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A March unlike any other for Chicago fishing

Roy Vivian found sauger surprisingly deep Monday Illinois River while prefishing for MWC event Spring Valley. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times

Roy Vivian found sauger surprisingly deep Monday on the Illinois River while prefishing for the MWC event at Spring Valley. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 22, 2012 10:14AM



SPRING VALLEY, Ill. — I glanced at the bottom of Roy
Vivian’s
Humminbird fish-finder and couldn’t believe the 66-degree water temperature at Barto
Landing. That was how warm the Illinois River was Monday from Spring Valley to Starved Rock.

There never has been a March like this for Chicago fishing. I knew things would be different when I went out prefishing with Vivian for the 26th annual Masters Walleye Circuit tournament, but I didn’t expect this.

‘‘I have never seen water levels like this this early,’’ said Vivian, a former Freeport Pretzel now living in southern Wisconsin. ‘‘It is like fishing a different river. Usually, you have to have ice-fishing gear on. Now, shorts and sandals are mandatory.’’

The goofiness of this historic warmth extends across the area.

On Monday, Carl Vizzone emailed: ‘‘I was at a downtown harbor today. I already saw the carp doing their thing, sunning and cruising the piers. We usually experience this toward the end of April. The bass, both species were stacked, with black crappie with them. . . . Crazy start to the year. Let’s break some records. Got my first [18-inch smallmouth bass] today. Fish are everywhere. The water clarity is crazy good, too.’’

Todd Carlander photographed the contents of the stomach of a coho, caught Sunday on the lakefront, and suggested taking up a fly rod when he found stink bugs, a yellow jacket and some ladybugs.

‘‘Weird,’’ he said.

That weirdness extends to finding fish in different places than expected in March because of the extreme water temperatures and low levels.

Vivian, who finished third in the MWC in 2009 with his partner, had a downstream spot in mind for Monday morning, but thunderstorms chased us upstream.

He started us off fishing the first break in traditional hot spots. He prefers jigging with heavy jigs (half-ounce). He used large plastics; I
had minnows. We hooked drum, bighead carp and channel catfish but couldn’t land a sauger.

I enjoy fishing with Vivian because he has a salesman’s expeience and knows people. So we gossiped about sports-talk radio and other fishermen, such as Capt. John ‘‘Rocky’’ Mannerino, who made a bet that someone would weigh an 8-pound walleye during the MWC. We both wanted a piece of that action.

With an hour before I had to be back at Barto, Vivian decided to try the middle of the river. Very quickly, he landed a 16-inch male sauger. It was still hard, but the next three males we caught were milking.

‘‘Usually when I find males milking like that, the females aren’t far off,’’ he said. ‘‘The key is finding where.’’

It was time — for me, anyway. Vivian went back and found bigger, prespawn females in two spots. The question is whether they will hold there until Saturday and Sunday, when the MWC holds its takeoffs and weigh-ins at Barto Landing.

Places and faces

Randy Carroll and Shawn O’Malley won the Illinois Walleye Trail event Sunday. Their six-fish basket weighed 13.6 pounds to earn them $3,400, which included $710 for the big fish (3.22-pound sauger). . . . ‘‘Ginormica’’ should be one highlight at the Field & Stream Deer and Turkey Expo, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Peoria Civic Center.

Wild things

The first reports of
morel mushrooms from southern Illinois are on morelmania.com.

Stray cast

The clowns walking the goat to Wrigley Field are to baseball fans what the shooter of a bald eagle in southern Illinois is to hunters.



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