Jumbo yellow perch and winter fishing on the Chicago lakefront lead to thoughts of Joe Grega

Traditionally, winter perch in Chicago are smaller, yet there has been some lifetime jumbos caught so far this fall and winter, which brought back memories of visiting Joe Grega and his Illinois record yellow perch.

SHARE Jumbo yellow perch and winter fishing on the Chicago lakefront lead to thoughts of Joe Grega
Jumbo perch, such as this pair caught by Casey Shell and his dad Jim off Chicago, have been caught by some perch anglers around Chicago the past couple weeks.

Jumbo perch, such as this pair caught by Casey Shell and his dad Jim off Chicago, have been caught by some perch anglers around Chicago the past couple weeks.

Provided

My thoughts turned to Joe Grega.

As they should with the size of some yellow perch caught the last couple of weeks on Lake Michigan from shore or from boats near shore.

Late fall/winter has become the season of perch fishing.

In 2015, I visited Grega at his home to talk about his Illinois-record perch (2 pounds, 8.75 ounces), which he caught Jan. 5, 1974, from the old Arrowhead Club, now part of Braidwood Lake.

It was then and still is the longest-standing significant fish record in Illinois.

Grega, who climbed a stepladder to bring down the mount from its place of honor amid crossed guns and baseball artifacts, understood the unlikeliness of it.

‘‘I heard stories of guys who said they caught bigger ones,’’ he said. ‘‘I am surprised it has stood this long. I keep thinking it is going to be broken.’’

Even back in 2015, Joe Grega expressed surprise that the yellow perch he caught Jan. 5, 1974 was still standing as the Illinois record. It’s still standing. Credit: Dale Bowman

Even back in 2015, Joe Grega expressed surprise that the yellow perch he caught Jan. 5, 1974 was still standing as the Illinois record. It’s still standing.

Dale Bowman

I wonder about our perch.

Most recently, I’m curious about the size of some perch — in part because winter-caught perch overall are smaller than spring/summer catches.

‘‘Given growth rates of perch in southern Lake Michigan, we can assume that the jumbo perch you are speaking of are several years old and likely from the relatively strong 2015 or 2016 year classes,’’ Lake Michigan program manager Vic Santucci emailed.

I wonder why perch come back to those sheltered areas (slips, harbors, the Calumet and Chicago rivers), generally in late November.

‘‘I can only assume that it is related to food availability and/or protection from harsher conditions in the main lake, especially for young-of-year and yearling fish,’’ Santucci emailed.

Charlie Roswell, an assistant aquatic ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, had an interesting aside in Appendix B — ‘‘Winter Yellow Perch Angling Effort and Catch in Chicago’’ — in the INHS’ most recent ‘‘A Survey of Sport Fishing in the Illinois Portion of Lake Michigan.’’

‘‘High winds may drive anglers to seek sheltered areas, and prolonged periods of high winds can increase turbidity (anglers often attribute poor catch rates to turbidity, C. Roswell personal observations) through wave action.’’

The conclusion from those winter creel surveys in 2020-21 and 2021-22 show what winter perch mean to Chicago, ‘‘representing around nine-tenths of the total estimated perch harvest. . . . The perch harvest this winter represented a larger proportion of total annual perch harvest than any of the eight previous winter surveys conducted since 1985.’’

Santucci summed up: ‘‘For now, I think we are seeing periodic strong year classes and recruitment to harvestable sizes and patchier distributions that lead to on-and-off-again perch fishing as fish move around to their preferred habitats and locations throughout the year.’’

Wild things

Again, there were many reports of sandhill cranes moving around the Chicago area over the weekend.

Illinois hunting

Because of a permitting issue, the application deadline for the first lottery for spring turkey hunting was extended to Friday.

Muzzleloader deer season is Friday through Sunday. When harvest numbers come for the second portion of the firearm season, I will post them at chicago.suntimes.com/outdoors.

Stray cast

Watching ‘‘Yellowstone’’ is reminiscent of spawning sturgeon on the Wolf River.

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