Of fathers and sons savoring the catch of really big fish

During fathers and sons’ time, Luke Niels Jr. caught a monster walleye at Shabbona Lake in mid-July and Oliver Sala caught a really big smallmouth bass Saturday on the lakefront.

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Luke Niels Jr. holds his huge walleye before it was released back into Shabbona Lake.

Luke Niels Jr. holds his huge walleye before it was released back into Shabbona Lake.

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One dad waded into Shabbona Lake to make sure his son landed his monster walleye. Another dad was so overcome by his son catching his personal-best smallmouth bass on the lakefront that he accurately used adjectives I can’t sneak into the paper.

Here’s to fathers, sons and hunking fish.

  • Start with Luke Niels’ walleye.

“I was trying for bass with a bubblegum Gary Yamamoto Senko,” Niels said in a phone call. “I was jigging it and it came up from the deep and grabbed it.”

Cue Adele belting “Rolling in the Deep.”

“I thought it was a 20-pound bass,” Niels said. “Then my dad jumped in.”

Hang on, that deserves some explanation.

Niels was fishing with 6-pound line. The cast before his big catch, he thought he had a big fish and had loosened the drag.

“Otherwise, it would have broken the line,” he said.

When the walleye was near shore his dad realized the line would break if the huge fish was hoisted to shore. That’s when he went into Dad action.

“He grabbed it and picked it out with two hands,” Niels said. “He said it was heavy and we both were screaming.”

Yes, Niels is more than a casual angler.

The 13-year-old from Plano said he fishes every day at the “local pond right down the road and it is stacked with fish.”

He learned fishing from his father and grandfather (David Niels). Niels’ previous big fish was a 4-pound largemouth bass.

They took a photo before releasing the walleye with Niels barely “holding it with all [his] might.”

No measurements were taken

“My hands are about four inches and it was hanging at least a foot over each side,” Niels said. “My dad released it.”

I guessed it was longer than 30 inches.

The standing record for Shabbona Lake (concessionaires keep an unofficial list) is the one of 11.65 pounds that Chase Rockstead caught Oct. 12, 2020.

If it was spring and Niels’ walleye was carrying eggs, it would be in the conversation for state record.

Jim Zimmerman caught the Illinois record walleye (15.08 pounds) on March 11, 2012, from the Pecatonica River. It was 3112 inches long with a girth of 20 3/8 inches.

  • Daniel Sala wanted to put his son Oliver on big fish Saturday so they headed to the North Side lakefront.

Consider that mission accomplished.

“After about three snags and a few reties, he goes, ‘Dad, I’m hooked up,’ “ Daniel posted. “Had no clue it was going to be a 5.8-pound monster, which is way bigger than my [personal best] and tops his PB. I’m still shaking and so proud of him. He handled everything so well on his new Diawa Fuego set up.”

Oliver Sala holds his personal best smallmouth bass, caught Saturday on the North Side lakefront.

Oliver Sala holds his personal best smallmouth bass, caught Saturday on the North Side lakefront.

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Oliver is no ordinary 9-year-old angler. His dad started him watching fishing shows shortly after coming home from being born and built since then.

So no surprise that the Oliver was working a Great Lakes Finesse Sneaky Underspin with a trailer of a Great Lakes Finesse 2.75 Drop Minnow.

When the smallmouth was landed and weighed, it smashed Oliver’s PB of 2.3 pounds and topped Daniel’s PB of 4.65, caught on Lake Michigan with Ryan Whitacre.

That makes it understandable for this reaction: “He said, `Dad, we should just fish the lakefront every day, lol,” Daniel messaged. “And now he wants to break the state record.”

Joe Capilupo caught the Illinois record smallmouth (7 pounds, 3 ounces) on Oct. 14, 2019 from Monroe Harbor.

A smallmouth like Oliver’s caught in late July is truly a monster. In the spring, if she was filled with eggs, she would be close to Capilupo’s mark.

“I was on cloud nine all day yesterday, so proud and happy for him,” Daniel messaged Sunday.

Calendar shot

The Forest Preserves of Cook County’s annual photo contest opened Tuesday. Winning photos are featured in the 2024 Forest Preserves Wall Calendar. Details are at fpdcc.com/photo-contest.

Stray cast

I have a birthday this week that reminds me of paddling over a low-head dam and heading into the churning backwash.

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