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Heidecke opener or the big weekend: Chicago fishing, opening days

Shore fishermen and boaters alike had a tough opening day at Heidecke Lake, but there were some nice hybrid striped bass, yellow bass and catfish caught.
Credit: Dale Bowman

MORRIS, Ill.–The taps made me suspect I was playing with yellow bass. That wasn’t in my plans for opening day at Heidecke Lake, the former cooling lake, which reopened Friday.

In the best of fishing you adjust.

Speaking of the best of fishing, this should have been one of the great weekends in Chicago fishing, though the wind and snow showers may have impacted that some.

Heidecke reopened on Friday, smelt netting opened on the Chicago lakefront Friday evening and inland trout season opened on Saturday.

Heidecke is one of the most fickle of lakes. It is known for feast or famine when in fishing. Though, with the thick overcast and occasional spits of rain, I had hopes. Those days tend to be the best.

My plan at Heidecke was to work my way down the north side of the center dike, to play the northerly winds, spot hopping until I reached the end of of shore fishing access.

At each stop, I first cast out a modified drop-shot rig with night crawler halves on gold Aberdeen hooks. Then begin fancasting with either a crankbait, oversized bladebait or jig and crawler.

My aim was walleye. Last year, fisheries biologist Rob Miller expected a banner year for walleye. It never really turned into that. Some of us hope that banner year is now.

With those presentations, I also had tangential hopes of a muskie (Heidecke is the lake I have caught my second most muskie at), bass, hybrid striped bass or white bass, the mix of fish expected at a cooling lake or former cooling lake.

Well, nothing happened, then the pecking started. First one yellow bass, then another.

If you have a lick of sense on the water, you follow the water offers rather than dictating to the water.

So I focused on yellow bass.

Heidecke is a place for yellow bass. A few years ago, Miller had a fisherman call after the guy had already filleted out a big yellow bass. It was probably the state record, but not at that point. So Jimmy Kostoff Jr.’s Illinois-record yellow bass (2 pounds), caught from a farm pond in Madison County on May 5, 1994, still stands.

That wasn’t the size I was catching, but they were big enough, half pound or so, that I saved them to clean. In a good hour at the yellow bass hole, I caught five yellow bass and one decent white bass.

As I walked back mid-morning, I saw one group with three quality hybrids, another guy with a good channel catfish (probably 6 to 8 pounds) and some high school kids said they had caught one small bass.

It was time.

More spits of rain flew. Time enough to get home, clean fish, nap and then prowl the lakefront to check the enduring, if fruitless, tradition of netting smelt.

Heidecke is open 6 a.m.-sunset (out of the gates by then) daily.

Smelting regulations are the same in Chicago. Nets may go in at 7 p.m. All netters must be out of the parks by 1 a.m.

For those 16 and older, a fishing license and inland trout stamp are needed to fish for spring trout.