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Weighing big fish a big problem



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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:55AM

Eric Lichamer trying to get his 72-pound grass carp weighed last month on a certified scale in the north suburbs sharply illustrated changes in
society and fishing.

‘‘It’s hard to find a certified scale anymore,’’ Springfield biologist Dan Stephenson said. ‘‘We used to have people go to butcher shops, packing plants or grocery stores, but many won’t allow a wild-caught fish in their store. So it’s difficult. I don’t know how to fix that. A few of the [conservation police officers] have a large enough scale, and at least one biologist [Shawn Hirst in Murphysboro] has a certified scale for muskie weights.’’

That’s especially true with monster fish being caught in recent years — blue catfish topping 100 pounds, flatheads pushing 60 or bighead carp nearing 70.

It’s one thing to convince a butcher to weigh a bluegill or yellow perch. It’s another to persuade them to flop a fish longer than 4 feet, such as Lichamer’s, on their scale.

Years ago, it was more acceptable to walk into a grocery store — even in Chicago — and weigh a fish. On May 7, 1995, Ken Schneider weighed his 2-pound, 1/2-ounce perch at a Dominick’s and a Jewel. I doubt you could pull that off today.

Some butcher shops still do it. When Nick Tassoni broke the then-longest-standing gamefish record in Illinois on Jan. 7 with a 14.75-pound walleye caught from the Pecatonica River, he weighed it at Pinnon’s in Rockford to much ado.

Butchers and grocers should understand weighing a record fish brings a buzz. The love of big fish is universal.

Biologist Frank Jakubicek found that Jones Meat Market in Woodstock would have weighed Lichamer’s fish.

Lichamer thought he was trying to beat the listed record of a 69-pound, 8-ounce grass carp caught July 13, 2000, from Lake Petersburg by Daniel McDougall.

But Lichamer’s efforts would have been for naught. Jacob Millichamp of Sherrard caught a 79-pound grass carp April 12, 2011, from Crescent Lake in Alpha. Biologist Dan Sallee verified the fish and had sent in the paperwork. Millichamp’s 79-pounder is the grass-carp record, even though it’s not listed.

Many grocery-store or butcher scales aren’t big enough to weigh a fish that large. That was the biggest problem Lichamer had. Millichamp had his weighed at H&H Feed Mill in Orion.

The two most common places with certified scales to weigh record fish in the Chicago area are the Salmon Stop in Waukegan and Henry’s Sports and Bait in Bridgeport. Henry’s has weighed Illinois records for brown trout (36-11.5, Deva Vranek, June 22, 1997, east of Burnham Harbor) and tiger muskie (31-3, Michael Behmetuik, Aug. 6, 2004, Lake Will, Will County).

A couple of years ago, Henry’s added an even larger scale when staff realized state-record bighead carp would be bigger than their scale would handle.

Then there is the rise of catch-and-release, especially for muskies. Hirst keeps the certified scale so any record muskie from Kinkaid Lake can be weighed and released.

Muskies Inc. chapters in northern Illinois have discussed doing something similar on the Chain O’Lakes. The problem is, traffic in the northern suburbs is far different than it is in the wilds of southern Illinois.

Jakubicek said one option is having a certified scale, paid for and maintained by the clubs, at an on-water site. The two most likely would be C.J. Smith Resort or Barnacle Bob’s.

Big-fish problems are good to have.

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