As a year where April 1 falls on Saturday, it’s a packed opening day for Illinois fishing.

Smelt netting begins in the evening on the Chicago lakefront. Heidecke Lake opens in the morning, as does Illinois’ spring trout season. Weekend weather looks typical (40s and 50s).

Remember, new licenses are required around the Lake Michigan states on Saturday, April 1. With the new season, Illinois fisheries chief Dan Stephenson sent a list of changes. (I put his complete list of notes on regulation tweaks and notes at the bottom.)

Most interesting is at Lake McMaster in Snakeden Hollow State Fish and Wildlife Area. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is trying a muskie slot limit–one muskie per day, either 36-42 inches in length or longer than 48.

As for the slot, Stephenson emailed, “At that size it is likely one of the very slow growing males. That is a big fish for most and considered a trophy by some. Removing a few of those older males won’t impact the fishery at all. They were never going to get any larger.”

Muskie fishermen release nearly all muskies and advocate with an evangelic fervor. There will be blow-back. But I’m glad the IDNR is experimenting. Not all fishermen are muskie zealots; for some, a 36-inch muskie is their fish of a lifetime.

Other notable changes include on the boundary waters of the Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash rivers, where regulations will mirror the respective neighboring state.

There’s a tricky one. Statewide limits no longer apply to “wholly owned individual private ponds.” Stephenson noted. “This is NOT true for association, club or organizational lakes. The six-bass of any species still holds on those lakes.”

Similarly, on licensing, Stevenson noted, “The regulation states that if you live in a home on land contiguous with the pond and you or your family are the sole owner of the pond or lake you do not need a fishing license. Persons living on an association lake or fishing a club or organizational water are not the sole owners. A fishing license is required. I get this question a lot.”

Smelt fishing should be a family affair on the Chicago lakefront; smelting opens Saturday, April 1.
Credit: Dale Bowman

SMELT? Lake Michigan program manager Vic Santucci emailed, “There was an increase in smelt abundance reported in USGS prey fish surveys in 2016 compared to 2015, but the increase occurred only in northern Lake Michigan. Overall, still low lakewide abundance. We caught only two smelt in our 2016 spring assessment surveys. All in all it doesn’t look good for smelt fishing in Illinois again this spring.”

Bob Long, “The Fishin’ Guy” for the Chicago Park District, may have one tweak to sites. If so, I will post.

INLAND TROUT: One change is Horsetail Lake is now a spring trout site.

HEIDECKE: Fisheries biologist Rob Miller said for walleye in the bi-annual survey last fall “collections were not as good as they have been, but still pretty damm stout, right at the 10-year-old average.” Metrics for 16- and 22-inch walleye were increasing.

They found lots of hybrids, white bass and yellow bass. He noted there is no limit yellows and they found a “good percentage of 9-inch-plus fish.”

The maximum size on muskies is increasing, though Miller is still looking for the first 50-incher; muskie stockings are now once every three years.

Largemouth bass are still struggling, but “the compass is pointing up” for smallmouth bass. Channel catfish have not had much natural recruitment recently.

INDIANA LAKERS: The limit on lake trout in Indiana waters of Lake Michigan go to three on Saturday, April 1, to sync with Michigan’s limit. Illinois’ remains at two.

WILD THINGS: Saw my first nesting Canada goose on Saturday, a bit ahead of the last two years. . . . Blanked Monday evening with our youngest son trying to see woodcocks do their courtship dance. Will try again, the time is right. 

STRAY CAST: Like most humans, duck hunters, conservationists and lake managers know the value of sanctuary.

* * *

Here is the complete list of tweaks, notes and comments Stephenson sent for the upcoming season.

·         At Lake McMaster in Snakeden Hollow Lake in Knox county we are trying a Muskie slot limit.  Anglers are allowed 1 Muskie per day and it can be either 36”-42” in length or over 48”.  This will allow the angler to take a 36”-42” Muskie.  At that size it is likely one of the very slow growing males.  That is a big fish for most and considered  a trophy by some.  Removing a few of those older males won’t impact the fishery at all.  They were never going to get any larger.

·         We have a new bowfishing for catfish regulation on certain waters of the state.  This is in the larger rivers where we allow commercial fishing.  Readers might be aware of this already.

·         Not a new regulation but we will be raising and stocking Alligator Gar again this year and NOT as an attempt to control Asian Carp.  That idea got out last year and is incorrect.  Alligator Gar will have no effect on the Asian Carp population.   They are now considered extirpated from the state but were once native to the rivers in the lower part of the state.  That is where we will continue to stock them.

·         On all our boundary waters, Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash Rivers, we have changed our regs to mirror those of the respective neighboring state.

·         We have had statewide limits that apply to all waters within the state boundaries.  That is no longer the case for wholly owned individual private ponds.  For example, statewide limits such as the 6 per day bass limit or the 14” minimum length limit, 6 per day walleye limit do not apply now on wholly owned individual private ponds.  This is NOT true for association, club or organizational lakes.  The 6 bass of any species still holds on those lakes.  See our regulation booklet for all statewide limits.  There aren’t many.

·         As you know, we are discontinuing Northern Pike production at our hatcheries for several reasons,  man-power being one and the fact that we’ve stocked them for 30+ years at many sites throughout the state with  generally poor results.  In the Cook County Forest Preserve District we will stock Muskie as a replacement for the Northern Pike at Busse Lake South and Saganashkee Slough.  Muskie have a much better track record in IL than the Northerns, so we will see how they do at those two waters. (Our district biologist, Frank Jakubicek and the fish biologist for the CCFPD, Steve Silic, are in agreement of course.)

·         Our efforts to reduce the leading edge of the Asian Carp migration up the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers will continue in full force.  To date we have removed 5.1 million pounds in the Starved Rock, Marseilles and Dresden Island pools, using most of that for liquid fertilizer production.  We have contracted with commercial fishers and used our biologists for the past 5 years in that effort.  In addition we have funded many research studies looking into ways we can achieve even better success in halting their upstream movement.  All those efforts have been funded through the Great Lake Restoration Initiative.  In the Dresden Island pool below the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, for example, we removed 68% of the Asian Carp between 2012-2014 and held those numbers at that lower rate.  Based upon our sonar studies there are very few currently in that pool.  We are pleased and confident our efforts have made and will continue to make a huge difference.  Since our efforts began in 2009, with thousands of miles of nets set and thousands of hours of electrofishing, we have found only 1 Asian Carp above the three electric barriers and we know that fish did not swim through them but came from other stocking sources.  As an fyi- A fourth, even more powerful, electric barrier at Romeoville will come on line later this year.

·         Our Urban Fishing program will continue as it has for over 30 years in the Chicagoland area. We’ve made sure we have funding for that very important program.

·         One final note:  There are those that think that since they live on a private water, such as a homeowner’s association pond or lake, they do not need a fishing license.  That is incorrect.  The regulation states that if you live in a home on land contiguous with the pond and you or your family are the sole owner of the pond or lake you do not need a fishing license.  Persons living on an association lake or fishing a club or organizational water are not the sole owners.  A fishing license is required.  I get this question a lot.