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2012 was a busy year for outdoorsmen

Nick Tassoni caught 14.75-pound walleye Jan. 7 breaking Illinois’ longest-standing gamefish record while fishing with his father Dave PecatonicRiver. |

Nick Tassoni caught a 14.75-pound walleye Jan. 7, breaking Illinois’ longest-standing gamefish record, while fishing with his father, Dave, on the Pecatonica River. | For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 31, 2013 6:38AM

Outside chances came true in 2012.

Illinois fish records and the passage of the DNR Sustainability Bill highlighted the year, while the Drought of 2012 and the decadelong degrading of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources darkened the year outside.

Here are the top 10 stories (in chronological order):

WALLEYE RECORD: The year started on a note improbable on many levels.

Nick Tassoni broke Illinois’ longest-standing gamefish record when he caught a 14.75-pound walleye Jan. 7 from the Pecatonica River. The 15-year-old freshman at Rockford Auburn caught it on a Rapala firetiger No. 7 Minnow Rap while fishing with his dad, Dave.

The 31-inch female, with a girth of 201/4 inches, surpassed the 14-pound walleye caught by Fred Goselin from the Kankakee River in 1961.

ILLINOIS’ FIRST 15-POUND WALLEYE: More improbably, on March 11, Jim Zimmerman caught Illinois’ first 15-pound walleye, again from the Pec. The 52-year-old river rat from Beloit, Wis., was fishing an eighth-ounce Northland fireball jig with a 3-inch Berkley Power Grub and a minnow when he caught his 15.08-pound walleye.

HOT MARCH FISHING: An extended historic heat wave in March sparked an unprecedented stretch of early-spring perch fishing on southern Lake Michigan. It was as absurd as 90-degree temperatures in March.

‘‘Annually we see some of that, but not to the extent we saw this past year,’’ said Brian Breidert, the Lake Michigan fisheries biologist for Indiana.

BURBOT RECORD: Capt. Tim Wojnicz established Illinois’ first burbot record when he landed an 8.85-pounder April 27 while perch fishing with clients off Waukegan. The Wisconsin charter captain caught it on a perch rig — a fathead minnow on a No. 6 hook above a weight — while leaning out the window and watching his clients’ lines.

WHITEFISH RECORD: More improbably, while working the same way May 8, Wojnicz established Illinois’ first whitefish record (2.49 pounds).

‘‘What are the odds of getting two state records in less than two weeks, especially when you are not fishing for them?’’ Wojnicz wondered.

SUMMER FISH KILLS: A stretch of fish kills erupted in early July, from small ponds to public waters. The hardest-hit river was the Fox from Elgin to Aurora. Braidwood Lake saw an extended hard kill, but fall surveys suggested it wasn’t devastating. Things could have been much worse.

DROUGHT OF 2012: The drought stressed animals and fish and led to an absurd drought-related definition from the feds of ‘‘baiting’’ for waterfowlers. Things might worsen next year if the drought doesn’t break.

EHD OUTBREAK: Likely an offshoot of the drought, a significant outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease hit Illinois. EHD was confirmed in more than three-quarters of the counties. But archery and firearm harvests suggest the outbreak wasn’t devastating on a broad scale.

NEW LAKE MICHIGAN PROGRAM HEAD: Nearly six years after Lake Michigan Program head Tom Trudeau retired, his position was filled by Vic Santucci, who started Nov. 16. Santucci has a broad range of experience within and outside the IDNR.

SB1566: On Nov. 28, the Illinois Senate passed the DNR Sustainability Bill. Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) had spent a year pulling together a consensus to pass the bill, which should provide the DNR with
$30 million to $33 million. Beginning in nine to 12 months, the IDNR should begin to fill positions and repair neglected state sites.

On Thursday, IDNR director Marc Miller sent an email. The key sentence was sobering: ‘‘If lawmakers do not act to address the pension squeeze, then everyone’s hard work toward DNR sustainability will be erased by these larger fiscal problems.’’

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