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Taking 5 on 2015: Illinois outdoors

Illinois’ budget crunch built as a story in 2015 and will likely be the top story, for better or worse, in 2016 around Illinois outdoors.

Walking down the top five stories in the outdoors in 2015.

1) BUDGET CRUNCH. Some Downstate sites already had electricity cut off. Site supervisors around northeast Illinois are conserving gas and propane, anticipating issues building as suppliers remain unpaid. Some offices and visitor centers have cranked heat way down to make sure there is enough fuel to keep the pipes from freezing in the heart of winter.

This is where the political naivete of a novice governor really shows. Because many staffers have been around for decades and have learned survival techniques during previous budget crunches.

Problems with staffing are only expected to intensify.

flathead2015Illinoisrecordweight2) RECORD FLATHEAD. On the good news front, James Klauzer caught the Illinois-record flathead catfish in the early hours of Aug. 29 from Sangchris Lake. The 81.4-pound flathead surpassed one of the most significant records in Illinois. He was fishing shad, hoping to catch channel catfish for the pan with friend Scott Gapen.

It was officially weighed at Midstate Meat Co. in Springfield with assistant fisheries chief Dan Stephenson there to certify.

3) NEW IDNR DIRECTOR. Downstate legislator and retired Illinois Air National Guard brigadier general Wayne Rosenthal was named Illinois Department of Natural Resources director early in the year by incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It was a stunning move considering there was a long list of more qualified candidates waiting through 12 years of Democratic rule.

Rosenthal has proved an able administrator, but shown little long-term vision. He has generally allowed professional staff to do their jobs.Though I question his split decision on whether to follow the advice of his professionals on the five-year plan for waterfowl hunting dates and zone lines.

4) DEER. Despite an election-year uproar last year, the IDNR only tweaked hunting regulations for deer. As it turned out, with the help of generally favorable weather, the harvest during the two firearm deer seasons shot up nearly 15 percent from last year to 86,771, one of the bigger recent harvests. It helped that there was little impact from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) this summer.

5) LAKE MICHIGAN FISHERIES. Biggest story was the utter lack of good Chinook fishing, either from boat during the summer or from shore in the fall.

It was also one of the least productive summers in years for perch fishermen on Lake Michigan, from shore or boat. But there were a few hopeful signs, not the least of which is the rebound in shore fishing the last month or so, especially on the South Side.

The biggest hope is in what was apparently one of the best hatches of perch in years. In Indiana, the trawls found nearly 10,000 young of the year, second most since 1983. The big question is whether those YOY will make it to the next level.

A new year comes with some hope. And some fear.