From the utter hopelessness for smelt netters on the Chicago lakefront to the giddy optimism for walleye at Heidecke Lake, April 1 rolls around Wednesday with the surest signals of spring fishing.
Remember, new licenses are needed as of Wednesday in all four Lake Michigan states.
Fisheries biologist Rob Miller is a half-full guy. But he is completely overflowing when it comes to walleye prospects at Heidecke.
“It is going to be an excellent year,’’ he said.
Heidecke, the former cooling lake near Morris, reopens Wednesday. Hours are the usual with the launch opening at 6 a.m. (shore fishing at 6:30 a.m.). Close is sunset. It is open daily. Boaters may need to watch water levels.
A few years ago, Miller was similarly optimistic after the fall survey with 29 walleye per hour. But last fall’s survey was something from another place: 47.4 walleye per hour. For context, the long-term average of 11.5 per hour.
“Anybody with any kind of savvy should be able to catch walleye [this year] without a doubt,’’ he said.
Size was equally encouraging, as the photo at the top evidences with Steve Pescitelli holding a big one and Tristan Widloe.
“The biggest walleye are pushing 9 pounds,’’ Miller said. “I think that is a decent thing. That is something to get excited about.’’
The average walleye size in the fall survey was 17.6 inches. The daily bag at Heidecke is three walleye, 16 inches or longer.
Those numbers are no accident.
“We stock them every year, about 40,000, give or take,’’ Miller said.
Miller is equally excited crappie, both black and white, something savvy fishermen began figuring out a year or two ago. The biggest in the fall survey was 13 inches.
“It is a long time coming,’’ said Miller, who began moving brood crappie out of Milliken Lake in Will County years ago. It is helped with stocking of black crappie from the hatchery.
“For years, it was only the adult fish we stocked that we saw [in surveys], then we started to see [smaller crappie],’’ Miller said. “I hear guys catch them. You have to find them first, but once you do you can catch them.’’
Miller expects smallmouth bass and white bass (average size of 12 inches) to be good again. Muskie should be on the plus side, too. In recent surveys, they have found muskie pushing 48 inches.
Hybrids are OK, but not as good as recent years (“very few over 10 pounds’’). Channel catfish are declining for unknown reasons.
A couple mixed signals come. Round gobies have been introduced into Heidecke, probably by a careless fishermen. On the good side, Miller is finally finding more aquatic vegetation, including a good weed bed (Illinois pond weed?) in the restricted zone.
There’s no reason for any optimism, the down trend continues for smelt.
“All data that I have seen, including our spring index gill net surveys, suggest very low smelt abundance,’’ Illinois’ Lake Michigan Program head Vic Santucci emailed.
Regulations for the fading Chicago tradition, which has basically become eating, drinking and socializing, remain the same: Netting is allowed in April, nets may go in 7 p.m., no alcohol and everyone must be out of the parks by 1 a.m.