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Rock bass big enough for Illinois record: Reasons why not worth seeing

Matt Bach with his record-sized rock bass.

Matt Bach caught a rock bass May 9 big enough to be the Illinois record. But it won’t be.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources made the right call, but Bach’s experience illustrates the need to consider how Illinois fish records are kept with modern recording devices and catch-and-release regulations.

Illinois’ rock-bass record fascinates me. It’s one of the longest-standing records (30 years), and I think it has been beaten many times on the Chicago lakefront.

George Nielson caught the record (1 pound, 10 ounces) on May 5, 1987, from Aux Sable Creek in Grundy County. I tracked him down in Crestwood years ago to talk.

That sets it up for Bach, 35, of Wheeling. He was in a rowboat at Three Oaks Recreation Area (catch-and-release) in Crystal Lake, a premium public spot around Chicago, hoping to sight-fish for smallmouth bass. Winds made that too difficult.

“So around 1 p.m., I went to an area in front of the beach that was known for smallmouth bedding,” he emailed.

Bach positioned a 360fly 4K Ultra-HD camera, which records 360-degree video, in the middle of the boat and started recording. He threw out a 3.8-inch Keitech swimbait on a quarter-ounce orange swimbait head on a G. Loomis drop-shot rod with 8-pound fluorocarbon.

“I was drifting and dragging the bottom when, a few minutes into the clip, the rock bass hit,” he emailed. “When I landed the fish on camera, you could see me pop the lure out of its mouth, ensuring it was not foul-hooked. I immediately knew this was a special fish.”

He took multiple selfies with his iPhone 7. He measured it on his tackle box with inch markers (later verified at 12.5 inches with a width of about 5 inches). He didn’t have a tape measure to get the girth. He recorded all this.

“I then proceeded to weigh it with my Berkley Big Game Lip Grip digital scale, which is a $60 scale that weighs up to 30 pounds,” he noted.

His rock bass weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces both times.

The key components to documenting an Illinois-record fish are legally caught, weighed on a certified scale, witnessed by two people and verified by a biologist.

Until this point, Bach could have made a strong case for having the state record. A scale can be checked afterward for accuracy, and the biologist probably could OK a rock bass (unlike some possible hybrids) from photos or video.

But Bach lost me when he didn’t get two witnesses.

He said he thought about it.

“With that type of wind out there and low battery to my trolling motor, I knew it was going to take me 15 or 20 minutes just to get back to the marina,” he emailed.

He had a quandary.

“I had to make the difficult decision to release her,” he emailed. “The entire clip was recorded, about 14 minutes from start time to land/measure/weigh/release. I knew it was a long shot, but I did contact the DNR to see if I had enough to support a record.”

Biologist Andy Plauck could not verify it as an Illinois record. That was the right call, but Bach’s story is worth considering for tweaking the record system in Illinois.

As somebody who tracks big-fish stories, the last thing I want are phony-baloney catch-and-release records. But we should be able to tweak with the core values of Illinois fish records: legally caught, biologist-verified, certified or verified scale and independent witnesses.

Wild things

In the last week, I’ve found three young robins on the ground and had a neighbor ask me what to do with 10 baby rabbits. Before you ask, my answer is, “Leave them alone and keep your ‘adorable’ house cat indoors.”

Stray cast

Cubs brass is as good at assessing meteorological projections as too many fishermen.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.