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Illinois fishing: Surprising life of yellow perch record

DIAMOND, Ill.–Joe Grega climbed a stepladder, then lifted the mount of his Illinois record yellow perch, framed between crossed guns and baseball artifacts, from a corner wall in his garage/man cave. He plucked spider web strands, then lightly blew away dust.

Grega’s perch is the longest standing significant fish record in Illinois. He caught the 16 1/4-inch fish, weighing 2 pounds, 8.75 ounces, on Jan. 5, 1974 while fishing through the ice at Arrowhead Club in Coal City. It is now part of Braidwood Lake.

Even Grega, a retired welder/maintenance man, is surprised his record stands.

“I heard stories of guys who said they caught bigger ones,’’ Grega said last week. “I am surprised it has stood this long. I keep thinking it is going to be broken.’’

I used to think it would from Lake Michigan, but, as years pass, I think not.

As with any fish record, a bit of luck was involved; but Grega is also an outdoorsman. His duck boat is a prime piece in his garage.

“Right fish at the right time,’’ he describes it.

The history sticks with him.

He was not a member of the Arrowhead Club, but fate intervened. A school friend, Greg Washburn, and his dad were going to fish the club. But two of Washburn’s dad’s buddies canceled, so Grega was invited.

“I said, `Hell, I will,’ ‘’ Grega said of his historic decision.

Washburn had his own history. The Coal City native had been drafted by the Angels and reached the majors in 1969 before arm trouble ended his career.

Grega was armed, as usual, with wax worms he was fishing on something like 2-pound line with a regular rod when he hooked a fish.

“I was bringing it up and said, `Boy, I got a nice one,’ ‘’ he remembered. “Then I looked as it was closer to the hole and said, `Holy —-, it’s a perch.’ ‘’

As he pulled it on the ice, the line broke.

“The better half was on the ice,’’ Grega said. “To this day, I do not know if I hit it on the ice with my foot or my hand.’’

But there it was. They threw it in a cooler with snow in it.

“We preceded to drag it from tavern to tavern,’’ Grega said.

At Bum’s in Carbon Hill, a kid told Grega he had just looked at records in Sports & Field or a similar magazine and it was a record.

Grega called the conservation police, who told him to have it weighed on certified scale. First he went to the Coal City Post Office, where it registered three ounces more than the recognized weight.

At Bellettini’s grocery, no longer in Coal City, it weighed 2 pounds, 8.75 ounces. That was also the weight when it was confirmed by biologist Jim Langbein, who retired eight years agoago, at Basecamp Sports in Shorewood.

Grega has multiple copies of the Will County Sportsman, where there was a short article and photo of Langbein with Grega at Basecamp Sports. That was it for publicity.

“I guess it is my only notoriety,’’ Grega said. “But I guess it was being in the right place at the right time.’’