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Lake Michigan perch and perspective: At least trying to put the two together

Hundreds of fishermen descended on the lakefront, such as these on the jetty at Montrose Harbor, Saturday for the reopening of perch season.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Bam! After my second cast Saturday morning, I had a keeper perch on ice in my cooler.

And thoughts turned to 2015 or 1986.

Yellow perch are notoriously cyclical. So is fishing for perch. So it was no surprise I didn’t get another keeper Saturday, the reopening of perch fishing on the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan.

But there is real hope for perch fishing on southern Lake Michigan, even if the opening days have been up-and-down for perch up and down the Chicago lakefront.

In March, the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant held two Lake Michigan workshops in Illinois. The first was at the Chicago Maritime Museum and the second at North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor.

I’ve covered conferences about perch on southern Lake Michigan for decades. Rarely is there even a sliver of hope. That has changed.

Credit the historic-year 2015 class on southern Lake Michigan. It was historic for initial size, and the class appears to be surviving into a sustaining force.

Charlie Roswell, an assistant research scientist in aquatic ecology for the Illinois Natural History Survey, gave presentations with encouraging data, the kind that fishermen can understand.

One thing he noted is that peak harvest on a year class is at four years, which would be next year for the 2015 class.

In 2017, fishermen had a release rate of 78.4 percent. That’s a stat almost any fisherman who fished the South Side slips during the winter understands. Fishermen sorted through 5- and 6-inch perch for keepers.

‘‘That’s a sign of a lot of small fish out there, potentially a good sign,’’ Roswell said.

Speaking of the South Side slips in winter, he noted that winter harvest is becoming more important in Illinois. It is also more stable than summer perch fishing. Again, considering the thousands who hit the slips last winter, I think fishermen understand that shift.

Roswell also sounded note of caution, which those of us who remember the glory years of perch can understand. In 1986, perch harvest was two per hour; now, even with the 2015 class, it is a half-perch per hour.

The INHS will be doing another important winter survey in 2018-19.

‘‘I think it will be exciting to collect data in the coming year,’’ Roswell said.

Fishermen should feel excited, too. Surveys by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources also are encouraging, including record hauls in summer.

‘‘Heck of a bump of fish coming through the system,’’ noted Steve Robillard, a longtime biologist with the Lake Michigan Program.

In the 1-inch mesh net in 2017, there were more than 300 perch per 100 feet of net at Lake Bluff.

‘‘We have seen nothing like that all the way back to the 1970s,’’ Robillard said.

There are no definite answers as to why some years have good classes.

Robillard also pointed to the incredible growth rate in the 2015 class. Some were already 8 inches last year after only two years.

‘‘Kind of nice I can come up here and give some good news,’’ Robillard said at his Chicago Maritime Museum presentation. ‘‘Things are looking up. That is the takeaway message.’’

Now if only promising data translates to perch on ice.

Perch fishing at Montrose Harbor in Chicago, a stilllfife.<br>Dale Bowman/SunTimes
Perch fishing at Montrose Harbor in Chicago, a stilllfife.
Dale Bowman/SunTimes

Wild things

I’m one day from beating the neighborhood kids and birds to picking the first raspberries.

Raspberries about to ripen 2018.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Raspberries about to ripen 2018.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Stray cast

I never thought anything would be more over the top than a zone meeting about waterfowl hunting, but the maudlin hubbub around the Tribune Tower exodus tops that by more than the 10 miles between I-80 and Lorenzo Road.