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The joy of surprise fish: Muskie to flathead, Chinook to pike

From trolling for muskie to catching a flathead to trying for Chinook to boating a northern pike, surprise fish bring their own source of joy.

Joseph Vaccaro caught a surprise northern pike while trying for fall Chinook near Calumet Harbor.

Sometimes the wrong fish is just right.

Take Christian Otto or Joseph Vaccaro.

Otto, a noted muskie angler on the Chain O’Lakes, was trolling a custom crankbait on Sept. 1 when he caught a fish —“right size, wrong shape!’’— a flathead catfish of 40 pounds. His best muskie on the Chain was 49 1/4 inches, estimated at 33-35 pounds.

Christian Otto with a big flathead catfish caught while trolling for muskie on the Chain O’Lakes.

Vaccaro of Tinley Park was seeking Chinook on Sept. 8 when he latched into this northern pike on a white Wiggle Wart trolled in the prop wash over the weed beds just outside of Calumet Harbor. His uncle Bruce Noworul put him on the pike and was able to fit it in the net.

“This one was special though as I was with my dad and my uncle under rougher than usual conditions,’’ Vaccaro said.

Both of these fish were submitted for Fish of the Week, but I found their common thread of surprise fish made them worthy of a separate story together.

FOTW, the celebration of big fish and their stories (the stories matter) around Chicago fishing, runs Wednesdays in the Sun-Times. Submit nominations by message on Facebook (Dale Bowman), on Twitter and Instagram (@BowmanOutside) or email (