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Braidwood’s resurgence a wonder to behold

Maddie Peters7 pushes an artificial fish habitinBraidwood Lake as part an ongoing project. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Maddie Peterson, 7, pushes an artificial fish habitat into Braidwood Lake as part of an ongoing project. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 28, 2012 6:32AM

The white plastic pipes of artificial fish habitats spiked the view from Mark
boat as he motored out Monday on Braidwood Lake.

‘‘Boy, this spring, I was catching 18 to 20 pounds a day [for his best six bass],’’ said Peterson, a fireman from Bedford Park.

Braidwood has changed incredibly in the last decade. Many of its aquatic weeds disappeared. In short order, the bass fishery crashed at what once had been the pre-eminent northeast Illinois fishery.

But an intense multitiered effort has led Braidwood’s bass fishery back to respectability. Any regular Braidwood fisherman, such as Peterson, the president of Bass PAC, a south-suburban bass club, can tell.

‘‘We’re catching just as many little fish as big fish,’’ he said.

There’s numeric proof, such as the high school sectional in April that had the third-highest winning weight in Illinois. Then in May, John Novak and Jim Rura won the 11th annual Fishing for a Cure tournament with a record three-fish bag of 11.1 pounds, which included a record big fish of 5.64 pounds.

With the changes at Braidwood, management of the fishery changed, too. The primary reason for the rebound is the intense yearly stocking regiment. Fisheries biologist Rob Miller said more than 400,000 bass have been stocked in the last six years.

‘‘It is a combination of the stockings, very restrictive harvest regs [one bass daily of 18 inches or longer] and the fish habitats,’’ he said. ‘‘All this has helped.’’

On Monday, members of Bass PAC, American Bass Anglers and NBAA helped place artificial fish habitats. Jeff Jenkins designed them to sink through the water and settle on the bottom. The plastic structures offer cover for fry and ambush points for larger fish. The 68 placed made 518 set in the last six years. They are starting to spread across the map marked by Miller.

‘‘This is a positive thing,’’ Miller said.

He meant for the fish. I think it is equally important for humans. It’s one way to show how much Braidwood means to fishermen in northeast Illinois. And Dan Enright, the Braidwood Station site vice president, was there to see it firsthand for the first time.

The fishing side of me enjoys watching Peterson and others look for ideal spots to drop the habitats off points and in deeper troughs — and watching Peterson’s 7-year-old daughter, Maddie, get into helping.

And luck or providence, depending on your worldview, has helped.

‘‘We haven’t had an ass-kicking summer in years,’’ Miller said. ‘‘We have been blessed.’’

Extreme heat, such as what is forecast for the next couple of weeks, can lead to fish die-offs from crashes in oxygen levels. I fear for this summer.

Back at the dock, Jay O’Connell of Bass PAC asked, ‘‘Want to wet a line?’’

It was time.

It’s good to have O’Connell’s question be relevant again on Braidwood.

Mighty muskie men

Measuring an incredible six muskies over two days, the Vernon Hills team of Ric Cummings and James Reiter won the Professional Musky Tournament Trail’s Mercury Marine’s Summer Challenge to earn a $12,500 package on the Eagle River Chain in Wisconsin. They fished with the Rizzo Wiz shallow (1 to 4 feet) Saturday, then deeper Sunday. They won the same event with the same pattern in 2007. The 88 teams measured a PMTT-record 87 muskies.

Wild things

I spotted a cicada killer wasp and wondered, ‘‘Why so early?’’

Stray cast

Matt Forte is like a 5-pound smallmouth: special, but not a 6-pounder. Ken Williams is a like a hybrid striped bass: under corralled shad, but feeding up. Steve Stone’s commentary is like a walleye bite: subtle, but with teeth.

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