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Of catfish, hybrids and surprises: The surprises of summer, inland and on Lake Michigan

Taking a look at channel catfish, both the possibility of hybrids inland and the occasional catches on Lake Michigan.

Justin Meyer with his personal best on ultralight tackle, an old channel catfish, was appreciated by his son Payton.

Justin Meyer submitted a 33-inch catfish for Fish of the Week that led me down some side paths.

We are in prime catfish time after all.

Meyer, a Warrenville man, caught it from the East DuPage River on a jig and worm on 4-pound line and an ultralight rod/reel.

``Definitely, personal best on ultralight tackle,’’ he emailed.

But what caught my eye was that he called it a channel/blue hybrid catfish, based on the dorsal fin and coloration.

Looking at it, I guessed it was an old big channel cat. Some aging channel cats lose their dark spots. But channel cats (Ictalurus punctatus) and blues (Ictalurus furcatus) are the same genus, so it could be. Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris), Illinois’ other common catfish, are a different genus.

So I asked Rob Miller, regional fisheries biologist, who worked for decades with the channels at Braidwood and for the last 16 years with the blues there. He said it was not a hybrid, but an old channel. In our area, the primary places to catch blues are at the cooling lakes of LaSalle and Braidwood.

Then Miller added that retired biologist Wayne Herndon, whose 45-year career included managing Powerton Lake, the cooling lake near Pekin that has all three common catfish, thought there might have been some channel/blue hybrids occurring there.

The easiest way, I think, to tell a channel from a blue is the anal fin. It is straight and longer on a blue with 30-35 rays and rounded on channel with 24-29 rays. All the same, especially at Braidwood, I’ve caught catfish that I photographed just so I could look up at home whether they were blues or channels.

Like I said, we are in catfish time. And in perfect timing, last week in the two pages of outdoors coverage in the Sun-Times’ Sports Saturday, Jack Hennessy had the ``Catfish tips and dips’’ recipe in “Braising the Wild.’’

Shortly after Meyer’s note, Bruce Kalinowski emailed, ``Another first aboard Simon Sez.’’

They were fishing in 110 feet of water east of ``The Wreck’’ off Chicago on Sunday.

``Lo and behold, my five color [line] goes of and what do we find on the spoon?’’ he emailed. ``What I thought was a laker. I was wrong.’’

Instead it was a 9-pound catfish.

``I have been fishing this lake for 30-some years, caught perch and drums, never caught a catfish,’’ he emailed. ``We were laughing about it because [Capt.] Scott Wolfe had mentioned this at our [Trollers Unlimited] meeting. He had heard of people catching them.’’

My biggest channel catfish were caught while fishing for smallmouth bass at the Indiana discharges on Lake Michigan.

Wait, there’s more from Kalinowski.

``We were cleaning fish and, lo and behold, our other five-color goes off and what do we find on the line but his twin brother,’’ he emailed. ``The lake is always giving us new things to catch.’’

Jonathan Stockton (left) and Len Celmer hold the twin catfish caught from deep water on Lake Michigan on Bruce Kalinowski’s Simon Sez.

WILD THINGS: I had feared mosquitoes would be unbearable this summer because of our wet spring/summer. So far, I haven’t found it worse than usual. . . . Purely from personal observation, not compiled data, I am seeing fewer fireflies than usual. . . . Rabbits are the opposite.

The weather seems to have agreed with rabbit reproduction this year, this one sat still for a photo last month.
Dale Bowman

STRAY CAST: The Sox? An ounce weight on the smallest Thill Float. The Cubs? Running a Rebel Crawfish through water willow. Bears? First cast. Bulls? Bushwhacking an unknown stream. Fire? Tapping the GPS.