Barron County (WQOW) - A bacteria outbreak is to blame for a major fish kill in Barron County.
As anglers back their boats into the Chetek chain of lakes, there's hope that the next big catch is right around the corner. But bacteria has already taken the bite away from a few fishing favorites.
"If you see a fish kill that has only bluegills and crappies that's probably a Columnaris kill, especially this time of year," said Aaron Cole, Wisconsin DNR Senior Fisheries Biologist.
Columnaris is a common bacterial disease for fish, but this year's long winter and rapid warming combined to leave more fish washed up on the shores than usual.
"The fish's immune system is suppressed, and then all of a sudden it starts warming up really fast, and they can hardly take it. And then also the bluegills and crappies are spawning. You couple all those things together and they're very stressed out during that period and they're highly susceptible to bacterial outbreaks like Columnaris," Cole explained.
While there's no official count, the DNR believes thousands of fish have been killed. But they say there will still be plenty of bites on your bait.
"In a lake system like the Chetek Chain that's just a very small part of the population that's actually afected by it. This particular lake probably has hundreds of thousands of panfish," said Cole.
The time from infection to death can be as little as 24 hours for fish, but the DNR says humans are in the clear. Still, they caution anglers not to take the fish in case a different disease is present.
"It's only contagious to fish. A lot of times those infected fish won't actually bite, but if you do catch one, the best advice is to release it," Cole said.