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Danny Borgert’s first fish of the year: Really big surprise on Chicago lakefront


Danny Borgert with his surprise first fish of the year, a Chinook salmon caught New Year's Day at a North Side harbor.

Danny Borgert’s catch on New Year’s Day caught my eye — for more than one reason.

‘‘My first fish of 2019!’’ he posted. ‘‘What an insane catch for this time of year. A king salmon on January 1st that still had tight eggs is almost unheard of. Especially in Chicago. What a crazy day!’’

He messaged later that his Chinook (king) salmon was 33 inches long and weighed 17 pounds.

First off, let’s give him credit for catching the biggest first fish of the year on New Year’s Day in the Chicago area. Unless some muskie or carp angler comes forward to prove me wrong, that is.

It’s a new year, so why not have some fun with the first fish of the year, especially because a lot of us will not have that moment for ourselves until later on — or if and when safe ice forms nearby.

Borgert earned his honor. He lives in the Avondale neighborhood and is one of the hardcore anglers on the Chicago lakefront. He was fishing for trout at a North Side harbor.

‘‘I was using a jig I tied with a wax worm,’’ he messaged.

He had one regret about the catch.

‘‘I wish I had better pictures, but I was by myself,’’ he messaged.

I don’t know about that. I thought that his photos told his story well and that the Bears stocking cap capped it off.

The second thing that caught my interest was that it was a mature king with eggs still firm. That’s extremely rare this late in the year.

I contacted Capt. Ralph Steiger, who fishes nearly year-round on Lake Michigan. He never had caught a mature king this late.

‘‘Dec. 1st, I caught one in Hammond Marina years ago on spawn,’’ he messaged.

Then he added: ‘‘On my way to Key West to fish!’’

That additional aside about Key West was uncalled for, but I digress.

Borgert’s fish had me curious enough that I reached out to Vic Santucci, the Lake Michigan Program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

‘‘What you describe sounds to me like a mature fish that either returned late for the fall spawning run or maybe returned earlier and just has not died yet,’’ he emailed. ‘‘Might be able to tell by her condition by looking at the ovary to see if she was mostly spent or still had plenty of eggs left. Either way, it doesn’t seem that unusual to me to still have a few mature kings around our harbors this time of year.’’

Chinook generally return to the rivers or harbors where they were stocked or born in late summer and early fall.

As to the mystery of his New Year’s Day king, Borgert messaged: ‘‘I still can’t wrap my head around it. So wild.’’

The next day, Borgert added more wildness.

‘‘This has been one wild start to fishing in 2019,’’ he posted. ‘‘Today I landed two small coho, a perch and a really nice Chicago harbor largemouth [bass]. I was just as surprised with the bass as I was with the king from yesterday. I am pumped. Crazy!’’