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Perch and crossbows: Top stories in 2017 around Illinois and Chicago outdoors

The perch explosion on the Chicago lakefront and the legalization of the general use of crossbows are 2017 stories that will affect the future around Illinois and Chicago outdoors.

There were other significant stories, too.

Perch explosion: Fishermen descended by the thousands in November and December to fish yellow perch on the lakefront, particularly on the Southeast Side around the North Slip, 89th Street, 92nd and 95th. As winter neared, the bite at Navy Pier reached historic levels.

Vic Santucci, Illinois’ Lake Michigan program manager, and Ben Dickinson, Indiana’s assistant Lake Michigan fisheries biologist, agreed the bulk of fish being caught — 5 to 7 inches — were likely from the near-record 2015 class.

Click here for some basic background on the historic perch run.

A cocked crossbow with a bolt in.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Crossbows: Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 2893 in September. That lifted restrictions on crossbows in the Illinois Wildlife Code and allowed anyone properly licensed to use crossbows during archery seasons.

Preliminary indications suggest increased participation in archery deer hunting and increased harvest. At the end of October, as the rut began, harvest jumped several thousand ahead of the pace in 2016-17 and has continued like that since. It’s significant enough that I suspect there will be some re-evaluation of archery seasons in coming years.

But Fred Lutger, the proprietor of Freddie Bear Sports in Tinley Park, said that he thinks the initial spike in interest will wear off and that the bulk of bowhunters will return to using longbows.

Click here for some perspective on impact of the crossbow change.

Whitefish: The record for lake whitefish had the wildest ride in Illinois history, changing three times in 33 days.

Christian Howe caught the first 2017 record (4.55 pounds) while fishing for perch Feb. 17 at 95th. On March 18, Vincent Chan broke it (6.55 pounds) at McCormick Place. Then Ken Maggiore set the whitefish record still standing (7.5 pounds) with one 27¾ inches in length and 14½ inches in girth on March 22 at Montrose Harbor.

Click here for the preliminary story on Howe’s record. Click here for Chan’s story. Click here for Maggiore’s record story.

A bobcat stalking prey in a photo from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Credit: Steven Wayne Rotsch/Painet Inc.

Illinois’ bobcat season: Illinois’ first modern bobcat season turned out well, with 141 bobcats — 69 by hunting, 49 by trapping, 12 by archery and 11 salvaged from roads — taken by 500 successful applicants for permits. Click here for a recap of the first season.

Dominic Domian and Tyler Lubbat lift their four keepers, which led Buffalo Grove to the state championship of bass fishing on Carlyle Lake.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Chicago first: All-American Tyler Lubbat led Buffalo Grove to the Chicago area’s first state championship in bass fishing June 15. On a tough bite on Carlyle Lake, Lubbat and Dominic Domian weighed nine keepers in two days at 13 pounds, 7 ounces for the Bison to hold off Mahomet-Seymour (10-12). Click here for the final recap of the state finals.

Ken Maggiore holding his 7.5-pound whitefish (left) and 9.3-pound burbot after both were weighed on the certified scale at Henry’s Sports and Bait Shop.
Credit: Courtesy Henry’s Sports and Bait Shop

Wildest fishing day: Nobody in Illinois history had a day like Maggiore on March 22. He caught both the whitefish and burbot (9.3 pounds) records. Click here for the extended story.

Snowy owls: Numbers aren’t finalized, but it appears a record or near-record irruption of snowy owls is underway across Illinois and the northern United States.

Asian carp battle: Despite Illinois significantly lowering the amount of Asian carp in the upper pools of the Illinois River, the federal government presses on with a make-work program under the guise of preventing bighead and silver carp from reaching the Great Lakes. Click here for background on the battle to hold Asian carp on the Illinois River.

Shoreline lakers: Whether from the benefits of natural reproduction on southern Lake Michigan or lack of food in open water, lake trout are turning up near shore in unusual numbers in fall and winter, particularly on the lakefront. Capt. Ralph Steiger has turned it into a significant sportfishery by casting or jigging for them at a time of year when not much else is going.

The evolution of our outdoors keeps rolling.

Editorial note: I included links to some columns on the top stories of 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.