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Braidwood Lake opener: Staying up on the changes, ebb and flow

An iconic view of the island on the south end of Braidwood Lake, caught in early light as fog drifted early season in 2013.
Credit: Dale Bowman

One joy of the cooling lakes is that they are such landscape-scale experiments in post-modern outdoors.

With that, Braidwood Lake reopens to fishing at 6 a.m. this morning, as usual on March 1.

I remember when the opener at the cooling lake in southwest Will County was the fishing event of the spring. Local landowners even rented out parking space as thousands descended. Those days are gone, but there will be hundreds out, even for a mid-week opener.

Something always changes with Braidwood. This year, the question is why shad are declining. Fisheries biologist Rob Miller is concerned enough that he did not stock blue catfish or hybrid striped bass last year and will not this year.

Thing about shad, the primary forage base, is both the gizzard and threadfin are declining.

Gizzard, the natives, are the most susceptible to fish kills. Fish kills are a fact of life with cooling lakes, whose primary role is cooling power plants. That the warm water makes them fish factories is a side benefit.

Miller introduced threadfin from Lake Springfield very successfully, years ago. He is hopeful shad are resilient as usual. Bass forage on other species, too, such as sunfish and the various minnows from the Kankakee River.

“The bass population still looks good,” Miller said. “Apparently, they are finding enough other food to take care of themselves.’’

All the same, he would like a stronger shad base.

Largemouth bass, through stockings, remain the top fish. But the lake also draws fishermen for big blues and, recently, hybrids.

Miller had an interesting observation on bluegill. He wondered if the lower survey finds are a result of phragmites taking over the riprap, making surveying difficult. I’ve seen phragmites make it difficult for shore fishermen to target bluegill. The bluegill may be fine, just tough to reach. Miller noted a consulting group working for Exelon found good 7-inch and bigger bluegill.

Expect about the usual size on channel catfish, maybe a bit bigger.

My main goal will be my first bass of the year on a topwater and finding bluegill.

WILD THINGS: For the last few days, snow geese have been abundant  on the Chicago lakefront, even fishermen sighting them.

STRAY CAST: Joe Maddon is to Rick Renteria what Kevin VanDam is to Mike Iaconelli in my feelings.