Chicago Sun-Times
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Chicago lakefront: Smelt preview

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Those were the days, when smelt were actually around on the Chicago lakefront.

young boy and smelt one3-30-10

Bob Mlinarcik thinks 16 years ago was the last time that smelting was great on the Chicago lakefront. The 80-something South Sider dug up the photo above from then with multiple 5-gallon buckets of smelt at Burnham harbor when a grandson, Josh Mlinarcik, was 4.

I tend to think that is about right, 16 years since smelting was good.

The greatest opener in Chicago outdoors is Thursday, the traditional April 1 start to smelt netting on the lakefront. But for more than a decade, it has been more symbolic than actual.

The days of netters filling multiple buckets are long gone. Smelting has become more socializing than smelting. With 70s forecast for Thursday, there will socializing.

But don't expect much in the way of smelting.

Last April, there was a minor blip after several years of near no smelt. West Side 90-something Carl Walton said he took 500 smelt off the 31st Street pier in 2009. That's the most I heard from anybody last year.

Steve Robillard, project specialist for Illinois' Lake Michigan Program, said he received the bad news from the USGS on March 23:

USGS reports (just got them [last] Tuesday) indicate that smelt numbers are still down and far below the numbers in the 1980s and early 1990s. In the acoustic survey, which provides estimates for age-0 or older fish, density declined 75% from last year to 306 fish/ha; biomass (0.95 kg/ha) also was 1/2 of last year. The bottom trawl data showed decline in age-0 but slight increases in density and biomass of age1 and older smelt. Either way, numbers are down lakewide

Ouch. That don't sound good.

In Chicago, nets may go in the water at 7 p.m. Smelters must be out of the parks by 1 a.m.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on March 30, 2010 10:12 PM.

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