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Finding the joy of flatheads: A journey toward knowledge and love by Ricky Sjurset

Ricky Sjurset has journeyed to understanding flathead catfish on the Fox River and is leading others along, too.

Ricky Sjurset with ``40 pounds of passion and obsession,’’ a flathead catfish caught last week from the Fox River.

Ricky Sjurset easily remembers his first flathead catfish.

‘‘I hooked into a 30-pound flathead while muskie fishing in the South Elgin area about six years ago,’’ he said after helping his kids with homework Monday. ‘‘I gave up muskie really quick.’’

He was trying the technique of floating suckers and bluegills for muskie on the Fox River while fishing with his uncle Sal Vallejo, who taught him to fish.

‘‘I was a little shocked,’’ he said.

Out of that, Sjurset grew into somebody who runs multiple help groups, including impromptu ones on the Fox, for flatheads. (I plan to get out with him next year.) The biggest group is the ‘‘Flatty on the Fox’’ Facebook page, which has more than 1,200 likes. It offers tips, videos and posting of catches.

That led to the inaugural King of the Fox tournament last year. James Hogeland and his partner won the second one Sept. 7 out of 22 teams and 44 anglers. The tournament ran overnight from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., with a live weigh-in at Continental Fields in Elgin.

Sjurset, who works for a building-supply company and has six children, was born and raised in Elgin (Larkin High School). He played football with the semipro Chicago Chaos during their four-year run of championships.

‘‘After five years of your wife [Brittany] letting you go out every night, four or five times a week, you start to learn the river: patterns, time of the year, river level and water temperature,’’ Sjurset said. ‘‘Most important is consistency of water with temperature. Any cold front shuts them down.’’

He and friends fish the Fox from McHenry to Yorkville. They begin around Yorkville as the water warms and move north as the season progresses.

‘‘Patience,’’ Sjurset said. ‘‘It takes more than an hour or two. One thing I suggest is putting in the time. There are times when you put a week in without getting fish. . . . After you [catch some], it is all worth it.’’

He has caught six flatheads of 40 pounds or heavier, the latest last week, and his biggest was shy of 45 pounds. A year ago, Sjurset and Mike Bogdan earned Fish of the Week honors for a pair of flatheads of 30 and 40 pounds back-to-back.

Sjurset’s two main flathead companions now are tournament partner Dominic Valfre, whom he met last year, and Mike Tuma.

‘‘This is a passion more than a hobby,’’ Sjurset said.

Another view of Ricky Sjurset with ``40 pounds of passion and obsession,’’ a flathead catfish caught last week from the Fox River.

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