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In praise of northern pike: Finding the place of one of Illinois’ top predators, plus Stray Cast

Trying to put northern pike in its place as a top predator in Illinois, one that has a growing presence on the Chicago lakefront; plus the Stray Cast.

Sal Macais with the good northern pike he caught and released on the Chicago lakefront. Provided photo
Sal Macais with the good northern pike he caught and released on the Chicago lakefront.

Sal Macias emailed that he had ‘‘a classic fisherman’s story.’’

And he did.

‘‘I was fishing the lakefront around the Shedd [Aquarium] and, after about half an hour of bumps and follow-ups, finally hooked up,’’ he emailed. ‘‘To my surprise, it was a northern [pike]. As I tried to land it, it shook its head and cut my line. Needless to say, it got away.

‘‘So about 30 minutes later, I hooked a second one. This time, with patience, I got it. After releasing it, I kept casting and had a big one following my lure. Didn’t get it, but I could see my chartreuse lure in its mouth. By the way, the one that got away was bigger.’’

The big one that got away is another classic.

Interest in pike on the lakefront is one of the greatest changes in the last 25 years.

‘‘I don’t have any data to support it, but from angler reports, there does seem to be good numbers of healthy pike in and around our harbors in recent years,’’ Lake Michigan program manager Vic Santucci emailed. ‘‘I would credit the increase to clear water allowing more vegetation growth and possibly warmer temperatures extending the growing season.’’

A couple of days after Macias sent his story, Wayne Hankins went into Henry’s Sports and Bait to ask about the state record. He had a grainy photo of a pike he had caught and released late at night after work at Belmont Harbor. It was caught on a Big Dude lure on 12-pound Trilene on a 9 1/2-foot Daiwa crappie rod, then released.

The late Walter Klenzak caught the long-standing Illinois-record northern pike (26 pounds, 15 ounces) on Nov. 9, 1989, from Monster Lake, now part of Mazonia South. According to, it came on a Hellbender lure.

When I told Hankins the record, he said, ‘‘He didn’t weigh that much.’’

State record or not, there’s joy in catching pike. They grow big, they are one of our most beautifully marked native fish, they fight hard and they hit lures and live bait aggressively.

Take Katie Hall with her personal-best catch. Her husband, James, emailed: ‘‘Our whole family went out fishing [earlier this month] at a private club my father is a member of. She caught this northern within the first hour of us fishing.’’

And speaking of striking aggressively, he added: ‘‘She caught it throwing a buzzbait. We were working some topwater baits in a shallow, weedy flat area. She made a perfect cast between a few weed mats. She took about five or six turns of the reel when this northern came out and absolutely smashed the buzzbait. She fought it perfectly, walking around the boat and keeping tension on the fish the whole time. Definitely a proud husband moment.’’

That sums up the pike experience.

Katie Hall holds her personal-best catch, a good northern pike caught at a private club. Provided photo
Katie Hall holds her personal-best catch, a good northern pike caught at a private club.


Regulations at Shabbona Lake are now no-wake for boats. It previously was limited to 10-horsepower or under.

Wild things

This gem came from the fall-color report for northeastern Illinois from ‘‘Persimmons are starting to blush apricot and muted yellow; oaks are sliding closer to the full extent of their glory but remain days or even weeks away from peak.’’

Unfortunately for those of us who gather persimmons, the first frost will not come until November. A good frost takes the edge off persimmons.

Illinois hunting

Duck and Canada goose seasons open Saturday in the central zone. . . . Crow season opens Thursday.

Stray cast

Professional football in Chicago has a similar history to fishing Heidecke Lake on a calm, high-sky day.