Ken Maggiore recorded the greatest day in fishing in the history of the Chicago lakefront on March 22, 2017.

No, that’s not overstating the case. At least when it comes to Illinois-record fish.
Maggiore caught Illinois’ records for lake whitefish and burbot at Montrose Harbor in the space of a half hour.

Ken Maggiore with his 7.5-pound Illinois-record whitefish.
Credit: Courtesy Henry’s Sports and Bait Shop

“I am still in shock,’’ Maggiore said after having both fish weighed on the certified scale at Henry’s Sports and Bait Shop in Bridgeport. “All my buddies are calling me who left early.’’

Just about as historic, it was the third Illinois-record whitefish in 33 days caught in Chicago.

His whitefish (27 3/4 inches long, girth of 14 1/2) weighed 7.5 pounds and may be heavy enough to put a hold on the rash of record whitefish.

His burbot (32 inches long, girth of 17 1/2) weighed 9.3 pounds. Both were caught on shrimp fished on the bottom.

We’ll get to the reasons behind this this rash of records later. First, let’s just celebrate Ken Maggiore’s Day On.

THE SETUP

Ken Maggiore’s 9.3-pound Illinois-record burbot.
Credit: Courtesy Henry’s Sports and Bait Shop

The 19-year-old from Chicago’s Northwest Side is a hardcore fisherman, with the tradition passed down from his grandfather John Maggiore and to father Ken Maggiore and  son Ken Maggiore. Maggiore started working at FishTech in Morton Grove while at Taft High School, where he helped take the bass fishing team to state.

So no surprise he was up at 3:30 a.m. and headed to his buddy Tommy Krysciak’s so they could be by the “Seven Trees’’ at Montrose Harbor before dawn.

“We were shooting powerlines out; with the northeast winds, it was kind of tricky,’’ Maggiore said. “I got the bottom rods out when the sun came.My buddies got coho right away. I got none. I sat back and watched everybody else catch fish and netted them.’’

Oh, a change was coming, say late morning, roughly 11 or so.

THE CATCHES

“The big rod decided to go off, I feed a little bit of line, then set the hook,’’ Maggiore said. “I thought it was a laker. Saw a little yellow. It was a big burbot. The scale read a little over 9 pounds. But it’s an analog, so I was nervous.’’

“Once we got it to the surface, I said, `That’s a burbot,’ ‘’ Krysciak said. “Everybody was asking, `What [descriptive term] is a burbot?’ I said, `You’re taking that thing to Henry’s. That’s a state record.’ ’’

Capt. Tim Wojnicz with Illinois’ inaugural record burbot.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

Capt. Tim Wojnicz caught Illinois’ inaugural burbot record (8 pounds, 13.6 ounces) off Waukegan on April 27, 2012.

But Maggiore went back to fishing.

“My rod got these little taps, kinda like the whitefish bite,’’ Maggiore said. “Next thing you know, I pull it up, a big silver fish, thought maybe a steelhead. But it was a big whitefish and we were in awe. It was a little over 8 pounds. When I put on it on the stringer, I nicked the gill and that made me nervous.’’

Buddy Nick Pellikan helped hold Krysciak and Maggiore on the icy shore during the netting of both fish.

“I work at Fortune Fish & Gourmet,’’ Krysciak said. “I see whitefish come out of Lake Superior. I have not seen none this big. That is the damm truth. He has something good here. Every day I see giants but this tops them.’’

Maggiore knew what the Illinois’ whitefish record was: 6.55 pounds, caught by Vincent Chan just five days earlier. Maggiore had been chasing the record before Chan landed his and had come close about 10 days ago.

After Maggiore had landed the two potential records, he finally caught a couple coho of his own. Finally, at 2 p.m., after a couple people had contacted me to ask if I could get him to get the records weighed before they lost weight, Maggiore headed to Henry’s to weigh it on the certified scale.

It was a time of great celebration. Fisheries biologist Steve Robillard verified both fish the next day and the records will be official as soon as all the paperwork is signed off on.

PERSPECTIVES AND MEANINGS

While on a fishing level, this is a wonderful cause for celebration, the underlying causes for four record whitefish in eight months and a burbot record from the shores of Chicago is a sign of a Lake Michigan with major issues.

To set up the issues, let’s go through the progression of Illinois records for whitefish.

Capt. Tim Wojnicz with Illinois’ inaugural whitefish record. Credit: For the Sun-Times

Wojnicz caught Illinois’ inaugural record whitefish (2.49 pounds) on May 8, 2012, while perch fishing from a boat off Waukegan. That’s right, Wojnicz caught inaugural records for both whitefish and burbot.

Both Illinois and Indiana listed whitefish as a possible record about six years ago in recognition that something was happening with whitefish and southern Lake Michigan. Indiana’s record for whitefish has changed five times since 2012, including twice already this year. The current Indiana record (5 pounds, 13 ounces) was caught Jan. 21 by Alexander Ciesielski near Portage Lakefront Park.

Illinois, too, has seen it’s record change five times since 2012. Ricardo Cruz caught Illinois’ second record whitefish (3.1) while perch fishing at Montrose Harbor on July 27, 2016. That fanned the interest because anglers had caught many bigger ones earlier in the year in 2016 at shore from Montrose Harbor. That’s a partial explanation for three whitefish records in 33 days.

On Feb. 17, Christian Howe caught Illinois’ third whitefish record (4.45 pounds) while perch fishing with a crappie rig and minnows on the Calumet at 95th Street on Chicago’s Southeast Side.

Howe literally had just put up his plaque from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources when Chan caught Illinois’ fourth record whitefish on March 18 while fishing for multiple species with cut perch behind McCormick Place. At 6.55 pounds, many of us figured the rash of whitefish records might be on hold.

Oh no. Only five days later, Maggiore had his 7.5 record-setter whitefish.

Biologist Steve Robillard, who verified Ken Maggiore’s Illinois-record whitefish and burbot, and Steve Palmisano stare with due respect at the record fish.
Credit: Dale Bowman

“Whitefish have been around for thousands of years,’’ Robillard noted while verifying Maggiore’s fish. “It’s just now they are catching them from shore.’’
The reason for that is not good, to be blunt.

The week before Chan caught his briefly record whitefish, I asked Illinois’ Lake Michigan program manager, Vic Santucci, for an explanation of all the whitefish being caught from shore.

“One possibility for a change in whitefish foraging behavior is the near disappearance of the scud, Diporeia, from all but the deepest portions of the lake, and the increase in abundance of round goby,” he emailed. “As you know, gobies are found in abundance among the rocks and boulders of our harbors and nearshore areas throughout much of the year. Foraging whitefish may be drawn to these nearshore areas when the temperature is right to feed on gobies or other prey, which increases their chances of encountering baited hooks of anglers fishing nearshore for perch, drum or other species.

“If whitefish continue this pattern of foraging in nearshore waters, my guess is that whitefish records will continue to be broken in Illinois waters.”

Note, he emailed this before Chan caught his 6.55 and Maggiore his 7.5. Maybe, we reached a plateau. Then again, at this point, nothing would surprise me with whitefish off Chicago.

Ken Maggiore’s record whitefish and burbot.
Credit: Dale Bowman