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Fish of the Year: Saga of record bighead carp bests other worthy candidates around Chicago fishing

The long journey into the night for Jarrett Knize and his Illinois-record bighead carp, caught from the Humboldt Park Lagoon, earned Fish of the Year honors.

Jarrett Knize wheeling his Illinois-record bighead carp across North Avenue (looking west) toward home. Credit: Daisy Schultz
Jarrett Knize wheeling his Illinois-record bighead carp across North Avenue (looking west) toward home.
Daisy Schultz

Jarrett Knize’s bighead carp of 72 pounds, 9 ounces takes Fish of the Year. But there was worthy competition.

‘‘I’m grateful for all the people who made it fun,’’ Knize said Monday. ‘‘You can’t land and certify an almost 73-pound fish in Chicago without a lot of help.’’

On Nov. 8, with girlfriend Marina Ungaretti out of town, Knize went bass fishing on the Humboldt Park lagoon. That afternoon turned into a journey into night.

‘‘The [largemouth bass] I caught 45 minutes earlier was deeper than I normally catch them,’’ Knize said shortly after his catch. ‘‘If I hadn’t caught that one, I would not have made the cast that caught this fish.’’

He caught the bighead on a lipless crankbait, and an epic battle ensued. Neighbor Holden Head circled from the other side to meet him. After a half-hour, Knize sent Head to fetch Knize’s big salmon net.

Knize realized he needed something to lug the invasive carp after it was landed. Head brought back a shopping cart Knize had found in an alley. Neighbor Daisy Schultz took an epic photo of Knize wheeling it across North Avenue.

That began the quest to certify it. He called Fish Tech in Morton Grove, which sent him to Park Bait at Montrose Harbor, where Cory Gecht kept the shop open late. But it was heavier than the certified scale there.

Then it was on to Bridgeport, where Tom Palmisano opened Henry’s Sports and Bait. It weighed 72-9 on the biggest certified scale. Randy Koronkiewicz and Palmisano witnessed the weighing. Jack Bailey caught the previous-record bighead — 69 pounds — May 4, 2010, from the Kaskaskia River.

Biologist Frank Jakubicek certified the weight and the specis two days later at Henry’s. He took the fish. The head was sent to Southern Illinois University, where otolith microchemistry will determine things such as its origins. Results are not in yet.

‘‘Unfortunately, 20-ish years ago, it was apparent that bigheads were mixed with catfish and stocked from an out-of-state fish hauler for some fishing programs,’’ messaged Kevin Irons, Illinois’ assistant chief of fisheries. ‘‘The ones we find are quite old, generally. It is very important to report such catches.’’

Fisheries chief Mike McClelland approved the record Nov. 18. Knize’s bighead was the biggest record fish in Illinois since James Klauzer’s record flathead catfish (81-6.4 on Aug. 29, 2015, from Sangchris Lake).

Ungaretti had a print made of Schultz’s ‘‘Abbey Road’’ photo for Knize, whose uncle had a shirt made of another photo.

It was a good year for record fish in Illinois. Two other record fish — lake trout (Dr. Atul Mallik, 39-2.6 on May 31 from Lake Michigan) and shorthead redhorse (Olaf Nelson, 4-12.8 on April 9 from Big Rock Creek) — and a near-record (Mark Strauss’ 36-pound Chinook) came from the Chicago area. Two other records, for shovelnose sturgeon from the Rock River, are pending as they wait on genetic testing.

‘‘Just goes to show, if you go fishing when you have the time — even an hour — you can catch anything,’’ Knize said.

Illinois hunting

The first segment of CWD/late-winter antlerless season runs Thursday to Sunday.

Wild things

Ryan Baranowski messaged a photo of sandhills at Lake Forest Hospital and noted they’re there ‘‘almost all year.’’ Marianne Hahn spotted a man scanning the skies as she drove to Christmas dinner in Naperville, so she rolled down her window and ‘‘heard a bunch of sandhills. Amazing. On Christmas Day!’’

Stray cast

Take your pick: Sandhills on Christmas, sticking snow in Seattle or the Bears winning.