Pink salmon earns Fish of the Year

Pink salmon earn Fish of the Year honors, a bit of an unorthodox FOTY because the honor usually goes to an individual angler and fish.

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Laurance Reed holds his male pink salmon with the distinctive humped back near spawn, caught in September at a North Side Harbor. Provided photo

Laurance Reed holds his male pink salmon with the distinctive humped back near spawn, caught in September at a North Side Harbor.

Provided

What an odd year for pink salmon.

They earn Fish of the Year, which usually goes to an individual angler and fish.

Two Illinois records were caught. Others were in record range but weren’t identified until later. Laurance Reed caught a male with the distinctive hump in his back on the lakefront, a rare Chicago sight.

Alex Niemiec with his older brother Kevin and their dad Robert and their super super slam—Chinook, coho, brown trout, steelhead, lake trout, pink salmon—caught July 10 with Capt. Gerry Urbanozo out of North Point Marina. Provided photo

Alex Niemiec with his older brother Kevin and their dad Robert and their super super slam—Chinook, coho, brown trout, steelhead, lake trout, pink salmon—caught July 10 with Capt. Gerry Urbanozo out of North Point Marina.

Provided

Alex Niemiec got pinks noticed on July 10 when he caught the Illinois record while fishing with his older brother Kevin and their dad Robert with Capt. Gerry Urbanozo out of North Point Marina. It weighed 3.9 pounds at Lake Michigan Angler in Winthrop Harbor.

They boated a super super slam—Chinook, coho, lake trout, brown trout, steelhead and pink salmon—maybe the only one of that sort in Illinois.

Niemiec’s record only lasted until Aug. 4 when Karre Cromwell caught the current record (4.9 pounds, weighed at Lake Michigan Angler) while fishing with Capt. Bob Poteshman on “Confusion” out of North Point.

Cheryl Kranz (left) and Stacy Brady (right) with Karre Cromwell and her Illinois record pink salmon, caught Aug. 4 on the “Confusion” with Capt. Bob Poteshman out of North Point Marina. Provided photo

Cheryl Kranz (left) and Stacy Brady (right) with Karre Cromwell and her Illinois record pink salmon, caught Aug. 4 on the “Confusion” with Capt. Bob Poteshman out of North Point Marina.

Provided

Reed caught his humpbacked pink in September at a North Side harbor. Males develop a hump in their backs before spawning, hence “humpbacks.” He completed a one-of-a-kind feat in the same month with a Chinook and coho on the same K.O. Wobbler, chrome with a blue stripe, from shore at the same harbor.

Pinks “were introduced to Lake Superior in very small numbers at Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada in 1956,” according to “Pink Salmon Populations in the U.S. Waters of Lake Superior, 1981–1984” in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

The U.S. Geological Survey noted pinks were the first salmon “to develop a self-sustaining population [in the Great Lakes]. . . ; however, it has not become abundant.”

Odd thing is why this year.

After the second Illinois record, Vic Santucci, Lake Michigan program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, emailed, “It’s interesting that pinks usually showed up in higher numbers in Illinois waters in odd numbered years. I am not sure why this year is different. I am hearing reports of nice pinks being caught all up and down the Illinois shoreline, even in Chicago.”

Last week, he emailed a possibility, “From Michigan DNR about pink salmon: Fun fact: the pink salmon ordinarily spawn every two years, but enough one and three-year-old salmon spawn to make spawning runs an annual occurrence, with the largest runs occurring during odd-numbered years.”

That leaves the likely possibilities that they were either big 2020 year-class pinks or 3-year-olds. Santucci leans toward the first theory, “conditions must have been right for the 2020 year class to have good survival and growth leading to good numbers of big fish in our waters this summer.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists pinks as “the smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America, weighing between 3.5 and 5 pounds, with an average length of 20 to 25 inches.” Distinguishing marks are “large dark oval spots on their back and entire tail fin.”

Poteshman gave his tip, “Scales are microscopic, almost iridescent. It’s pretty easy when you get it in the net and see the scales.”

Urbanozo, a Lake County Health Department biologist whose favorite college class was ichthyology, was sure Niemiec had a pink and knew it was in record range.

“When we got back to the dock I told them to hang their catch on the fish rack,” he messaged. “That’s when I noticed the oval spots on the tail even more and the scales were much smaller than the coho. I checked the mouth and realized it was black with some grey mixed in. Definitely not a coho and definitely not a king!”

Wild things

Nice to see vivid sun dogs in the cold. . . . Readers reported smaller flights of sandhills moving in the coldest weather.

Illinois hunting

First portion of the special CWD/late winter antlerless deer season is Thursday through Sunday.

Stray Cast

Watching “The Polar Express” feels like spelunking.

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