Midwest drought causing fish kills -- and hurting fishing business

(CBS News) RIVER FOREST, Ill. - The government gave us a new report Thursday about the drought. It now covers more of the lower 48 states than in any other time on record. For nearly a quarter of the country, the drought is extreme. Now it's even hurting people on the water.

About 90 miles southwest of Chicago, signs of this cruel summer float lifelessly on the water.

"We were 108 [degrees] down here for four-five days in a row -- tremendous heat," said fishing guide Buster Culjan. He hates what he's seeing on the Illinois River.

"Every morning there was a lot of dead carp floating down river [because the water was] too hot," he said.

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Hotter, shallower water has less oxygen and the fish suffocate. It's happening in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Kentucky to pike, walleye, and bass. In Iowa, 37,000 sturgeon worth $10 million were found dead along a 42-mile stretch of the Des Moines River last month.

Temperatures in the Midwest were five to ten degrees above normal in July. Culjan has seen barely two inches of rain.

Add together those unusually hot temperatures and the critically low levels of rainfall and and you get extremely low water levels. A normally submerged tree trunk sits high and dry.

Buster Culjan's bait and tackle shop is down $1,500 a week. It would be even more if he didn't sell beer.

"That's the only thing cold and wet around here," a customer said holding a beer pack at Culjan's store.

Culjan usually does two to three chartered trips a week at $400 to $800 a shot. The heat and drought has dried that up too. If there is no fish to catch, he doesn't take folks out.

The drought and heat could present a problem for migrating birds this fall. Waterfowl depend on wetlands to rest and to feed. This drought is going to make those wetlands much more difficult for the birds to find.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.