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Jim Langbein Rides Off Into the Sunset...

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From the Kankakee Daily Journal...


Spends his last day of work on the Kankakee


By Bill Byrns





Thirty-six years ago a young biologist spent his first day on the job surveying smallmouth bass on the Kankakee River.


On Wednesday, Fisheries Administrator Jim Langbein will be spending his last day on the job back on the river where he began.


Langbein and other Department of Natural Resources biologists will be helping local volunteers collect and tag fish for the Kankakee River Fishing Derby.


His career coming full circle on the Kankakee is not by coincidence.


Langbein wanted to spend "one more day" on the state's premier smallmouth bass fishery.


"Jim has been working on the Kankakee from start to finish for his entire career," observed his boss, Fisheries Chief Mike Conlin.


"He has done some of the most important research on smallmouth bass and the Kankakee fishery. He has updated DNR's record fish contest on two different occasions."


Smallmouth & walleye


Langbein was among the first to recognize the need for a protected spawning season for smallmouth bass on the Kankakee. He was also among the first fisheries biologists to endorse walleye stocking from native stock on the river.


"He was one of the first biologists to work intensely on the Kankakee River," said co-worker Gary Lutterbie, who manages the walleye stocking program.


"His research over 15 years established 10 or 11 stations where fish were collected, inspected, measured and released. He is really the one who gave us the first data set on the Kankakee River" Lutterbie said.


"That data helped us recognize early signs that the walleye population was crashing back in the late 1990s. His data was instrumental in helping launch the stocking program."


When he moved into administration for Regions 2 and 3, covering much of Northern Illinois, he used his ability to train others. He was instrumental in developing the Urban Fishing Program, one of the best in the nation in getting kids interested in fishing.


Supporting NIAA


"Whenever you called Jim with a problem, he would get you an answer," said J.R. Black, who has worked with Langbein for decades on behalf of the Northern Illinois Anglers Association. "It might not be the answer you want to hear -- it might not even be the answer he wanted to hear -- but he would let you know what was happening."


Black credits Langbein with always being fair and willing to help. "He has always supported our efforts to improve the river," Black said, noting that some state agencies are not always as responsive.


"He was on the ground floor in the walleye-stocking effort, and I cannot begin to tell you how many people have benefited from that program."


Black also credited Langbein's watchdog effort for protecting the river during the years that Kankakee was using wooden boards on top of the dam to deepen the "Six-Mile Pool" reservoir.


"When problems with dewatering the river began, Langbein made sure all the players were at the table -- DNR, local government groups, legal experts and NIAA and other local environmental groups. He monitored the city's placement of flashboards to make sure things were done properly."


Black recalled one occasion when a city employee tried to proceed too fast against Langbein's orders. "That was the only time I ever saw Jim Langbein get mad," Black laughed. "He radioed to the boat crew that 'if you put another board up there now you'll never put up another!'"


The city now uses a hydraulic bladder on the dam that raises the reservoir level slowly, reducing downstream dewatering and its impact on aquatic life.


"Langbein actually performed his job very well," agreed Ed Mullady who, as editor of The Sportsman's Letter, has been a vocal advocate for protecting the Kankakee River.


"To me the biggest change in the Kankakee River is the cleaner water we have now to maintain our fishery."


Mullady said, "Once the KRMA sewage plant went online, things started to improve for fishing. I believe that is maintaining our clean water quality.


"Illinois is going to miss Jim Langbein when he goes up to his (retirement) place in Wisconsin," Conlin said.

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