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Thousands of fish showed up dead along a Kokomo creek

DNR originally said just 65 fish had been killed, but updated that number to 2,040 dead fish on Wednesday.

KOKOMO, Ind. — Longtime angler Chris Wendt pulled up to his favorite fishing spot on Wildcat Creek last Saturday and took home the typical haul - about 15 fish of five different species. It was good weekend fishing by any standard, and especially solid for the spot he counts on most when looking for bites on his line. 

When he returned Sunday, everything had changed. 

"I'm standing at my spot, you know, kind of just fishing and I'm not getting any bites, which I always gets bites at this spot. I mean, it's my fishing hole," Wentz said.

Undeterred, Wendt hauled his gear about an eighth of a mile from his usual haunch and discovered many fish belly up and baking in the heat. 

All of them, Wendt recalled, were dead. 

"As I'm hiking, I'm noticing more dead fish. They're still at the bottom, and they're kind of belly up, some of them are still moving. And then, the fish that were alive, I started noticing were kind of swimming at at the top. And they were real slow and kind of doing the belly up thing," he said. 

Wendt posted over 30 photos of the deceased fish to his Facebook page.

Credit: Chris Wendt
Fisherman Christ Wendt posted over 30 photos of the dead fish in Wildcat Creek to his Facebook page, after seeing hundreds of them last weekend.

DNR confirmed the final count of dead fish is 2,040. That number includes 879 suckers, 597 small mouth bass, 502 minnows, 31 Freshwater drum, and 31 carp. They were found along a 2.5 mile stretch of Wildcat Creek

Originally, the Department of Natural Resources said just 65 fish had been killed, which contradicted statements of local fishermen who told 13News they saw hundreds along the banks over the weekend. 

Fisherman Billy Hawkins posted several photos to his Facebook page Tuesday.

Dead fish everywhere in the Wildcat. 😪

Posted by Billy Hawkins on Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Marty Benson, assistant director of communications at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said that discrepancy in the original report was due to an internal error. 

"Essentially, it was internal misunderstanding of where the complete data was stored. IDEM was leading the investigation, and concluded the investigation. The change in numbers does not affect that," Benson said.

Wendt said he had certainly seen dead fish in the water in Wildcat Creek before, but was alarmed by the types of fish he found dead.  

"This is unique because the fish that are dying are fish that often survive the low oxygen levels when other fish don't. For example, catfish. Any angler will tell you this. It's really hard to kill a catfish," Wendt said. 

Credit: Modern Outdoor Media - stock.adobe.com
At least 10 species of blue gill, pictured here in a stock photo, can be found throughout Indiana waters.

Wendt said he hiked along a route that would have taken him 5 or 6 hours to kayak, and found dead fish all along the way last Sunday. 

"Since then, I communicated with other anglers that I know. And, as far as I can tell, it looks like they've been killed all through town," he said.

According to our partners at The Kokomo Tribune, this investigation comes about a year after a failing lift station near the American Legion Golf Course last August leaked raw sewage into the water, resulting in a fish kill that impacted about a mile of the waterway.

In that incident, city crews spent five days pumping and aerating sections of the creek to remove the chemicals and sewage that led to the kill.

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And this is not the first time Wendt himself discovered something foul in Wildcat Creek.

In December 2019, he went hiking with his dog near the creek. She started acting strange, backing up from the water and clocking her head side to side.

"I looked down, and there's oil coming out of the ground. And right in the middle of the Wildcat Creek, and it's going all down the Wildcat, and it's going. It went for miles," he said. 

Credit: Chris Wendt
Photos provided by Chris Wendt and taken from his phone in December 2019 show an oil spill in Wildcat Creek.

As Wendt waits for answers on what may have caused the fish kill, he said the feeling now is similar to when he first saw that oil bubbling up from the ground. 

He is gutted by what this means for local wildlife dependent on the creek for food. 

"People don't understand when this happens, it's gonna affect all the environment routes. Those fish are the core, you know? They're the foundation, the base. And when they die, it's like - what are the turtles going to eat? What are the beavers? What are the raccoons going to eat? What are the eagles going to eat? And the falcons - this whole life cycle," Wendt said. 

Credit: Calvin - stock.adobe.com
The Great Blue Heron is one of many species dependent on the types of fish killed in the Wildcat Creek die off for sustenance.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is leading the investigation, which DNR said had been concluded. 

Days ago, IDEM said they had tested the creek for dissolved oxygen and other chemicals. 

At the time of publication, IDEM had not shared the release of their findings with 13News. 

The Wildcat Creek watershed covers seven counties - Tippecanoe, Carroll, Clinton, Howard, Tipton, Grant and Madison.

Both DNR and IDEM told 13News they had been on scene of the kill site since it happened. 

The Kokomo Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System is also monitoring the creek this week looking for additional anomalies.