Chasing walleye, seeking crappie: Heidecke with John Mannerino

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The trolling motor down and trying for walleye and crappie with John Mannerino Monday at Heidecke Lake.
Credit: Dale Bowman

MORRIS, Ill. — That’s Heidecke.

Even hokey slogans hold some kernel of truth.

Heidecke Lake, a former cooling lake, can be maddeningly frustrating and memory-making, sometimes in the same hour.

As John Mannerino trolled the south side of the center dike Monday, a boat tight to the riprap with a man and three older teens cast crankbaits on shore. As we passed, the man said one teen had caught a 25-inch walleye.

I easily believe that.

Oddly enough, as we went out, one of the first things Mannerino said was: ‘‘Follow the bait. When the carp are spawning, get up shallow.’’

Spawning carp signal magic time at Heidecke. It’s about water temperature and the thrashing of the carp tight to the riprap. It’s usually early in May, but this year is odd because of the yo-yoing weather.

I get out with Mannerino, a North Side plumber and former tournament fisherman, every few years. He runs a tackle business and guides on Heidecke (mainly for walleye and crappie) in April, May and June.

‘‘Then it is me and Mama time,’’ he said.

The odd spring and high water make getting under the bridge tough. We didn’t try because Mannerino believed the wind forecast. It was a good decision: We would have had trouble getting back under later.

Mannerino set us up with a three-way rig, with a half-crawler or a leech on a Super Death Hook (odd-looking but very effective), and one rod with a crankbait.

John Mannerino with the first walleye Monday at Heidecke Lake.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

John Mannerino with the first walleye Monday at Heidecke Lake.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Looking at his electronics, he said: ‘‘There’s my fish, right where they are supposed to be. Come on, let’s play.’’

We had a walleye of about 14½ inches (minimum is 16 inches) within a few minutes. That would be it for walleye, but we caught plenty of good yellow bass and some feisty drum.

‘‘When I guided on the Mississippi, people asked me what I fun-fished for, and I said, ‘Sheephead [drum], especially when they hit jigs or spoons,’ ’’ Mannerino said.

I like people who like drum, but that’s not what we were after.

‘‘Let’s go get some crappie,’’ Mannerino said. ‘‘Let’s try hand-to-hand combat, then we’ll troll for them.’’

I cast and counted down soft plastics while Mannerino tried search baits (jigging spoons, crankbaits and soft plastics). We marked all kinds of crappie and missed a few taps, but we couldn’t boat one.

‘‘Crappie are really hit-and-miss this year,’’ Mannerino said. ‘‘But when they’re on, they’re really on.’’

That’s Heidecke.

When you find them, troll No. 7 or No. 5 Flicker Shads or jig with soft plastics. Mannerino said soft plastics have been better than minnows.

We couldn’t find biters, so in the early afternoon Mannerino switched to wind-blown riprap. I pulled two largemouth bass off a point with a no-longer-made Frenzy of iridescent color.

It was time.

But I wanted to watch Mannerino cast and work an umbrella rig he makes for crappie and white bass. For another half-hour, we talked about life, fishing and seminars while he worked over the riprap and point with precision casts, drawing one hit.

That’s Heidecke.

For Mannerino, go to

Wild things

Keith Vandermeir emailed Saturday about cottonwood fluff in DuPage County: ‘‘It looks like it’s snowing out at Blackwell Forest Preserve.’’

The next morning, I spotted fluff drifting around our town pond as I rambled with Lady, our family mutt.

• Bullfrogs gave throaty voice around local ponds and lakes.

Stray cast

Having Chris Sale on the White Sox was like catching an Illinois-record bighead carp.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.


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