Constants on opening day at Braidwood Lake are the possibility of fog and fishermen — such as Chuck Houston and Eugene Askew (above) — heading out for a variety of species by boat or from shore. | Dale Bowman~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 1, 2012 8:20AM
I figured the high point would be taking our two youngest to the Polk-a-Dot Drive-In after an hour of fishing at Braidwood Lake. Instead, the fishing was so good last spring that the kids still talk about it. So good we postponed Sunday dinner and missed a stop at the Polk-a-Dot, that collection of Route 66 kitsch on Route 53.
The south bank (hot side) of Braidwood, the cooling lake in southwest Will County, would be my pick for taking kids fishing. Light line (4- or 6-pound), light floats, spinning gear and small bait (spikes, wax worms, red worms or pieces of night crawler) will produce bite after bite of small channel catfish and bluegills.
Braidwood reopens to fishing at 6 a.m. Thursday. It will be open daily until 5:30 p.m. until the time changes.
But Braidwood is also a place for big-boy fishing. In its early years, Braidwood was a top spot for largemouth bass. Opening day drew so many thousands of fishermen that farmers rented parking in fields.
That ended when the aquatic vegetation died and phytoplankton came to dominate. But years of stocking largemouth are paying off.
‘‘I am real optimistic about our bass population; it continues to pick up speed,’’ district fisheries biologist Rob Miller said.
Fishermen have been saying that for the last couple of seasons. The major fish survey, conducted every other year, bore that out last fall.
Largemouth were found at the rate of 42 per hour, slightly above the long-term average. The average size was 10.6 inches, a half-inch longer than the long-term average. Of the largemouth 8 inches or longer, 3 percent were 18 inches or longer.
‘‘When the gates open, there will be more legal bass,’’ Miller said.
There’s also good news about blue catfish. At LaSalle Lake, a nearby cooling lake, blues quickly became the glamor fish. It took longer at Braidwood, but results are looking better. Miller said blues averaged 191/2 inches, with the biggest going 20 pounds.
‘‘The best was in that warm cove [on the south side], where the water temperature was 95 or 96,’’ Miller said. ‘‘We were getting more than one a minute. They were just everywhere. I was greatly encouraged.’’
Miller is trying to stock hybrid striped bass, a program that began last year.
‘‘The blues are doing good, and largemouth are coming on,’’ he said. ‘‘There is a ton of forage, and I would like to give these things a shot. If it doesn’t work out, the only thing invested is the stocking.’’
Miller said he expects fishermen to start catching small hybrids this year.
As always, the small catfish known as ‘‘fiddlers’’ are ridiculously plentiful. Miller said bluegills were fair, with an average size of 5 inches. Only a few smallmouth bass were found, and crappie virtually have disappeared.
I used to switch between boat fishing and shore fishing on opening day. But I have grown fond of seeing the sun rise while sitting on the rip-rap of the west bank.
‘‘Moneyball’’ at the Oscars? Muskie fishing in Hayward, Wis. Jennifer Lopez at the Oscars? Dawn on Lac Courte Oreilles.