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Finding a Weigh: Certified scale and record fish around the Chicago area

Capt. Rick Bentley and Kevin Deram at the weighing of Deram's lake whitefish at the Salmon Stop in 2018.
Provided/Kevin Deram

I still think the Illinois-record smallmouth bass will be caught on the Chicago lakefront. But then I’ve thought that for nearly 20 years.

A few years ago, Tom Palmisano started offering to take the certified portable scale from Henry’s Sports and Bait in Bridgeport to weigh possible state-records that anglers wanted to keep alive.

In October of 2016, Palmisano hustled to the lakefront to weigh a big smallmouth bass Ryan Whitacre had caught. It weighed 6.15 pounds, 4.6 ounces short of Mark Samp’s record smallmouth (6 pounds, 7 ounces, March 26, 1985, Fulton County strip pit). So Whitacre released his smallmouth.

Ryan Whitacre with his 6.15-pound smallmouth bass, ounces short of the Illinois record; it was released after weighing.<br>Provided by Carl Vizzone
Ryan Whitacre with his 6.15-pound smallmouth bass, ounces short of the Illinois record; it was released after weighing.
Provided by Carl Vizzone

If it had been the record, Palmisano had brought along a cooler with treated water to help keep the fish healthy until certified by a biologist.

That brings us to certified scale, necessary for weighing state-record fish. Fish records in Illinois are kept by weight.

April 1 is unofficial start of the new fishing season with new licenses required. And the forecast suggests the weather will finally break next week.

The two most common places where record fish are weighed in the Chicago area are Henry’s or the Salmon Stop in Waukegan.

Lori Ralph at the Salmon Stop cracked hyperbole, “I think we weighed all the fish. I should look through our records.”

In terms of Lake Michigan records, the Salmon Stop weighed a bunch, including the lake whitefish record (Kevin Deram, 8-4, June 29, 2018, Lake Michigan).

But Henry’s for a while had the pride of having weighed three standing state records: Deva Vranek’s brown trout (36-11.5, June 22, 1997, Lake Michigan) and Ken Maggiore’s improbable double records of whitefish and burbot on the same day, March 22, 2017 (both records since surpassed).

Years ago, even some chain stores would weigh possible record fish on their meat scale. That changed dramatically. Occasionally an independent butcher or meat shop will weigh a record fish. The problem of finding certified scale became so acute that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources started floating certified scales last year.

“As far as I know, we have two in this region,” regional fisheries administrator Rob Miller texted. “I believe they weigh up to 150 pounds.”

There’s another thing. If you get a truly big fish, such as a record flathead catfish or bighead carp, it takes a special scale.

Nick Carr at the Kankakee River Trading Post in Altorf has his scale certified to 100 pounds for that reason.

“We pay the extra money for it, but some day it will pay off,” he said.

Park Bait at Montrose Harbor started having a certified scale last year.

So there are some options.

Now, in order, are my predictions of the five fish most likely to break the standing Illinois record: smallmouth, rock bass, yellow bass, whitefish and burbot.

More likely it will be something obscure, say the goldeye record.

HUNTING: The first of two statewide youth spring turkey hunts are Saturday and Sunday.

WILD THINGS: I heard my first turkey of the year gobbling Saturday. Then photographed a flock meandering Downstate Monday. . . . There’s all kinds of migrating birds, most noted have been sandhill cranes.

STRAY CAST: Old pitchers are different than old fish when it comes to records; a hint for a certain fan base.