.
While discussing the summer’s bait sales at Princeton’s Beck’s West, manager Woody Partain shared his thoughts on the weather’s impact. “It’s been really slow, and our bait supplier said it’s been slow across the board,” said Partain.
Tom Yourek of Wyanet’s Canal Area Tackle Shop was the only bait shop contacted who said business was about normal.
“Water levels don’t affect us too much near the canal,” said Yourek.
Michelle Storm-Leverich of Storm’s Bait and Tackle in Tiskilwa said, “It’s not been good at all. We shut down earlier this summer for safety reasons, but we’re open now. We felt it was too dangerous for kids to be out near the water when it was so high.”
Dave Meyer, sales manager of Spring Valley boat dealership Illinois Valley Outdoor and also a 29-year member of the Spring Valley Boat Club described the summer from both perspectives. Standing in a quiet showroom and looking out at an empty parking lot he said, “It’s really hurt us; it’s slowed down a lot compared to a typical summer. I’ve seen higher water levels, but I’ve never seen it in a flood stage for so long.”
As a boat club member he said, “We’ve not only cancelled the steak fry this weekend, but it’s been a whole summer’s worth of social events which have been cancelled. This is the least amount I’ve ever used my boat in the summer. I haven’t been boating since Memorial Day weekend.” Meyer did see one silver lining in the storm clouds though. “I am saving gas money,” he said, laughing.
Deborah Sluder, of the Starved Rock Marina in Ottawa said all of their launches were open, and business is getting better.
“We have an advantage of being ahead of the lock and dam; the flooding wasn’t as bad here as in other areas. The Coast Guard did shut our area down for awhile though when rafters ignored the safety warnings and went out on the water anyway,” said Sluder.
Bob Bittner, Lake Thunderbird Homeowner’s Association president and frequent fisherman said Lake Thunderbird has been extremely lucky.
“We got some good rain early in the summer, but since then, it’s all gone around us in different directions. Most of the storms have only brought small amounts; it’s all just been luck. The lake is fine,” said Bittner.
With the water still well above flood levels and the length of time it’s taking to recede, the boating forecast does not look good for the rest of summer. Even if boaters do get to see a loading ramp later this summer, there’s still some peril involved.
“If you did go out, it’s really risky with all of the debris in the water. Then you’re facing some expensive repairs,” said Meyer.
Fishing will continue to be a challenge as well with limited access to fishing areas and the affect that flooding has on current, temperature and visibility. Anglers should stay positive though, there’s always ice fishing.