Frozen Shad
Frozen Shad
The Spring thaw arrived at Bluff's Harbor Marina this week and brought with it thousands of dead shad.

During two months of ice and freezing temperatures, the fish in the marina slowly ran out of oxygen. Harbormaster Jon Billups said even using bubblers, which churn air and oxygen into the marina during the winter months to keep ice down, did not help this year.

"We've had winters where there weren't any fish killed because there wasn't enough ice to matter," said Billups. "But this time it was so long. We had over two months of solid ice down here. It's a shame, but it's nature."

As the ice thaws and becomes translucent, the silvery fish, not much bigger than minnows, are exposed, frozen right where they were swimming. In some places, ice fishers reported the ice about a foot thick.

The fish kill means good news for fishermen, though, who use shad as bait. Billups said fishermen are welcome to bring buckets and dip nets to Bluff's Harbor Marina and take as many as they want.

Pelicans, gulls and eagles have already begun to help themselves.

Eventually, as more ice melts and currents return to the marina, many of the dead shad likely will flow back into the Mississippi River to become meals for bigger fish.

"But why not share the bounty," said Billups. "The birds are having a great time. Every morning and every evening they come in and feast. It's like fresh sushi."

Billups encourages fishermen to take advantage of the free shad and freeze the fish for later use. The smell of dead fish will only grow if the abundance is left in the marina for too long.

While Billups said the fish kill has not happened in a few years, the frozen shad are not an uncommon phenomenon in shallow waters, like ponds and marinas, that freeze up quickly in the winter. However, the sheer amount seems shocking.

"It's kind of unique because you would not think there were many fish in this little body of water, but there are," said Billups.

The Mississippi River level was at about 13.3 feet Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. It rose closer to 14 feet earlier this week due to thawing ice, but is set to decline in the next few days.

Billups said fishing is permitted at the marina from the shore, but fishers much go into the marina building and ask permission. Fishing is not allowed from the docks or around customer boats.