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Illinois fishing: Walleye record, long form

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It seems just rewards for a river rat like Jim Zimmerman to catch the Illinois-record walleye, the state's first 15-pounder.


His story deserves the long form.

Here it is. And his story deserves the photo above that Dan Palmer took.


On Sunday, March 11, Zimmerman was fishing the Pecatonica River in Winnebago County.

That's nothing unusual. Zimmerman, 52, of Beloit, Wis., said he only missed fishing the Pec or Rock rivers three days since Jan. 1. A couple he went ice fishing and one day he picked up sausage; otherwise, he was fishing the rivers.

``This guy fishes more than anybody I know,'' said Palmer, a well-known tournament organizer from the Rockford area. ``He has put in at least two months of 12 hours a day [on the Pec and the Rock]. Last year he caught one that would have been a record, but it lost 10 percent of its weight in the freezer.

``There is not a more deserving guy to have the record. He puts the time in.''

Palmer said there are days when Zimmerman simply goes out and looks around, learns the corners, turns, ledges of the river.

Zimmerman knows the river.


So Sunday morning, Zimmerman was pitching a 1/8th-ounce Northland fireball jig with a 3-inch Berkley Power Grub and a minnow when he latched into one.

``When it came up, I knew it was big one,'' Zimmerman said. ``But it wasn't a vicious hit, just a normal hit. Set the hook. It was over in 25 seconds.''

His net man was Larry Stangl, fishing friend of 35 years. They weighed it at 15.5 pounds on a hand-held scale. It was 31.5 inches long with a girth of 20 3/8th inches.

Now, most of us, would have immediately stopped fishing and sped off to have it officially weighed.

Not these guys, they put the fish in the live well and kept fishing for 2 1/2 hours more.

Palmer received a call from Zimmerman, late Sunday morning, asking what to do to certify it. Palmer told him to contact conservation police officers. Zimmerman did that through the Illinois State Police.

Finally, Zimmerman and Stangl left. They went to have it weighed on the certified scale at Blackhawk Meats in South Beloit, Ill. Two conservation police officers witnessed it.


We digress for a bit of Zimmerman's style.

Pitching jigs is not an easy method. For most of us, it is a good way to learn to snag stuff on the bottom, especially in rivers.

Zimmerman will fish for walleye by other methods, but he prefers pitching jigs.

``I am good at it,'' he said.

And he uses quality equipment: Shimano reels, Fenwick rods and FireLine.

``Some people don't like it,'' he said. ``For me, it is exciting: Pow, you feel it in the line.''


Well, a fish like that causes quite a ruckus, as it did at Blackhawk Meats.

``My daughter [Bobbie Jentz] was working and she said, ``Mom, oh my God, it was huge,' '' said Debbie Jentz Monday from Blackhawk Meats. ``It was a buzz. People were taking photos out in the parking lot. It was huge.''

``Walleye get that big, they look odd,'' Zimmerman said. ``They're humongous.''

Regional fisheries biologist Dan Sallee had good reasons for the size of it.

``This guy, this was the perfect time, 14 days before the spawn,'' he said before he verified the walleye Monday afternoon. ``That fish will be loaded with mature eggs.''

On the scale, it weighed 15.08 pounds, basically 5 ounces heavier than the record caught by Nick Tassoni, 15, on Jan. 7 from the Pec.


When Tassoni, a Rockford Auburn freshman, caught his 14-pound, 12-ounce walleye, it broke the longest-standing gamefish record in Illinois, the 14-pound walleye caught by Fred Goselin from the Kankakee River in 1961.

It was quite the story.

``It was fun while it lasted,'' messaged Tassoni, whose walleye was 31 inches long with a girth of 20 1/4 inches.


The reason for the big walleye on the Pecatonica and Rock rivers is simple.

``It is worth noting, that is a fish we stocked,'' Sallee said.

There's been intensive stocking since the 1980s of 2-inch fingerlings raised at the LaSalle Fish Hatchery.

A study done in the mid-1980s showed that spring flows basically washed young fish or eggs downstream from eggs laid around the upper Rock.

Sallee said because of that, there is almost no natural reproduction in the Rock, as high water distributes the fish downstream or to the Mississippi.

``We have been stocking the bejesus out the Pec and the upper Rock since the 1980s and it has created a wonderful fishery; and I am proud of it,'' Sallee said.

Before that, very rarely were fish stocked into an existing population because it was thought not to work well.

The stockings on the Pec and the Rock, and more recently on the Kankakee River, are proving otherwise.

And it worth noting, in these tight money times, that the LaSalle hatchery supports that stocking of the walleye, like it does a multitude of other stockings across northern Illinois, including the stocking for the world-class sauger fishery on the Illinois River.

``I don't think people realize how much of our fishing in northern Illinois comes from the LaSalle hatchery,'' Sallee said.


I thought Zimmerman gave a good description of himself.

``I don't go looking for the big ones,'' he said. ``I just like being alone out in the woods and water. I don't go out for the record because I know that is a once in a lifetime thing.

His actions prove it as well as his words.

``I was out at daybreak again [Monday], because I knew the biologist was coming about 2,'' Zimmerman said.


The same story comes from many people about the possibility of another record coming from the Pec, or the Rock. Zimmerman is certain bigger ones are there.

``There are 32-inchers in there,'' Palmer said. ``There are bigger walleye in that river.''

``Oh, yeah, there is always bigger ones,'' Sallee said.

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I've lost track, but a decade or so ago they were stocking walleye by the thousands around Montgomery and Yorkville. Some nice ones can be caught, but I don't target them. If you get a chance, ask your sources about that. Are they still stocking that area of the Fox?

Amazing post. Anybody want to do fun and enjoy the vacation can visit lake ontario fishing trip. Great place nice lake for celebration weather are good. Nice and pretty place

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on March 13, 2012 4:49 AM.

Illinois fishing: Possible walleye record was the previous entry in this blog.

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