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Big muskie and Illinois-record whitefish: Fishes of the Year

Both Jim Hack’s 54-inch muskie and Ricardo Cruz’s 3.1-pound lake whitefish epitomize how fishing in Illinois has changed. Both earn Fish of the Year honors.

Hack caught his muskie from a Lake County lake on July 5. Two months ago (Oct. 30 Sun-Times) I told the story of the greatest verified muskie caught in Illinois.

“I’m quite certain that if that fish had been caught in the spring (full of eggs) we would be talking about a new state record,’’ emailed fisheries biologist Andy Plauck, who verified the fish.

Hack’s muskie, with a girth of 22 1/2 inches, weighed 35 pounds, 10 ounces on the certified scale at the Salmon Stop in Waukegan.

Fish records are kept by weight. The Illinois record remains the 50 3/4-inch muskie, weighing 38 pounds, 8 ounces, caught April 20, 2002 by Matt Carmean below the Lake Shelbyville dam.

Doug Petrousek of Douglas Taxidermy in Elburn thinks Hack’s mount might be ready this week.

More importantly, he emailed this perspective, “I remember when Illinois had yet to break the 50-inch mark. In ’99, I mounted a 49 7/8-inch muskie caught out of the Fox River in the Geneva area. We just couldn’t get that extra 1/8 inch to make it a 50-incher.’’

Ray Thompson, chairman of the Illini Muskies Alliance, emailed that the catches of 50-inch or longer muskies in Illinois now top 50.

Considering muskies are a top predator, that is a remarkable swing in less than 20 years.

Ricardo Cruz did not know what he had caught the evening of July 27 at Montrose Harbor, so his wife  Angela took a photo and posted it, eventually leading to the fish being on the path to recognition as an Illinois record.

Ricardo Cruz did not know what he had caught the evening of July 27 at Montrose Harbor, so his wife Angela took a photo and posted it, eventually leading to the fish being on the path to recognition as an Illinois record.

Cruz’s whitefish demonstrates how southern Lake Michigan is changing. Until a few years ago, neither Illinois or Indiana kept whitefish records.

Capt. Tim Wojnicz caught the inaugural Illinois-record lake whitefish (2 pounds, 7.8 ounces) on May 8, 2012 while perch fishing off Waukegan.

Cruz caught his while perch fishing on the east outside of Montrose Harbor on July 27 (July 31 Sun-Times).

When he couldn’t identify the fish, his wife Angela took a photo and he posted it to “Chicago powerline fishing’’ on Facebook, where it was identified. When I saw it, I knew he had the Illinois record.

The next morning, he weighed it at Henry’s Sports and Bait on their certified scale. Fisheries biologist Steve Robillard verified it that afternoon.

It will be mounted by Grams Gamefish Taxidermy in Burbank and displayed at Henry’s.

After the story on Cruz’s whitefish, several fishermen noted that bigger whitefish have been caught during the spring at Montrose.

I expect the whitefish record broken early, maybe often, next year on the Chicago lakefront.

DEER: Illinois’ deer project manager Tom Micetich emailed this on the use of deer permits for the chronic wasting disease season, the first of two is Thursday through Sunday, “Yes, unfilled either-sex firearm and muzzleloader permits issued for an open CWD season county may be utilized to take antlered animals during the CWD season. Note, also, that the two-buck limit is waived during the CWD season. All permits for the CWD season are issued over-the-counter, and are antlerless only.”

WILD THINGS: Whether the suddenness of ice up or the surge in the populations of bald eagles (or both), there has been unprecedented sightings in recent weeks from dozens along the Fox River to sightings on the Calumet system, including in Chicago. It’s no longer necessary for winter treks to Starved Rock or the Mississippi River to watch eagles.

For those of us who remember eagles on the brink of extinction in our childhoods that is a remarkable swing in a span of a few decades.

STRAY CAST: Monday had me thinking Tim Anderson more than Dave Genz.