Zach Stall started muskie fishing when he was 5.

That was the most hopeful thing I heard Saturday during the Illini Muskies Alliance meeting, which included a depressing report from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The meeting was held at the Muskie Expo Chicago at Pheasant Run in St. Charles. I will process the bad news another day, probably Sunday.

First, let’s grab hope where we can.

Stall gives it to me. In part because the 9-year-old, a third-grader at Prince of Peace in Lake Villa, was there with his father Eric and his grandfather Bill. If the outdoors are to continue as a viable tradition, it needs to come organically out of families and/or friends.

Yes, it helps to have organized boosts, such as the Illinois Muskie Tournament Trail’s Youth Honor Roll. Stall was there to receive his plaque and rod and reel combo for those 10 and younger.

Several years ago, Howard Chambliss and Bob Kerans started that IMTT youth program. Cam Riedesel, son of a fishing friend, was honored several times in the program. It’s a good idea, one that works because of family involvement, no small part of any successful outreach program in the outdoors.

Stall’s big muskie, 45 inches, came this summer from Catfish Lake on Wisconsin’s Eagle River chain. Most the family’s muskie fishing is around Eagle River.

Zach Stall releases one of the muskies he caught last year. Credit: For the Sun-Times

Zach Stall releases one of the muskies he caught last year.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

It made my morning when Stall lit up when I asked what his favorite method was and he said with topwaters. With such lures as the Top Raider, the Cannonball or Dr Evil. It also made my day that he crappie fishes with his grandfather and fishes for bass at a nearby pond.

Stall’s grandfather came to muskie fishing around 1970. He was out with the owner of a Cranberry Lake resort, an avid muskie fishermen, and a muskie was caught.

“I got the bug,” said Bill Stall, though it was the next year before he caught his first, a 26-incher with its own story, on Cranberry.

That “bug’’ can be passed on and was.

He began a muskie tradition with his sons with a Canada trip for Eric Stall’s graduation in the mid-1990s. It was so successful the trip has reached 22 years straight.

Again, a family tradition. There’s a theme here that works.

Click here for information on the IMTT Youth Honor Roll.

HUNTING: The second late-winter antlerless and CWD deer seasons are Friday through Sunday. Archery deer and turkey seasons also end Sunday. If updated harvest figures come before then, I will post online. . . . Canada goose season in Illinois’ north zone ends Thursday. I suspect birds will be flying.

RECAST: Kevin Otte caught the big walleye in the Jan. 4 Fish of the Week. His fishing partner had been erroneously listed.

STRAY CAST: Bet the Cubs Convention will resemble an Islamorada Party Fishing Boat more than usual this year.