Blues, bluegills and hybrids: Previewing LaSalle Lake opener

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“Biker Corner” at LaSalle Lake should be packed again opening when the cooling lake reopens to fishing on March 15.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Right up front, fisheries biologist David Wyffels said blue catfish are “going to be as exceptional’’ as they have been at LaSalle Lake.

That’s saying something. LaSalle, the cooling lake south of Seneca, has grown into the top destination for blues.

LaSalle reopens to fishing on March 15. It will be open daily 6 a.m.-sunset. Boaters should be aware of the wind-warning system (no launching when wind is 14 mph or higher).

“I would expect it to be a destination for blue cats, hybrids,’’ Wyffels said.

LaSalle has become the destination for blues because of their sheer size and number. Fishermen have caught blues heavier than 50 pounds. Biologists have surveyed blues heavier than 30 pounds. Darryl Turner, a top shore fishermen for blues, had already topped 300 by August last year.

“As to the hybrid [striped bass] fishery, pretty standard,’’ Wyffels said. “There was no big die-off [last summer]. There’s good numbers of 2-4 pound fish.’’

Hybrids are major draw because they are major fighters and you can catch them with bait or lures.

Black bass (largemouth and smallmouth) used to be the top draw at LaSalle. But bass have been on a down cycle for several years, as bass fishermen know. Expect more of that.

“We had a weak fall sample,’’ Wyffels said. “It’s been that way the last couple years. It is cyclical out there. Fish should rebound. Historically, they rebound after a year or two.’’

On the other hand, bluegills, one of my favorite targets at LaSalle, are cycling up again.

“On that east wall. they love that cool pool,’’ Wyffels said. “They hang right in the rocks. Don’t be afraid to get in the rocks.’’

That’s pretty much how I go after them.

Wyffels said they found good numbers of 6 1/2- to 7-inch bluegill. He expects good numbers of 7 1/2-inch or bigger fish.

He said yellow and white bass are not as dense as the hybrids.

One last thing on channel catfish and what Wyffels calls the “Power Plant Effect.’’ If you fish a cooling lake, you know what he means, those small channel catfish some call “fiddlers’’ or other names. The populations are dense, but the size is not there and body conditions are not ideal.

Wyffels had an interesting speculation. He said channel catfish are opportunistic feeders and will eat things other than fish. They may be eating food less than optimum for peak growth.

When it comes to fishing, I find the opener at LaSalle optimum. That’s why I plan to sleep in the family van Tuesday night to be among the first out.

WILD THINGS: The weird late winter/early spring keeps rolling. On Saturday, I photographed tulips, tiger lilies and Star of Bethlehem poking through the snow in my wife’s flower garden. On Sunday, John Heneghan posted, “Our silver maple is budding.’’ At the men’s finals of Beat the Champions at Arena Lanes, I heard sandhill cranes, then found them wheeling overhead in Oak Lawn. On Monday, Friends of the Chicago River tweeted, “A sign of spring at one of our turtle habitat restoration sites: skunk cabbage!’’

STRAY CAST: Listening to Charlie Potter justify current political machinations with 21st-century conservation is like watching a muskie fisherman walk the dog with a Magnum Weagle.

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