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Hows & whys of really big blue catfish: LaSalle & Powerton lakes

Darryl Truner at Powerton

One of Darryl Turner’s dreams makes perfect sense.

“One day, I want to fish with Jeremy Wade,’’ Turner said.

He chases big blue catfish and flathead catfish the way that Wade, host of “River Monsters,’’ hunts his water freaks.

I bumped into Turner on opening day at LaSalle Lake. One conversation led to another, then to the method to Turner’s obsession.

Illinois fishermen target three catfish: channels (Ictalurus punctatus) and their larger cousin blues (Ictalurus furcatus), and the distinctive flathead (Pylodictis olivaris).

Turner, a service technician from Matteson, came to catfish through channels, then branched into blues and flatheads.

“They fight harder,’’ he said.

And grow a lot bigger.

He learned from his older brother John. They learned fishing from their late father Robert.

Flatheads have had a cult following for decades. Blues reached mainstream when it became clear how quickly they grow big in cooling lakes. Stocking of blues began in 2001 at Powerton, near Pekin, then at LaSalle, south of Seneca.

“We were trying to provide another trophy species,’’ said district fisheries biologist Wayne Herndon, who came up with the idea.

Even 15 years later, Herndon said the blues excite him, “Any time you deal with a huge fish that big there is mystery, and it is exciting.’’

Multiple reports of blues heavier than 50 pounds come from LaSalle and to 80 pounds at Powerton. Turner’s best blue (40 pounds) came from Powerton. Last October, he caught a 38-pounder at LaSalle.

“I prefer fishing from shore,’’ said Turner, who fishes alone. “The person driving the boat has to do this, do that. I just want to fish.’’

He knows that blues favor fresh bait, always something fresh; flatheads favor live bait, especially bluegills.

He focuses on LaSalle, where he “caught over 200 blues out of there last year.’’
Plus Powerton is nearly a 150-mile drive and the natives have it tied up.

“They use balloons to float [their bait] out there [by the hot-water discharge],’’ he said. “The locals fill those spots. They make sure to get there early on their bikes.’’

At LaSalle, he fishes the east side, because the west winds pile up the bait fish that draw the big predators.

“I fish the warm water, the warmest water,’’ he said. “As weeks go on, marker 50 all the way around. That is why I take my bike. As it warms, that whole area is good.

“I sit out there and wait for my bite. I do not move around a lot if it is a good spot. I will wait them out. Sometimes it is good in morning, sometimes good in the afternoon.’’

There are tricks.

“I am using a bobber when not getting anything on the bottom,’’ he said. “There is a drop 10-15 feet out and those big ones come cruising by.’’

His biggest flathead (62 pounds) came from Powerton. Jim Klyczek of Nature’s Way Taxidermy in Steger mounted it.

Turner has had 14 fish mounted by Nature’s Way, first was a 19-inch, 3-pound crappie caught near East Moline in 1997. Other mounts include channel catfish, walleye, Chinook and steelhead.

“I am addicted,’’ Turner said. “I got fishing poles like women have shoes. Trust me. It is bad. I got it bad. I ain’t ashamed of it.’’