On an August evening, Chuck Atkins caught one of the biggest smallmouth bass from Lake Michigan.
Until somebody proves otherwise, I credit him with the greatest smallmouth caught and released by a fly fisherman on the Illinois lakefront in the history of Chicago fishing.
The Portage Park man also earns Fish of the Week honors for a smallmouth estimated around 23 inches and 6-plus pounds.
``Was she the real monster I have been searching for?,'' he said. ``Nope, but I'm gettin' closer! . . . This one was a real challenge to land because the waves were really crashing against the rocks [that] night!''
Atkins, 50, an artist and retail manager for Father Time Antiques on Belmont, came late in life to fishing.
``I am arrogant fly fisherman, I think it is a bigger deal to catch a fish on fly rod than conventional rod,'' he said.
His real love is chasing steelhead on the tributaries around southern Lake Michigan. But he also learned to catch carp with flies on Lake Michigan flats.
``People should have more respect for carp,'' he said. ``When they are in Lake Michigan, they are a whole different animal.''
He found smallmouth mixed with the carp, and learned to target them.
Crayfish are a favored forage of smallmouth. So his favorite flies are a hexagenia nymph imitation, a venerable trout fly that also imitates a crayfish, or Dave Whitlock's famous Near Nuff Crayfish.
Good enough patterns to force considering fishing protocol.
``I can't kill a fish like that,'' he said. ``If I was really intent on chasing the state record, I would carry a scale. . . . I used to carry a Boga-Grip [scales], but I think those are really bad for fish.''
So he releases his fish and estimates weight from length/girth formulas.
``Did I release a state record?'' he asked. ``Probably not but she was close and she's out there growing bigger, so, I'm happy! . . . I think there are smallmouth [out there] over 7 pounds.''
BTW, Mark Samp caught the 6-pound, 7-ounce Illinois smallmouth record from a Fulton County strip pit on March 26, 1985.
FOTW usually tops the Midwest Fishing Report on the outdours page of the Sun-Times each Wednesday. An extended online version appears here, usually by midnight Tuesday.
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