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Trout opener, turkeys, “Oceans,” Midewin, smelt, seminar: WWW Chicago outdoors

Trout fishermen assembled before dawn on opening morning in 2017 at Wolf Lake in William Powers State Receation Area on Chicago's Southeast Side.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Robins by the dozens hopped and slow-flew around lawns besotten with cold rain and snow this morning. It’s been that way, besotten and cold, for too many Wild Weekend Wanderings around Chicago outdoors in a row this spring.

Considering the unrelenting cold, I’ve been surprised to hear from a couple turkey hunters that the birds have been actively gobbling any way. And that cold will make a tougher than usual opener Saturday for inland trout, at least for those who make it a family event.

It’s been a very odd start to April. And it looks like it will keep going that way at least into next weekend.

As for myself, I had a blast this week on the Mississippi River collecting brood-stock walleye. That will be Sunday’s column.

I still have not gotten out in an evening to try to see the sky dance of mating/love by woodcocks. Considering the cold weather, maybe I still have time.

Speaking of time, my weekend is focused on family, running around for our daughter’s part in a theater production. But today I will sneak in some outdoors stuff between running her around for one production and other family pick-ups and drop-offs.

With that, on to the regular stuff of this Wild Weekend Wandering around Chicago outdoors.

INLAND TROUT: Illinois’ inland trout season opens Saturday. I am curious how much impact the unusual cold will have on effort, especially for families. Click here for the statewide release.

Daily bag is five. The other general regulations are that “anglers will need both a fishing license and an Inland Trout Stamp to participate, unless they are under the age of 16, blind, disabled, or are an Illinois resident on leave from active duty in the Armed Forces.”

Here are the northeast Illinois sites:

Cook County: Wolf Lake at William W. Powers State Recreation Area, Chicago; Green Lake in Calumet City, Cook County Forest Preserve District; Axehead Lake, Cook County Forest Preserve District; Belleau Lake, Cook County Forest Preserve District; Sag Quarry East, Cook County Forest Preserve District; Horsetail Lake, Cook County Forest Preserve District

DuPage County: Silver Lake, DuPage County Forest Preserve District;l Pickerel Lake, DuPage County Forest Preserve District; Grove Lake, DuPage County Forest Preserve District

Kankakee County: Bird Park Quarry, Kankakee; Rock Creek, Kankakee River State Park

Kendall County: Big Lake, Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area

Lake County: Banana Lake, Lake County Forest Preserve District; Sand Lake, Illinois Beach State Park

McHenry County: Lake Atwood, McHenry County Conservation District; Piscasaw Creek, McHenry County Conservation District

Will County: Lake Milliken, Des Plaines Conservation Area

SPRING FISHING SEMINAR: There’s a new gathering for a Spring Fishing Seminar fundraiser for veteran medical programs at the  Joshua W. Harris Memorial VFW Post in Brookfield. It begins at 9 a.m. Presenters include some of the best from around local waters in Capt. Bob Bachler, Capt. Pat Harrison  and Jim “Crappie Professor’’ Kopjo. It is $15. For more information, call (708) 485-9670.

File phoot of morel.
Credit: Dale Bowman

MORELS: OK, I include this mainly as a warming device and because it interests me. Talking with Jeff Norris yesterday, he mentioned plans to head south for some camping and morel hunting. He also gave me another site to check for morel reports at thegreatmorel.com; click here for sightings there.

Overall, I find the reports best for Illinois on the Facebook page for Illinois Morel Mushrooms, where the update for the Wednesday map included this nugget:

The weather has made the finds much more spread out than previous years to start out with. We are dependent on the weather but it’s better to get bad weather out of the way now then in the middle of the season!

I think that is called making the best of the situation.

TURKEY HUNTING: The second statewide youth turkey hunt is this weekend. I was really surprised by the hunter, recounting his hunt with a youth last weekend about all the turkeys gobbling. Cold or not, you got to do what you got to do when the time is right. The first season in the south zone opens Monday; the first in the north is April 16.

Normally this time of spring, I refresh my turkey photos. Have not been able to do that so far.

Iron Bridge Trailhead entry at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Credit: Dale Bowman

MIDEWIN: The Ranger Trailer opens for the season this weekend, weather permitting, at the Iron Bridge Trailhead at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The seasonal guided hikes begin on May 6.

Both are something I highly recommend for individuals, families or groups. If you spot bison, it only heightens the visit.

Throughout the season, you can talk to volunteer rangers at the Ranger Trailer from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. During April, check updates–at www.facebook.com/Midewin or on Twitter at @MidewinNatTPon–on whether, depending on weather, the Ranger Trailer will be operating.

Trails are open daily, 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Come out and explore. #ItsAllYours! For the full list of 2018 programs, activities and events at Midewin, see: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd535052.pdf.

OCEAN FILM, MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY: BBC Earth and OceanX Media’s Giant Screen film “Oceans: Our Blue Plant” is at the Museum of Science and Industry’s giant screen theater.

Here are some details:

Oceans: Our Blue Planet will open in MSI’s Giant Dome Theater on March 16, 2018 and continue through spring 2019. It will be shown daily at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (Also 4:30 p.m. on extended hour days.)

This film is not included in Museum Entry and requires an additional timed-entry ticket. For more information on Oceans: Our Blue Planet, visit www.msichicago.org/oceans.


Smelt netting is underway. As expected from poor prospects, reports and effort have been slim to none. Here are the general notes and regulations for smelt netting in Chicago, which are the same as last year, from the Chicago Park District’s Carl Vizzone:


Smelt Fishing is a family affair. It’s a community of Fishermen enjoying each other’s company and nature’s bounty. Let’s make this season a safe and clean one for families and our fishing future. The following rules apply:

* No open fires

* No enclosed tents

* No alcoholic beverages

* No parking or driving on the grass or sidewalks. Park only in designated areas. Violators will be ticketed and towed.

* Do not destroy fences, benches, trash receptacles, walkways, and grassy areas.

* Do not dump hot coals under trees, on concrete or on grassy areas. Dispose of all coals in the appropriate trash receptacles.

Harbor Gates will close at 1 a.m. –start breaking down at 12:30 a.m. to be out by 1 a.m.

I would emphasize that last one, the regulation is to be out of the parks by 1 a.m.

RIVER FISHING: Water remains very cold and, in general, the spawning cycle is behind schedule, as I saw again this week on the Mississippi where the water had dropped to near 40. But from fishermen reports, at least some of the big walleye are going in our nearby rivers.

And, especially in late afternoon when the water warms slightly, there’s been some smallmouth action, too.

COOLING LAKES: Once again, winds have made a tough go of it for boaters, especially, at the cooling lakes of Braidwood and LaSalle. But, otherwise, the bass bite at Braidwood generally continues good as bass tournaments start and LaSalle continues producing blues of note. Haven’t heard much on Heidecke. All three are open 6 a.m. to sunset.

LAKEFRONT: Weather has limited effort some, but there’s coho and browns to be caught, even by casters around the Chicago lakefront. And a few smallmouth bass, too.