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Opening day at LaSalle Lake: Wind, changed plans, precip, hybrid stripers, help

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Jimmy Veopraseuth weighs Dale Bowman's fat hybird striped bass, caught Friday on opening day at LaSalle Lake.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

MARSEILLES, Ill. — Jimmy Veopraseuth stopped behind me Friday on the south bank of LaSalle Lake.

‘‘You want some help landing that?’’ he asked.

‘‘Yeah,’’ I said.

It was an odd and challenging — but ultimately satisfying — opening day at the cooling lake south of Seneca. But it’s not what I had planned.

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Despite challenging conditions, people were lined up early to be setting up in darkness,
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

I had planned to hike for an hour to reach the east bank, then target the chunky bluegills there. But the wind and waves — the lake was closed to boaters and only shore fishing was allowed — made the east bank unfishable.

So I hooked back around again on the southeast corner.

Gusting west-northwest winds even made fishing the south bank challenging. But I had seen some encouraging signs on my original 1½-mile hike out to the east bank.

A great blue heron (hello, fellow angler) flapped off a shoreline rock and tried to fly into the wind. I busted up laughing. Even at my age, I literally could have outrun it. Yes, it was that windy.

A huge mink, so big I almost thought it was an otter, popped in and out of the rocks on the southeast corner.

Casting a firetiger in-line spinner from the south bank, just off what I call ‘‘The Bikers’ Corner’’ because bike anglers often stack up there, I hooked and lost a decent hybrid striped bass.

Five minutes later, I hooked a better hybrid that gave me everything I could handle. I tried to use the wind and waves to push it up on shore, but it wanted none of that. That’s when Veopraseuth climbed down the rocks and hauled it up on the riprap.

I measured it at 18½ inches, not bad considering I thought my morning would be spent chasing 7- and 8-inch bluegills. Veopraseuth asked whether I wanted to weigh it. He did at 4 pounds, 14 ounces.

And fisheries biologist David Wyffels looks like a genius.

When I called him this month for a preview, one thing he said was that hybrid striped bass are going ‘‘to be a little better,’’ with numbers of fish in the 17- to 21-inch range.

Overall, his take was that LaSalle is a ‘‘blue cat and hybrid fishery.’’ He said blues maintain consistently good numbers up to 35 to 37 inches, with reports of blues to 73 pounds. They’re ‘‘good and fat, very healthy.’’ Nearly everyone I saw was targeting blues and/or hybrids.

In three hours of fishing, I was 1-for-2. I passed one other angler with a mirror image of my hybrid, which he caught on chicken liver.

Back at the parking lot, flecks of ice or snow speckled the precipitation.

It was time.

The last words are from Wyffels, who said, ‘‘The outlook is good to catch a good mess of fish and take them home.’’

My hybrid fillets were baked and presented on our biggest platter.

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Parmesan-breaded fillets of hybrid striped bass.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

I will tackle the joy of big bluegills at LaSalle another day.

LaSalle is open daily from 6 a.m. to sunset. Wind shuts down boating regularly early in the season.