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Chicago perch opener: First morning and broader perspective

The perch opener Sunday on the Chicago lakefront drew spotty results, but with quality fish, in a year with promise for perch fishing overall.

Resized/Sun-Times
Still life of perch fishing at dawn Sunday on the Montrose Horseshoe on opening day of perch fishing.
Dale Bowman

If it had been anybody other than Danny Borgert, I would’ve called b.s. when he said he caught a 15-inch perch Sunday morning. But Borgert is one of the best on the Chicago lakefront. Plus, he pulled out his phone and showed a perch that looked even longer than 15 inches, though it was relatively thin.

‘‘I saw that big one, and I said, ‘Nope, I’m letting that one go,’ ’’ Borgert said. ‘‘I have no idea how old that one is.’’

Resized/Sun-Times
Danny Borgert fishing perch on opening morning Sunday at Montrose Harbor (notice a few perch in his basket).
Dale Bowman

Fishing for yellow perch reopened Sunday on the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan. My plan was to hit Montrose Harbor around 4 a.m., spend an hour there, then spot-hop to Diversey Harbor, Northerly Island and 31st Street or 39th Street before going to church. I had a four-hour window, my Father’s Day fishing time.

Plans changed. On my first cast, I hooked a jumbo on a double-jig setup with fatheads. But I only landed one more, a half-hour later. I should have guessed perch might be spotty when the Montrose Horseshoe seemed to have more anglers targeting freshwater drum (use soft shells or pond crabs) than chasing perch.

Resized/Sun-Times
Good start on opening morning Sunday on the Montrose Horseshoe, but another dozen like that would have been even nicer.
Dale Bowman

I tried about everything besides the double-jig rig: a crappie rig, a jig and minnow and even ripping a jigging spoon. So I started spot-hopping around Montrose and bumped into Borgert.

I didn’t feel so bad when he had only four keepers.

As to general prospects, Lake Michigan Program manager Vic Santucci had this take: ‘‘It is always hard to make predictions with Lake Michigan fishing, but I am cautiously optimistic about perch fishing this year, especially in waters off Chicago. We have been following the 2015 and 2016 perch-year classes since they showed up in our beach seine surveys as young-of-year fish. Both year classes are getting old enough that they should be recruiting to the angler harvest this year.

‘‘Of course, we will have to see how the summer plays out because, in recent years, perch have not been coming in to shore as much during summer as they did in the past. I am not sure if this is a function of lower perch abundance or changes in lake ecology (e.g., changing food availability near shore or clearer water).

‘‘The [Illinois Natural History Survey] creel surveys indicate greater harvest during November through December than during summer in some recent years. The fall perch fishery off Chicago has occurred for year. It is the lower summer harvest that is different from what we saw in the past.’’

That last paragraph is the goods, another curious thing about our changing Lake Michigan.

If you haven’t been on the lakefront recently, the impact of the high water levels are real. I wore high rubber boots. That allowed me to fish a couple of spots I couldn’t have otherwise. Also, the constant high water and slopping has made some areas slick with algae, so walk carefully.

Zilian tournament

King Salukis had the only take of four species (Chinook, coho, lake trout, steelhead) Monday in the Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament. The biggest of only two steelhead (17 pounds, 2.5 ounces) anchored King Salukis’ victory. Zamboati had the biggest Chinook (23-9.5), King Fisher had the biggest coho (6-5.5) and Massive Confusion had the biggest laker (15-6.5) and the other steelhead. No brown trout were caught.

In the outdoors package in the Sports Saturday wrapper of the Sun-Times, I’ll take a look at the meaning of the unique tournament.

Wild things

Again, a wet spring leads to lush vegetation and a plethora of backyard rabbits. I can’t be the only one who noticed.

Stray cast

Feeling the buzz back in the Sox-Cubs series is as fun as the rebound of Chinook and coho on southern Lake Michigan.