Great weather makes for unbelievable fishing

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Take your pick of fish — 15-inch jumbo perch in Indiana, the early coho run on the Chicago lakefront or largemouth bass bedding on suburban ponds and lakes — to illustrate the greatest stretch of modern Chicago fishing, which was spawned by the extended historic heat wave in March.

Quantifying the greatness is hard, like building a portrait with brush strokes. But it’s a portrait I want to build, for the sake of history and memories.

I heard rumors of record bait sales, but the major players didn’t offer hard numbers.

‘‘I’m cautiously optimistic,’’ said Tom Palmisano at Henry’s Sports & Bait, which supplies many local bait shops.

There’s good reason to be cautious, even about a stretch of record weather that energized local fishing like nothing in memory.

‘‘First of all, you have to remember this is nature,’’ Palmisano said. ‘‘God gave us a poor ice fishing. He gave us [the March heat wave]. Most bait stores are slaves to weather and if they are biting or not.’’

That’s the other component. Not only was the weather nice, but fish were being caught. I’ve covered the outdoors for the Sun-Times for 16 years and never have had this kind of variety in terms of fishing stories and photos. I picked three as symbolic Fish of the Week.

‘‘It was good medicine for what was ailing us,’’ said David Robinson of Robinson Wholesale Bait in Genoa City, Wis., the supplier of many local shops.

He noted we were coming out of the worst winter on record for bait sales. In many cases, the two weeks of outstanding fishing and weather meant economic survival.

‘‘A good spring sets you up for a good year,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘We had
bad conditions last year with the blizzard, followed by a cold, wet spring. We only had a 10-day period of nice weather, then it turned hot. The whole year was
bad weather. This is the
first break we have had since the blizzard [in early February 2011].’’

‘‘Salmon and perch [this March] have created a whole new generation of fishermen,’’ said Mike Starcevich at Mik-Lurch Fishing Tackle Outlet in Hammond, Ind. ‘‘I know because they never had a license before; they are not in the system. I haven’t seen a rejuvenation of the fishing industry on our end of the lake like this ever.’’

That’s what I am most curious about: Will it have a long-term impact? Will it bring more people back to fishing? Will more people fish in 2012, or will the jump in license sales in March simply mean lower sales in April and May?

I don’t know, but I revel in this glorious, historic run of fishing.

MWC

The big fish of the 26th annual Masters Walleye Circuit event at Spring Valley was a 6.3-pound walleye caught by Jeffery Evans and Benjamin Baune of Rochester, Minn. Biologist Ken Clodfelter said the spawned-out female would have weighed close to 8 pounds if filled with eggs. Ohioans Dan Johnson and Larry Rhoads rebounded from 77th to win with a two-day total of 19.96 pounds. They had the big fish Sunday, a 3.83-pound saugeye jigged from an upstream spot. LaSalle Fish Hatchery manager Ed Hansen said so many sauger (nearly all the 1,318 fish weighed were sauger) came in that they picked and chose for the hatchery.

Stray cast

Chris Rongey’s postgame this season should be the best hour on sports radio. Think of dropping feed pellets in the water at a fish hatchery.