Chicago Sun-Times
Stray Casts will intelligently report and observe, hopefully with a touch of wit, on daily occurrences, reports and releases related to Chicago-area outdoors from bucks to bass to birds to bugs

March 2009 Archives

It's not your imagination, smelt have disappeared.

Not just on the Chicago lakefront, but throughout Lake Michigan.

Smelt netting begins tonight in Chicago, but it will mainly be a social event, a welcome outdoor event to give winter a much needed kick in the ass.


At least in 2001, there was enough smelt netted at Montrose on opening night for Derrick Coley to eagerly perform the lakefront ritual of biting the head off the first smelt.

Now, smelt are so scarse, even a few being netted tonight might be a surprise.

First the dire smelt outlook from biologist Steve Robillard, then some basic details.

Smelt fishing on the Chicago lakefront opens tonight. Heidecke Lake reopens to fishing this morning. And spring catchable trout season opens Saturday in Illinois. And the walleye are very good on the Wisconsin and Wolf rivers in Wisconsin.

This is the extended online version of the MFR, which appears in the Sun-Times on Wednesdays. Normally, I post the online MFR by Wednesday morning.

If you have suggestions, post in the comments section or let me know at

Let's start with the ritual of smelt fishing.


That's Tony Williams at 31st in 2001, back when at least a few smelt could be expected.

On one of those days in March that gave us hope winter would finally end, Andrew Narro caught this 25-inch largemouth bass, weighing 7 pounds, 1 ounce, 8-pound monofilament.


And it easily gets the Lemont kid Fish of the Week honors.

FOTW tops the Midwest Fishing Report each Wednesday in the Sun-Times. An extended online version usually appears here by midnight Tuesday. FOTW nominations should be e-mailed to

Here's Narro's story.

Heidecke, the former cooling lake near Morris, reopens Wednesday morning, April 1, as usual. I hope to be walking the shoreline, trying for a muskie or big walleye, by dawn.


This hybrid conviently was caught at dawn two years ago on opening morning.

The best news is the water levels are about normal again, according to Steve Anderson of Graybeard's the concessionaire at the launch.

Here's more, including biologist Rob Miller's assessment.


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At least as far as I know and have been told, Stray Casts will continue here and the outdoors page will go on in the Sun-Times on Wednesdays and Sundays.

But times are tough. Newspapers are not alone in that.

There's a part of me that finds great solace in doing the preview for the Heidecke Lake opener, the Chicago smelting preview, FOTW and online Midwest Fishing Report, all of which will follow shortly.

Hatchery manager Ed Hansen said the MWC tournament provided plenty of sauger for rearing fish at the LaSalle Fish Hatchery. That may be one of the greatest benefits from the annual tournament out of Spring Valley.

``We have about 340 females and a couple hundred males,'' Hansen said Monday morning as they worked on fish. ``We should definitely have enough for fingerling production and for some of the bigger lakes for fry. We should be in good shape.''

As to the spawn, he said the fish looked real close. As most years, only a few females were already spent. So depending on water levels, the next week or so should be near peak for sauger fishing.

The fahter and son team of Steve ``Pinky'' and Adam Sandor switched tactics on Day 2 to win the 23rd MWC tournament out of Spring Valley Sunday.

For the two days, 549 fish were weighed, totaling 1030.26 lbs.

No team weighed more than the father and son.

``Pinky'', of Tonica, has fished every MWC tournament, with his son from Ottawa for the last 16. They weighed five-fish limits each day for 27.6 pounds to win $17,510, which included $960 for the big fish of 4.76 pounds.

On Day 1, they pulled three-way live-bait rigs on the bottom end of Plum Island, and were second. Sunday found snow falling and colder, muddier water, and nothing worked for two hours, so they switched to pulling orange and chartruese No. 9 floating crankbaits in 10-11 feet.

Steve "Skoop" Skupien of Frankfort and Dave Kleszyk of Oakbrook Terrace took second.

Here are the event details from the MWC:.

WAYZATA, Minn.--I went north to find people who truly reveled in ice in late January.


This is Gary Klingler drilling a hole early morning with a power auger. Power augers aren't a luxury in Minnesota, they're necessary.

It's a different mindset.

After our second straight bad winter, here's some reflections on ice, via a trip north to Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota.

Sandors take MWC

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According to the Walleye Central's Live Leaderboard, Adam Sandor of Tonica and Steve Sandor of Ottawa moved up from second to win the 23rd MWC tournament out of Spring Valley.

They added a five-fish limit weighing 15.55 on Day 2 for a 27.6 winning weight.

Steve Skupien of Lockport and Dave Kleszyk of Oakbrook Terrace took second with 25.54.

Third was the Wisconsin team of Roy Vivian and Scott Pirnstill with 23.15.

Wonder if Vivian will now consider me good luck. I prefished with him on Monday. This was that day's best fish.


Some 20 teams managed five-fish limits, despite the wintry conditions at takeoff.

More than half the field weighed a five-fish limit on Day 1 of the MWC tournament out of Spring Valley.

Rob Crowe of South Elgin and James Passo of St. Charles led with 12.6 pounds. In second was Adam Sandor of Tonica and Steve Sandor of Ottawa (12.05), according to the leader board posted at WalleyeCentral.

Tomorrow should be very interesting with the weather forecast.

Don Dziedzina of Illinois Outdoors fame said his wife Judy and their daughter Lisa spotted a big tom turkey that had traffic stopped on 159th in Homer Glen Friday.

He suggested, ``This is the closest to urban Chicagoland that I've heard of anyone spotting a wild turkey.''

That's a tough call: Over the years, I've had readers report and send photos of turkeys around the Palos area, in and around Hinsdale and in southeast Cook County.

The question is always whether or not they are truly wild birds, that's especially true of the turkeys in the Hinsdale area. The ones in southeast Cook could have easily come from the stocking of wild birds east of Crete.

But either way, Don's note is worth reading about the turkey crossing the road, or Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?

Harvesting of does remains the target of the deer hunting recommendations making the way through IDNR. The big change would be an extended nine-day January antlerless gun season.


This doe was eating outside Pyramid SRA a few summers back.

Personally, I think this is the single greatest challenge facing new IDNR director Marc Miller, even greater than the funding and staffing issues.

Not ever will everyone be pleased with new deer regs.

Below are the basic recommendations, via a good source.

There's something symbolic here.


Volunteers from Spring Valley Walleye Club were working hard Monday morning to clear mud off Barto Landing. So it would be ready for the 23rd Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit tournament this weekend. Details are below.


I rode with Roy Vivian, who checked out the operating of his Lowrance as we waited for the river to reopen to boating at 10 a.m. Monday.

And that's my concern, how often the Illinois now has major floods.

Todd Carlander sends regular tips, admonitions, ethical posers (particularly regarding flatheads) and just stuff with a sly sense of humor embedded.


Say this picture of a pair of nice crappie, caught somewhere near Wolf Point--depending on how you define Wolf Point and which side of the rivers you call Wolf Point--downtown. And you may notice the new (well, a few years old) Sun-Times building in the background.

Now the North Side fisherman didn't exactly say he caught the crappie, but I have a pretty good idea where he did.

I like that the Sun-Times is still on the water.

LaSalle Lake--long lines, inane 4 p.m. close, full parking lot and all--remains the hot spot and tops the Midwest Fishing Report.


Jay Angel sent this photo of George with a nice bass from LaSalle along with a report from late last week.

But there's also issues with the hot perch fishing at 92nd and 95th. On the good side, there's a coho derby at Montrose on Saturday and the MWC tournament at Spring Valley on Saturday and Sunday.

This is the extended online version of the MFR, which appears in the Sun-Times on Wednesdays. Normally, I post the online MFR by Wednesday morning.

If you have suggestions, post in the comments section or let me know at

Once again, let's start with LaSalle.

Northern pike are becoming more of a fish of note in the Chicago area. Again, we pair two beauts for Fish of the Week honors.


Ross Tornabene sent this one his buddy Sporto Johnson caught near Belmont harbor on Saturday.


And this one was caught Sunday by Scott O'Connor on a harbor off Grass Lake on the Chain.

FOTW tops the Midwest Fishing Report each Wednesday in the Sun-Times. The extended online version is usually posted here by midngiht Tuesday. E-mail nominations to

First Tornabene's story:

When two well-separated people, one who has shared my home and one whom I've never met as far as I know, send a similar note of concern on Lake Michigan perch I pay attention.

The issue is the fishing or overfishing of the hot perch action in the river around 92nd and 95th.

The first came Friday (while I was off veggin' in Michigan) from C. Eric ``Mac'' Sloan, the young new owner of Mac's Bait Shop on 75th on the South Side.

The second came from Lloyd DeGrane, a Chicago photographer and long-time Perch America guy. He took one of my favorite photos of our family (eating a taco supper) for a book on families. And he hooked me into a cooperative effort on one of the favorite articles I ever wrote, a freelance piece for Lake Magazine which ended with Johnny Payphone hurtling naked into the North Branch of the Chicago River.

But I digress.

To perch poaching, first from Sloan:

Boating restrictions on the Illinois River were lifted at 10 a.m. this morning. I think I caught the first fish a few minutes after the restrictions were lifted. I was prefishing for the MWC tournament with Roy Vivian and we launched at 10 a.m. sharp.


OK, so it was a small sauger and my fingers look bigger than it, but it came within 50 yards on our first drift on the Peru flats. Vivian found fish upstream in the still flooded Illinois.

Below is the announcement from the IDNR.

Tim Rodiek is one of the better fishermen on the Chain, and an all-round outdoorsman.

A few times a year the Elk Grove Village man sends thoughts or questions. I thought this was worthy of a ``Borrowed Hook,'' another view on the proposed hike in outdoor fees from Gov. Quinn and IDNR director Marc Miller.

Here's Rodiek's question and take.

I haven't run a ``Borrowed Hooks'' guest commentary on a Friday for quite awhile, but here is one that caught my eye.

It's Ken Gortowski's take on the fee proposals by IDNR director Marc Miller.


Gortowski is a Fox River advocate, fisherman and was once a wading guide, and is sometimes a bit of a goader.

Fishing adds for weekend

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I would keep LaSalle Lake as the top weekend destination, and add Fremont, Wis. for open-water walleye.

Bill Anderson hit a packed LaSalle yesterday and his report and photos mirrors all the good ones from opening day on Sunday. Unfornately, I don't think the stupid 4 p.m. close will change before next weekend at the earliest.

And Fremont guide Bill Stoeger--(920) 570-1187--just called to say the Wolf River is open in Fremont and he pulled a limit of walleye yesterday.

Below is Anderson's e-mail, including an important notes for those driving in off Interstate 80:

Fees? Yes (more)

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Good. Ilinois finally will go for increased fees and first time fees related to the outdoors.

Some of them are long overdue, say the increase in cost of deer permits. Some of them, such as park fees, should have been in place years ago.

Much more to come. I would have had more earlier, but I was on an all-day tour of the Chicago canals. More on that later, much later, but the fees and budget stuff is more pressing.

I'd love to hear reaction to Gov. Quinn and his budget as it relates to the outdoors and the IDNR in particular.

In an interview this evening after I came off the water, IDNR director Marc Miller made the point that the change in the last month shows a different attitude, one worthy of properly handling such increases.

Post below reactions below, or e-mail me at

The list of proposed fees and fee increases is below:

A wonderful opener for LaSalle Lake on Sunday tops the Midwest Fishing Report, well, the fishing and weather was wonderful, but it was marred by a late bizarre decision to close at 4 p.m. in March.


Austin Green, 14, of Berwyn, caught the biggest fish of his life early Sunday morning at LaSalle.

It was a day for hybrid stripers and white bass. And warm enough, well into the 50s, to just savor the day.


Chicagoans Freddy Castrejon (above) and his dad Peter limited on hybrids and white bass, and Peter added a 23.5-inch largemouth weighing 6.5 pounds he intends to mount.

This is the extended online version of the MFR, which appears in the Sun-Times on Wednesdays. Normally, I post the online MFR by Wednesday morning.

If you have suggestions, post in the comments section or let me know at

Let's begin with LaSalle.

On Sunday, Tony DeRicco caught and released this 29-inch walleye weighing 7.5 pounds from a Cook County lake.


For that feat, the Mount Prospect man earns Fish of the Week honors. FOTW tops the Midwest Fishing Report in the Sun-Times each Wednesday. An extended online version appears here, usually before midnight Tuesday.

Here's his story:

Boating restrictions on the Des Plaines River, DuPage, Kankakee and Mazon rivers have been lifted. However, the restrictions remain on sections of the Illinois River


The Kankakee is back into its banks at Shamrock GC at Route 17, though there's odd water hazards remaining. There was a golfer looking for a ball until he hid while I took the photo. Maybe he was cutting work on the most beautiful afternoon of 2009.

Here's the complete release from the IDNR:

LaSalle opener

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It was a striper kind of day from shore for opening day at LaSalle Lake.


IVCC student Morgan Wolf caught this one next to me shortly after I had my first as dawn came this morning.

Walking out in the about 1 p.m., I passed Chicagoans Freddy Castrejon and his dad Peter. They had alreay limited out on striped bass from the south shore. And Peter had the fish of the day, a 23 1/2-inch largemouth weighing 6 1/2 pounds. He plans to mount it.

I got sidetracked and did not get a picture, but Freddy said he would send it.

It was some day. For a day that started off with my buddy's boat not working. So I did the shore. And did manage to make it all the way back to the hot water for some casts.

Opening day of fishing at LaSalle Lake was outstanding. More on that later tonight or tomorrow.


It was something to have three fish already by the time dawn came.

Unfornately, a late boneheaded call from Springfield will turn closing time into a zoo. As far as I can so far piece together, on Friday, somebody in Lands at the IDNR made a decision to close the lake at 4 p.m. during March. That was news to many of us in line or on the lake.

That's a boneheaded call on several levels.

I reached new IDNR director Marc Miller Sunday afternoon. He was very apologetic and mortified about the word not getting out about the early closing time.

But that such a boneheaded decision was even considered, let alone carried through on, is of far greater concern to me.

Here's why.

This morning at 10:30 I am giving a talk on IDNR issues at the Chicagoland Muskie Hunters's 10th Annual Indoor Fishing Flea Market. The flea market runs until 1 p.m. at Rolling Meadows High School, 2901 W. Central Rd. Rolling Meadows.

I am ashamed to say this will be my first time there.

Below is the outline for my talk. The title, Higher in the Pecking Order, comes from a background conversation this week, when an IDNR staffer said now the IDNR is higher in the pecking order with Governor. No longer is the IDNR the last department, the one that gets the crumbs when the budget is hashed out.

Mike Conlin double-checked with one of the biologists at Havana and agreed with everybody else that the photos taken by Carlos De la Pena Jr. at the McKinley Park lagoon on Tuesday were dead bighead carp..


De la Pena took the photos during the cleanup of the winter fish kill at McKinley Park.
The original post was here.

Conlin, chief of the IDNR's office of resource conservation, said pretty much what he said about the large dead bigheads found during the renovation work at the Lincoln Park lagoon at the zoo. That story was here.

I took a quick spin this morning to see some of the flooding along the Kankakee River, one of many Chicago-area rivers in significant floods.


Somewhere under the roiled water, I promise, is the Kankakee dam.

The best overview for nearby river conditions I have found is here at the NWS site.

Other notes:

Change leads the Midwest Fishing Report. Change in ice conditions, change in flooding of Chicago-area rivers. And LaSalle Lake reopens. I put that preview in a separate post. To read that preview, click here.


Last year, I shore fished the opener and caught this scene,

This is the extended online version of the MFR, which appears in the Sun-Times on Wednesdays. Normally, I post the online MFR by Wednesday morning.

If you have suggestions, post in the comments section or let me know at

Signs are good for the reopening of LaSalle Lake to fishing at 6 a.m. Sunday.

I plan to be sleeping in line Saturday night in anticipation of the opening of the cooling lake just south of Seneca. Then, hopefully, I will join Jeff ``Woody'' Roberts in a wild day catching dozens of big bass, and probably a big blue cat or two. Woody has been calling about twice a week in anticipation.

Spoonplugger Mike Lynch e-mailed, ``Can't wait for Sunday. I will be in line about 2 a.m.''


You never know what you will see at the LaSalle opener. Morris High School teacher Sean Porter had one of the neater ways of getting around opening day last year.

Here's an overview for the opener.

Ice-out Fish of the Week

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James Ramirez caught a nice representative ice-out largemouth bass last week.


As much for how it represents the reliable ice-out technique of jig-and-pig as the actual fish, the 18-year-old from Des Plaines earns Fish of the Week honors.

FOTW tops the Midwest Fishing Report each Wednesday in the Sun-Times. An extended online version usually appears here by midnight Tuesday.

Here's his story:

I would appreciate if anybody could confirm the fish in the photos by Carlos De la Pena Jr. are bighead carp or not.


He took them during the cleanup of the winter fish kill at McKinley Park lagoon on Tuesday.


It would not be surprising if more bigheads were in that lagoon. Within the past decade three large bigheads have been confirmed there.


If anybody knows the answer about the photos, please post below or e-mail at

Here's De la Pena's note:

Floods are closing boating on Illinois rivers south and southwest of Chicago.

By Tuesday afternoon, the IDNR closed boating on the Des Plaines and DuPage rivers in Will County, the Kankakee River in Illinois, and on the Illinois River in Grundy, LaSalle, Bureau and Putnam counties.

Here's the note from the IDNR:

SPRINGFIELD - Due to rising water levels, swift currents and floating debris, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is restricting recreational boating access on the Illinois River in Grundy, LaSalle, Bureau and Putnum Counties. Likewise, IDNR has also restricted access to the Des Plaines and DuPage Rivers in Will County, as well as the Kankakee River in Will and Grundy and Kankakee Counties. IDNR has authorization to designate restricted boating areas when navigation is considered significantly hazardous. These restricted areas are off limits to all recreational watercraft until further notice. IDNR is monitoring the situation and will remove the restrictions when conditions improve. For more information about river restrictions, go to the IDNR website at

On Sunday, the first shoots of tulips, daffodils and St. Mary's grass popped in my wife's garden. Even the first shoots pushed through on the potted chive plant.

Those hopeful signs came around same time as the first reports of winter fish kills.

The first report I had of a winter kill came more than a week ago from McKinley Park lagoon. Then on Friday, Ken J. Nieminski of Palos Hills sent this:

``Even the sandhills over the Palos area, couldn't ease the melancholy that developed as I walked the shore of my favorite fishing pond, and counted no less that an even dozen dead large-mouth bass in the 3+ pound range. blue-gills and smaller bass were too numerous to count, and I only covered 1/3 of the shoreline. note to other anglers, if your favorite spot isn't more than 8ft. deep, you might need a new "favorite spot".''

As expected a quick check found calls starting about winter kills to fisheries biologists.

Reading signs

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Thursday blossomed into such warmth, near 70, that I was able to spade three rows in the garden for early spinach, leaf lettuce and sugar peas. The 4-year-old trailed behind and put worms into an old yellow lemonade container from some county fair in August.

For days, male cardinals, brilliantly red, have been staking out territory from tree tops. But, every time I try to get a good photo, something happens.


Until this morning. Though the photo isn't as good as I had hoped, I finally snapped one singing mightly in our maple.

It feels like the behavior is a week or two behind, but that may be me projecting the winter feeling too long for me.

Then there's Storm.

Deer Classic all winners

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Scorer Tim Walmsley forwarded the winners of the Miller High Life Trophy Deer Contest at the 2009 Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic. The list came from show organizer Glenn Helgeland.

One thing of note: there was a significant drop in entries to 502 from 605 in 2008. That was similar to the drop in 2007 from 2006, to 496 from 588. Not sure what that means.

If I get some photos, I will repost. Until then, the complete list is below.

matt miller

Michael Furlong sent this shot of Matt Miller of Johnsburg, sunning on the ice of McKinley harbor (correction, I believe that should be in Milwaukee, as a reader noted) in the third week of February.

It's been one of those years, where you have go with the flow, so to speak.

Which brings me to one of my favorite annual spring quests with my camera. Canada geese that returned before the ice is gone.


I found these on an in-between lake Wednesday morning. At least they had some open water.

Vague hints of spring come. After this winter, I will grasp at vague hints. And those spring hints lead the Midwest Fishing Report.

Guys were walking into Henry's
Tuesday to buy things for powerlining for salmon. They must have been reading the weather forecast for later this week with a forecast for a warm-up and rain.

Early Tuesday, George Watford, the 20-something from the Northwest Side, texted: ``Caught my first musky @ busse today! woot! these are mean fish he took a 3/8 oz bass pro white spinnerbait. yea! spring is here!''

georgewatfordmarch020309 027

He followed that shortly with this photo of the 2-foot or so muskie he quickly released.

I'll go with ``yea! spring is here!,'' though I fear we are jumping the gun a bit.

This is the extended online version of the MFR, which appears in the Sun-Times on Wednesdays. Normally, I post the online MFR by Wednesday morning.

If you have suggestions, post in the comments section or let me know at

A pair of mid-winter muskies make it Fishes of the Week.

fotw3-04-09billys musky

Billy Loftus of Oswego caught and released his 40-incher on Feb. 18.


Victor Elarde sent this one of Bob Steflin, who caught his 43-incher on Feb. 15 near the Montgomery dam.

FOTW tops the Midwest Fishing Report in the Sun-Times each Wednesday. The extended online version appears here, usually by midnight Tuesday.

First Loftus:

Glenn Helgeland sent this on Best of Show from the Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic over the weekend. I truly missed seeing that show this year. Photos and complete list of top bucks to come tonight or tomorrow.


* * * * 2009 BEST OF SHOW * * * *

184-2/8 John Graber, Monee Wlliamson 2007
176-6/8 Clark Piper, Paris Edgar 2008
172-4/8 Michael Wozniak, Brimfield Peoria 2008

222-5/8 Gregory Wilson, Litchfield Montgomery 2007
219-2/8 Scott Fiala, Enfield - Hunter White 2008
Dave Marshall Carmi - Exhibitor
222-1/8 Jeremy Cauble, Ramsay Fayette 2009
202-0/8 Mike Buzicky, Mahomet Champaign 2007

I've had this idea kicking around for awhile, doing something called Celebrity Shots. Chicago-area or maybe Illinois celebrities with fish or game. I was reminded of it early last month when Ramblin' Ray sent the photo of his Vilas County buck, posted here.


Then McHenry rocker Rob McAndrews of Pist sent this wonderful shot of a catfish caught through the ice on the Chain O'Lakes.

It seems like the perfect time to start Celebrity Shots. Details of McAndrews catch follow.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2009 is the previous archive.

April 2009 is the next archive.

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