High hopes for Heidecke Lake fishing: Prospects look good for the season, despite a brutal opener
Hopes are high for fishing Heidecke Lake this season for multiple species, despite a brutal opening day on April 1 and a cold-water start to the season.
MORRIS, Ill. — Paul Strand pulled in next to me at Heidecke Lake’s bank-fishing parking, then rolled down his window and asked, ‘‘Bowman?’’
Camouflage goose-hunting jacket and bibs, worn before dawn in below-freezing temperatures and with fresh snow sticking to grass, couldn’t hide me.
Strand was the best thing about the morning of April 1, opening day at Heidecke. For two years, he held a rod combo from the late Norm Minas for me. We finally met.
Opening day at Heidecke was a bust — from shore and boat alike — but the outlook for the season is very promising. It’s just slow to arrive because of variable weather and cold water.
I spent three hours trying night crawlers, jigs, spinners and muskie baits without a bite, then figured I was better off scouting turkey.
First-in-line boater James Baranski messaged: ‘‘Not a sniff in three hours.’’
He found the water was 38 degrees at the launch and 41 degrees on the north side.
When I texted BoRabb Williams, of ‘‘Team Krappie Inc’’ fame, he replied: ‘‘That’s too cold. . . . We need 45 and warmer for crappie action.’’
Heidecke slowly is warming up, but it likely will be mid-May before it reaches its prime of the low to mid-60s for multiple species.
When that time comes, many species look promising.
The cold water even delayed the spring muskie trap-netting survey until last Wednesday and Thursday. But what a survey.
‘‘We had a total of 82 muskies collected, beating the previous record set last year of 79 muskies,’’ district fisheries biologist Seth Love emailed. ‘‘The biggest fish was a female at 48.1 inches and weighing 31.4 pounds. This is the third legal-sized fish collected since spring surveys began many years ago.’’
The heaviest muskie was 33 pounds and 47.3 inches.
Last spring, they collected more than 200 crappie in the muskie trap nets, as well. They averaged 10.5 inches, with the largest ‘‘just shy of 15 inches.’’
‘‘During the fall 2020 electrofishing survey, we collected excellent numbers of walleye (127) relative to the 2018 and 2016 surveys,’’ Love emailed. ‘‘Average length of walleye was just above legal size (16 inches), with the largest being 27.5 inches. In fact, 92% of the adult walleye were legal size.’’
The 2020 fall survey turned up four trophy-sized hybrids, the biggest going 26.6 inches. The American Fisheries Society lists anything longer than 25 inches as a trophy.
Smallmouth and largemouth bass look better than in recent years. Love expects the stocking of about 30,000 largemouth fingerlings in 2017 to make their way through the population. Bluegills look promising, with the fall 2020 survey turning up 9% of them 8 inches or longer, the best going 8.8. Channel catfish continue a mysterious decline.
For 2022, Love made a usual stocking request for black crappie (146,000), walleye (68,425) and hybrid (19,550) fingerlings and for 1,955 13-inch muskie. Crappie, walleye and hybrids are requested annually and muskie every three years.
‘‘Overall, I’m really happy with the Heidecke fishery and look forward to surveying it this spring and fall,’’ Love emailed.
Turkey harvest during the two youth weekends was 1,258, down from 1,304 last year and well off the record 1,733 during the pandemic in 2020.
Buds began popping with authority last week. . . . Later this week, I will put out halved oranges and cheap grape jelly in hopes of the spring’s first Baltimore oriole. . . . I expect to hear of early finds of morel mushrooms by the weekend.
Having Tampa Bay come to Chicago in mid-April is as bright as computing ice-fishing metrics for red snapper.