Gizzard shad die-off greets ice fishermen on Fox River

Dead gizzard shad are encased in ice on the Fox River near Lock #5 in Kaukauna Jan. 12, 2018. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

KAUKAUNA (WLUK) -- Cold weather may be a factor in a large fish die-off on the Fox River in Kaukauna.

Thousands and thousands of gizzard shad are dead and anglers in the area are wondering why. Fish experts say this kill is just part of winter.

Just downstream from Lock No. 5, fish are frozen in time.

"Ooh, millions of dead shad," said Tom Radtke of Kaukauna.

Dead gizzard shad.

Ryan Schmitt of Kaukauna saw the fish for the first time on Thursday and shared this video with us:

"It's not 50. It's not 100. It's in the thousands. Tens of thousands, maybe a million. There's a lot," he said.

Quinn Countney and Sean Coppersmith headed out on frozen river Friday morning.

"We were going to do some ice fishing. But I'm not sure how the auger will get through three feet of fish," said Coppersmith, of Appleton.

So what caused all these shad to die?

"The fish that are dead below, frozen with the ice are all adult gizzard shad," said Ryan Koenigs, senior fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Koenigs says 2016 was a good year for the shad. A strong hatch combined with a relatively mild winter last year allowed the fish to grow. This year's ice proved deadly.

"We're at the northern edge of the distribution -- native distribution -- of gizzard shad. So they do experience these large die-offs during winter months. Typically, when we do see the die-offs, when there's a lot of shad out there, it's a lot of fish," Koenigs said.

Koenigs said this was the third reported die-off this week.

"There was one on Little Lake Butte des Morts yesterday, then one on Lake Winnebago earlier this week. and all three of them are just exclusively these these adult gizzard shad," Koenigs said.

Koenigs said it's a good sign other fish species aren't found too.

"It has nothing to do with water quality, low dissolved oxygen, any sort of non-point pollution or anything like that," he explained.

In the meantime, ice fishermen in the area will have to choose their spots carefully.

Fish experts say there is another side. The shad provide a tremendous food source for creatures like birds and lake sturgeon too.

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