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Opening day glory: The joy of Braidwood Lake reopening to fishing

Matt Bach fishes in the rolling steam as dawn comes Friday on opening day at Braidwood Lake.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Taillights early Friday lined the drive to the south ramp of Braidwood Lake. The cooling lake in southwest Will County returns to glory.

But there’s another reason for excitement. As the guy prepping his boat behind me noted: ‘‘It’s been a [bleeping] miserable winter.’’

Friday was a welcome respite.

As usual, Braidwood was the first of our cooling lakes to reopen with its traditional March 1 opener.

Fishing met the anticipation.

A boat works the west riprap while steam rolls of Braidwood Lake Friday on opening day.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
A boat works the west riprap while steam rolls of Braidwood Lake Friday on opening day.
Credit: Dale Bowman

When I talked with fisheries biologist Rob Miller, he was optimistic about the largemouth bass and blue catfish.

Part of that is because the fishing consultant for Exelon found that threadfin shad have rebounded. Gizzard shad continue to skew large, and the smaller ones are missing.

‘‘Threadfin were doing well, about 15 percent of total fish,’’ Miller said.

Blues to 38 inches-plus were surveyed. Annual stockings of largemouth continue, and lots of smaller ones were found, with some to 18½ inches.

Hybrid striped bass have not been stocked for several years. Numbers are down, but if you get one, it should be big. Stockings of hybrids and blues should be back this year.

Bluegills have been down, in part because phragmites make getting to them tough, and they’re mainly smaller ones. Channel catfish remain ‘‘a dime a dozen,’’ also mostly smaller.

One curious thing Miller noted is that there is some natural reproduction of flathead catfish.

The excitement is justified. When site staff opened the gate 10 minutes early, the line flared forward.

I made my first cast in the dark before 6 a.m. When I passed Matt Bach and Brian Pentecost, Pentecost already had a largemouth. He would catch a bunch of big ones.

I didn’t have a hit for the first hour, then I lost a big catfish when it snapped the line at 7:08. A couple of minutes later, I caught a channel catfish. I would have kept it, but I didn’t feel like lugging it the mile back.

By 7:58, I reached the fence that ends shore fishing and caught my first largemouth on a silver Skitter Pop. Then I caught my first quality largemouth on a white spinner. Other lures that caught fish were a red spinner and a blue Frenzy.

I was rusty and flubbed a big catfish when it snapped the line. I lost what would have been my biggest bass in years when it jumped and threw the Frenzy.

All the boaters I talked with were catching bass, even good numbers. Virtually all the shore guys were catching, from largemouth to bluegills to catfish to blues.

I accomplished my main goals: I caught my first fish of the year on a topwater, I caught several fish (5-for-8 in four hours) and I again was first to hike the 1½ miles to the end of shore fishing on the west riprap.

Finally, a shout-out to the dads who pulled their sons out of school for opening day. They know the meaning of, ‘‘It was time.’’

Braidwood Lake is open daily from 6 a.m. to sunset.

Yours truly with one of the largemouth bass he caught Friday on opening day at Braidwood Lake; my biggest bass went 16 inches.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Yours truly with one of the largemouth bass he caught Friday on opening day at Braidwood Lake; my biggest bass went 16 inches.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times