Opening day: Out with Jimmy and Chaser Ellison for first day on Braidwood Lake

An outing with a father and son, Jimmy and Chaser Ellison, turned into big bass on opening day at Braidwood Lake.

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Chaser Ellison caught our biggest largemouth bass on opening day at Braiwood Lake.

Dale Bowman

Chaser Ellison studiously worked on Texas-rigging a finesse bait Sunday morning as his father Jimmy drifted us on howling southerly winds along the west riprap of Braidwood Lake.

When rigged, Chaser made a couple casts, then exclaimed, ``Big’un. Big’un.’’

Opening day at Braidwood, the cooling lake in southwestern Will County, was one for big ones.

And crowds.

The Ellisons arrived at 4:30 a.m. and were the 16th boat in line. Pete Banach and friends were first in line at 7 Saturday night. “Making ribeyes and fillets and baked potatoes,” he messaged.

Even with the crowds, Jimmy had us launched by 6:08 a.m. He boated the first largemouth bass 10 minutes later. The first pass on the west bank riprap produced 10 largemouth. Shore anglers and other boaters also reported catching fish.

All our bass had thick bodies, something fisheries biologist Seth Love expected.

“According to the fall survey, Largemouth body condition looks pretty good for all length groups (particularly fish over 12 inches),” he emailed. “The largest fish captured [in the survey] was just shy of 20 inches.”

Our second pass on the riprap produced two largemouth and two catfish, including a 10-pounder with a story.

Chaser has a Dobyns rod and Shimano Curado baitcaster reel combo, so sweet it is like a lesson in sensitivity training. While Chaser was changing baits, his dad asked, ``You don’t mind if I catch a fish on your rod, do you?’’

Bam. He fought in the 10-pound catfish.

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Chaser Ellison (left) and his dad Jimmy with the big catfish of opening day on Braidwood Lake.

Dale Bowman

The other story of that drift was Chaser catching our biggest largemouth, a 4 1/2-pounder. I heard him say, ``Oh, my God, oh, my God,’’ and looked over to see him reel it in.

Love mentioned that the average big bass in tournaments in 2019 was heavier than 4.5 pounds, with the biggest tournament big bass heavier than 5 pounds.

I bumped into the Ellisons once before and Amy (mother/wife) later introduced us more fully. I met them again at the state finals for bass fishing last year when Chaser and his Morris team finished fourth.

Beside fishing, Chaser hunts. He was good at baseball, playing shortstop and center field. In high school, he did not go out for baseball because most fishing tournaments are on the weekend.

“He’s been fishing since he was 2 or 3, pond fishing, that is what he started on,” Jimmy said.

For a break from the wind, Jimmy drove us to the cuts. We added another 10 bass there.

We finished the morning back on the riprap. That’s when Ellison rigged his special finesse bait, then boated several 3-pound-plus largemouth in a row.

It was time.

We caught 30 largemouth and two catfish on the morning, most on Rat-L-Traps, but finesse baits, Ned rigs, crankbaits and spinner baits also produced.

Chaser excitedly weighed our top five bass at 17 pounds. Our top six went 20.

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Dawn on opening day in 2020 at Braidwood Lake.

Dale Bowman

BOBCATS: Illinois permit holders filled 335 permits, 306 by harvest (same as 2018-19) and 29 by salvaged road kills.

SPRINGFIELD: Gov J.B. Pritzker named Jerry Costello II, formerly director of law enforcement for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, to be director of the Department of Agriculture. Deputy director Joe Morelock will fill Costello’s role in the interim.

CLASSIC: I will be filing daily online reports from the 50th Bassmaster Classic, beginning tonight. If you’re attending, I would like to hear your thoughts.

WILD THINGS: If you can’t find a spring sign, look for crocuses, red-winged blackbirds, sandhill cranes or randy rabbits.

STRAY CAST: Tilapia in the Chicago River are the piscatorial equivalent of a Minion meme.

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